While BETT 2015 visitors and exhibitors are vacating London’s Docklands for another year their counterparts in the USA will be packing their suitcases and heading to Orlando, Florida
ATIA is a not-for-profit membership organisation of manufacturers, sellers and providers of technology-based assistive devices and/or services, and for many in the field of AT its Orlando conference is the most important event of the year. The conference provides a meeting place for professionals, including teachers, occupational therapists, rehabilitation counsellors, physicians and psychologists, who work with people with disabilities. In 2014, it attracted 100+ exhibitors and nearly 2,600 participants.
At the time of writing 111 exhibitors have booked booths (stands) for this year’s four-day event (27-31 January) held at the Caribe Royale All-Suites Hotel & Convention Centre. As well as viewing the exhibits, visitors can choose from over 300 educational sessions showcasing the ground-breaking work of manufacturers and users. In a recent interview with WebAbleTV ATIA CEO David Dikter attributed the success of the conference to two components: the professional developments opportunities it offers and the chance to connect with ‘like-minded folks who want to better their understanding of assistive technologies and access’.
This is not about a single product, Dikter added, ‘It’s about how do you best use that product with students or with some of the clients you are working with’. The names of several ATIA exhibitors are well known to attendees of BETT and readers of Special World. They include AbleNet, AMDi, AssistiveWare, Claro Software, Crick Software, Don Johnston, InclusiveTLC, n2y, Sonocent, Texthelp, Tobii and Widgit.
As with BETT, ATIA is a popular event for companies like these to launch new products and services, especially into the North American marketplace, while for others the focus is on providing educational sessions for new and existing contacts.
So what should you look out for in Orlando this year? Well, here are some of the booths Special World will be visiting. While AbleNet (Booth 400) hasn’t announced any new product launches as yet it recently acquired Chester Creek, including its full line of uniquely designed keyboards and iDevice accessories. Chester Creek has been providing unique solutions to the K12 market for more than 10 years but if you are unfamiliar with its products you can find out more from AbleNet’s team.
AMDi (Booth 7008) has updated its iAdapter cases with better protection for your iPad and improved sound output thanks to better speakers. Optional Bluetooth switch access is available for the iPad Air and iPad Minis and convenient shoulder straps, handles and table stands complement the range. If you don’t get to see it at BETT it’s worth dropping by AssistiveWare (Booth 703) to get a hands-on demonstration of Keeble, its new iOS 8 keyboard that can be used with any iPad app.
Keeble offers self-learning word prediction and automatic capitalisation to reduce typing effort, Hold Duration to prevent accidental selections and Select on Release to compensate for motor-challenges. Its layout is also customisable for younger users or those with visual impairments. And it’s not just AssistiveWare who have taken advantage of the new features in iOS 8 to introduce their own keyboard.
Crick Software (Booth 407), best known for Clicker and related products, launched SuperKeys at the back end of 2014. According to the company’s blog SuperKeys is useful for people who have trouble tapping smaller-sized keys with precision. The standard keyboard layout is divided into groups of keys, named clusters. When a user taps a cluster, the keys within it expand to fill the keyboard area. This offers larger targets for users to tap.
After tapping a key, the expanded cluster shrinks back, so the user can type their next character. Definitely worth checking out! Among the products being shown by Inclusive TLC (Booth 417) will be the new EyeGaze Foundations, which we featured in Issue 1 of Special World.
Specially designed to meet the needs of teachers, therapists and carers working with students with physical disabilities, cerebral palsy, visual impairment, intellectual disabilities, autistic spectrum disorder and communication difficulties, it offers a low-cost package that combines myGaze® Assistive Gaze Technology with Inclusive’s own software.
Sonocent (Booth 518) will be showing the latest versions of its award-winning Audio Notetaker, which allows you to combine audio, text and images to produce comprehensive notes of lessons or lectures. It’s a useful tool for anyone who struggles with note-taking while also trying to listen or who has trouble deciding what’s important and what isn’t at the time of a lesson or lecture. Away from the immediate pressure of events students can organise their recordings, colour code key points, discard anything that’s not needed and supplement what they have with additional notes or images.
Finally, Tobii Dynavox (Booths 319 & 423) will be showing its full range of communication and eye-gaze products, but having just declared 2015 the ‘Year of Consumer Eye Tracking’ at CES it is likely ATIA visitors will want to know what this means for education and the special needs community in particular.
One of the products showcased at CES was Tobii Glasses 2, their latest combined glasses and software system built for advanced eye tracking analysis, which can capture user gaze data in HD at 1080p. It is hard to imagine that these wouldn’t provide valuable feedback is designing and refining hardware and software destined for the educational marketplace.
We will also be spending time at some of the educational sessions taking place over the four days. These include one- and two-day pre-conference workshops designed for people new to the field of Assistive Technology or first time conference attendees and one-hour sessions covering the full gamut of AT and special educational needs, including literacy, autism, sensory impairments and augmentative and alternative communication needs.
What’s important to recognise is that for many in the AT community Orlando is one very important part of their professional development journey, with ATIA’s pre- and post-conference webinars providing a seamless list of opportunities to stay ahead of the curve when it comes to the latest technological advances and their potential impact on teaching and learning. The conference rallying cry of ‘Network, Learn, Share’ is at the heart of ATIA’s year-on-year activities.
As Dikter said after ATIA’s 2014 conference, the association is always on the lookout for ways to share what it knows and build a more connected community. ‘In Orlando we have attendees from around the world interested in recreating what we have – all the parts and pieces that make up a conference like ours – to benefit their home communities,’ he said. ‘For some nations the challenge isn’t money, but a lack of AT professionals and practitioners.
It’s one reason we are pleased to offer conference recordings; they can serve more than just ATIA attendees and reach those who may never leave home. Still we need to find more ways to share, and not just presentations, but also our discussions. The technology, after all, is nothing without all of you.’