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Donal Rice

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10/05/2009

Reporting from AAATE Conference, Florence, Italy


Held every two years, the conference of the Association for the Advancement of Assistive Technology in Europe (AAATE) took place this September in beautiful Florence, Italy.  AAATE is the “interdisciplinary pan-European association devoted to all aspects of assistive technology, such as use, research, development, manufacture, supply, provision and policy.” As someone who works closely with one of AAATE’s past presidents, (Ger Craddock), I was eager to check out this organisation and its conference for myself.  I was very impressed initially and throughout the conference at the maturity and progressive nature of the thinking around AT evidenced in both the primary theme of the conference which was billed as “AT from adapted equipment to inclusive environments” and by the myriad of work which was presented on during the three days.

At my own workplace, the Centre for Excellence in Universal Design as the National Disability Authority, Ireland, we are an eclectic mix of engineers, a computer scientist and an architect coming from a mix of backgrounds including AT, web development, commercial practice and academia.  As such a multitude of disciplines and perspectives inform our discussions on universally designed environments in which people are not just supported as much as possible by the overall design of the environment and its ‘embedded’ services but where the designs also enable the functioning of additional support services and technologies where and when required.   It was gratifying that this appears to be how AT practitioners, researcher, developers and service providers across Europe are viewing the future of AT in the eco-system of design.  It was the constant theme through out the three days – one which I did not entirely expect to see but one which was present in very many of the plenary keynotes and parallel sessions.

Universal Design

Of course at a conference such as AAATE it is impossible to make even a fraction of talks you want to attend.  Some overarching points about the current and future direction of Universal Design/Design for All that came across in a number of presentations were that Universal Design/Design for All is:

•    not just design for disability, in its totality, but it design for diversity
•    is primarily practical and aesthetical design
•    is process-orientated and proactive
•    is “intentional and demanding towards mainstream” and
•    its qualities are “invisible”

One presentation of note which touched on many of these ideas was by Christian Bühler, Professor for Rehabilitation Technology at the Faculty for Rehabilitation Science of the TU Dortmund University who presented on “Managing the Process of Design-for-all”

User involvement in Standardisation

The importance of user involvement in the standardisation process was dealt with in a number of presentations.  It struck increasingly difficult it must be for many Disabled Persons Organisations to sustain involvement in the standardisation process.  Key issues dealt with in the parallel session on this issue were upskilling people for involvement in the standardisation process as well as practical issues of resourcing people to attend meetings in foreign countries on an on-going basis.

Standardisation development tends to have an imbalance of representation from industry – people with disabilities and their views very under-represented. The STAND4ALL project, presented on by Charlotte Mosies, has developed training materials and delivered pilot training sessions on educating users with disabilities in getting involved in standardisation work.

Independent Living

I was fascinated to hear of a Canadian project presented on by Claude Vincent to support people who had developed vision impairment to continue driving through the use of and training in a telescopic lens (6/12 acuity with 120 degrees legally required for driving).  What I found most fascinating is that this project has the support of a Canadian insurance company which is obviously eager to keep as many people as possible driving.  You can read more in the conference proceedings paper “Assessment of an AT that allows driving a car with low vision”

The rest

There were just too many other interesting papers to go into in detail here but do check out the very excellence and thorough conference proceedings. Here is a selection of some other papers in brief:

“Organising web research in Web 2.0 era”  Use of Facebook type community portal for collaboration and project management of research projects. myexperiment.org

“To know and to conserve the Heritage, Matching Rights and Needs. Contribution of New Pavements”  Efforts to match accessibility requirements to conservation needs.  Need for ‘sensitive’ design of interventions in heritage sites.  Key example pathways in a heritage church site in Toledo, Spain.

see paper in proceedings

‘MonAMi’ project  - Mainstreaming on Ambient Intelligence.  An ambitious EU project.  Looking at ‘one-wire’ technology – a new micro-programmable technology that can be embedded in products, materials etc.  Key points: use of new mainstream technologies (rather than developing specific ATs) that will be tried and tested over the next 3 years.  User central to the process of trialling new technologies with major involvement of all local stakeholders eg local authority representatives, elected official etc to maintain and fund project.  www.monami.info

" Raising the Floor" is a global initiative spearheded by Gregg Vanderheiden of the Trace Centre, Wisconsin, to develop a framework for technology development in a wide range of area and shape future direction of technology development.  This new international initiative aims to build access directly into the worlds information infrastructure so that anyone, anywhere, can approach any computer or mobile device and be able to access it - regardless of their economic resources

see paper in proceedings

Related links:

AAATE website: http://www.aaate.net
AAATE 2009 Conference website: http://www.aaate2009.eu/
AAATE 2009 conference proceedings: http://www.iospress.nl/loadtop/load.php?isbn=atr
Centre of Excellence in Universal Design: http://www.universaldesign.ie
STAND4ALL project: http://www.cenelec.eu/Cenelec/CENELEC+in+action/News+Centre/CENELEC+News/General/Training+STAND4ALL.htm
myexperiment.org
www.monami.info
www.raisingthefloor.com

Donal Rice, Senior ICT Advisor, NDA/CEUD, National University of Ireland-Galway

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