Conference Raises Expectations for Disabled Consumers
John M. Williams
Assistive Technology Industry Association’s 4th Annual
Conference provided more than 1,000 attendees opportunities
to discover multiple ways assistive technology products
will impact the lives of adults and children with disabilities.
Having been to many assistive technology conferences, it
is still a thrilling feeling to watch peoples’ facial
expressions as they walk from booth-to-booth unearthing
opportunities through the products they held, clutched,
penetratingly examined and desperately wanted to have for
either themselves, a friend or family member. The awesome
appreciation of these products lacks international boundaries.
“I have never seen products like these,” said
Hans Harold from Norway. A software engineer, he was fascinated
by the orbiTouch, a keyless keyboard. He spoke about the
employment benefits of these products and said, “How
can anyone with a disability be unemployed or uneducated
when such products like these exist?”
Canadian Special Education teacher Mary Crystal, the mother
of two children with disabilities, saw educational value
in these products and was struck by their diversity. Looking
over the products to pick her favorites, she said, “The
optical character reader that translates Braille into print
I think is marvelous. We have blind students in our school,
and our teachers had to learn Braille to work with them.
But this product, stands by itself.”
One of Crystal’s children is nearly totally blind
and uses Braille.
If I had to pick a theme for this conference it was, “Improving
Access to the Information Technology World.” Improving
educational opportunities for children with disabilities
was a dominant goal, and the presence of many education
manufacturers seemed to stress this theme in their products
and conference presentations.
I have always believed that assistive technology is the
great equalizer for users with disabilities because it eliminates
communications barriers. Additionally, I say that this technology
is liberating technology for the user because it provides
the end user with the freedom to achieve independence and
a self-sustaining life.
The products were the stars and the attendees and exhibitors
knew it. After decades of these conferences, consumers were
treated with the respect they have earned. One of the vendors
told me, “It has taken us a while, but we understand
that consumers know what they need, and we are trying to
give it to them.”
In talking to attendees, none of them said they were talked
down to. Rather as John Kostner, the father of a quadriplegic
child said, “The manufacturers listened and talked
to me about my son’s needs.” Kostner says he
did not feel as though he was being rushed during his conversations
Not being rushed was important to the attendees. Kostner
and other attendees believe the smaller the show’s
attendance the more chance there is to get personal with
the sales people, and the more detailed discussion they
can have about products and their impact upon a person with
a disability’s life.
The attendees knew what they liked and wanted to see, and
there were plenty of products for people who were blind,
or visually challenged, physically challenged, speech challenged,
cognitively challenged and for deaf or hard of hearing individuals.
Occupational therapist Jean Stuart liked the orbiTouch and
saw it as a replacement for key guards and a product that
can reduce repetitive stress injuries in the workplace.
A blind Kerry Hobson loved the Pac Mate, an accessible handheld
Pock PC for either blind or visually impaired users. The
product brings the universe of Windows based commercial
applications to blind users.
There was an international presence at the show. Manufacturers
were there from Japan, Canada and Ireland. Legally Blind
Karen Lawrence was impressed by Betacom’s Visable
Video Telescope, a handheld product, for legally blind individuals,
that can be used inside and outside. Betacom is based in
Visuaide, a Quebec company, manufacturers digital audio
readers and is developing a new generation GPS based orientation
tool for blind and visually impaired people.
Canada’s Madentec offered a variety of computer access
products for different needs.
Ireland based TextHelp Systems Limited provides software
solutions for people with learning and literacy difficulties.
Another Irish-based company FreedomVision sells a portable
laptop version of a screen reader magnification product
for visually impaired people.
Japan’s Electronics Info Technology Industries Association
showcased a Braille printer, a page-turner, talking aid
product and an alternative keyboard.
Coming home, Josh Randall was fascinated by Origin Systems
eye gaze technology that provides alternative access to
computers and alternative communications devices.
And Christine and Harold McKinney liked LC Technologies
Eye Gaze System, a portable eye operated communication and
control system. Christine has multiple sclerosis and is
gradually losing her ability to type.
In education, Larry Hudson liked Intellitools learning solution
programs for the “diverse classroom.” He has
an eight-year-old son with physical disabilities.
Sheryl Thomas was enamored by Kurzweil’s software
for reading and writing for individuals with learning disabilities.
A special education teacher, she says, “The Kurzweil
products can help my students with learning disabilities
lead independent lives.”
In the speech communications area, 15-year-old, wheelchair
user Michael’s Farrady’s eyes became as huge
as balloons as he played with augmentative communications
devices by Prentke Romich and later by DynaVox Systems.
And for people interested in knowing about Section 508 compliance
software, Deque Systems’ RAMP program showed attendees
how it can find and correct 508 violations.
One of the show’s highlights occurred during the opening
night, when FASST (Florida Alliance for Assistive Services
and Technology) announced a $1,000 loan through its loan
program to a blind Nancy Gilbert, 72, Stuart, Florida to
purchase JAWS so she can do volunteer work at her church.
ATIA had more to it. It provided 150 sessions on topics
covering a variety of technology products used in education
and professional areas. Yet, for future conferences ATIA
needs more diversity to be a better show. It needs to expand
its outreach to the disability community to bring more people
with disabilities into the exhibit hall. The manufacturers
need to employ African Americans, Hispanics, Asians and
people with disabilities. ATIA needs to outreach to the
different racial communities to entice them into the conference.
It needs to reach out to the business community through
the Orlando Chamber of Commerce and have a question and
answer and demonstration session on assistive technology.
It needs to work with the Council for Exceptional Children,
National Education Association and other educational groups
to bring in more teachers. It should do live Internet shows,
and it needs to have a meeting of consumers to listen to
their needs about future products and conferences.
||The Information Technology Technical Assistance & Training Center (ITTATC)
Live Web Cast on Procurement of Accessible IT at a Federal Level:
Multiple Federal Agency Perspectives
August 13, 2003 2-4 pm ET
||RESNA & ITTATC: HELP AMERICA VOTE ACT: Full Participation in the Electoral Process For Persons with Disabilities
May 13, 2003
||ITTATC - State Information Technology Accessibility Initiatives
October 22, 2002
AT508 Townmeeting Series
||AT508.com 1st National Town Meeting To Rescue Section 508 Webcast - Federal Agency Report Card on Section 508 Compliance
June 20, 2003 at 2:00PM ET
||AT508.com's 2nd National Town Meeting To Rescue Section 508 Webcast - Noted Panelists Convene Disability Community On-line
July 30, 2003 at 3:30PM ET
Accessibility Forum Meetings
||Accessibility Forum 6th Webcast Meeting
February 24-26, 2003
||Accessibility Forum 5th Webcast Meeting
October 29, 2002
||World Congress & Exposition on Disabilities - WCDEXPO 2003 Live Webcast From Orlando, Florida
September 18-20, 2003
||World Congress & Exposition on Disabilities (WCD) WCDEXPO 2002
October 3-5, 2002
|RESNA Technical Assistance Project is hosting a LIVE Webcast on Assistive Technology Act Outcomes Planning and Evaluation
October 22, 2003 from 2-4PM ET
|The world's largest convention devoted to special and gifted education.
April 9-12, 2003 at 3:30PM ET
|CSUN's 18th Annual International Conference - CSUN 2003
March 17 - 22, 2003
|ATIA 2003 Conference in Orlando, Florida
January 15-18, 2003
|TASH Conference on Disabilities
December 11-14, 2002
|The Small Business Administration's
Alpha Entrepreneur Program
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