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Moving from Specialized Equipment to Adaptive Software within Standard Devices: Impressions from the ATIA conference
A few notes from "ATIA in Orlando" - The Assistive Technology Industry Association ("ATIA"): a not-for-profit membership organization of manufacturers, sellers and providers of technology-based assistive devices and/or services.
The fact that an industry has grown up around assistive technology is extraordinary - a comment on the depth and breadth of efforts to integrate people with disabilities into all aspects of life.
Two disclaimers: First - I have some connection with one of the exhibitors:
The Pass It On Center (PIOC), the premier National Assistive Technology Device Reutilization and Coordination Technical Assistance Center, focuses on expanding the options of people with disabilities by increasing access to appropriate, reutilized assistive technology in a manner that supports the interests of users, manufacturers, and suppliers. The Pass It On Center is funded under a grant from the Rehabilitation Services Administration and is administered by Tools for Life, the Georgia Assistive Technology Program of the Georgia Department of Labor. Visit www.passitoncenter.org for more information.
Second - rather than summarize specific sessions, I have decided to merely summarize some impressions. I you need specific information, please reference the conference site for a list of vendors (130+) and speakers (300+ sessions).
A General Trend
The move from specialized equipment to adaptive software within standard devices continues. As the mobile devices have become more powerful, inclusive solutions have moved to these platforms. A classic example is the scanning and text-to-speech produced by AT pioneer, Ray Kurzweil. From expensive stand-alone devices, to specialized PC's, to (now) mobile phones, the software has evolved and the platform has diminished in size. What was once expensive and bulky technology is now an extension of what most of us carry in our pockets. Moore's Law has wonderful side-effects.
The other good news is that, despite the state of the economy, the size of the Orlando ATIA conference has remained essentially the same. And, attendance at last year's ATIA conference in Chicago exceeded expectations.
After hosting this conference in Orlando for several years (and listening to visitors) the Caribe Royale has made some minor, but significant improvements in the facility: tactile runners that span the vast open spaces separate the hotel itself from the exhibit area. Blind conference attendees can use their canes on the runners to travel about the entire venue with maximal ease of navigation. And, gates that generally have levers to open them have now been outfitted with looped straps to facilitate opening by people with mobility impairments.
And, of course, the spirit of helpfulness pervades the entire conference.
Perhaps, the inclusion of people with disabilities more fully into society is an "industry" that is here to stay.
Arthur R. Murphy teaches part-time in Georgia Tech’s HCI Master’s Degree Program and owns a consultancy, Aeolian Solutions (http://aeoliansolutions.com/), that assists clients in accessibility evaluation and user interface design. He is co-chair of the Georgia Alliance for Accessible Technologies (GAAT), a working group currently sponsored by G3ict.