Establishing itself as one of the go to events of the year, ATEC (The Assistive Technology Exhibition and Conference) moved ‘tup’ north for it’s second annual conference of the year. With keynotes speeches from Microsoft and the BBC, exhibitors from some of the biggest names in the world of Assistive Technology (including The Codpast!), even a bitterly cold November morning in Sheffield wasn’t enough to stop a bumper turn out.
As well as the keynote talks and exhibitors stalls to explore, there were also more intimate workshops and talks which ranged from ‘Getting the best out of your assistive tech’ to ‘Mental Health in the Workplace: Challenges and Solutions’. So, whether you are a student hoping to learn about new tech on the market or get the best out of tech you already own, or an educator wanting to understand how changes to the DSA will affect your students funding, or even an employer wishing to maximise on the benefits of AT investment, there was probably a workshop to suit your personal needs.
As I was speaking and exhibiting at the conference, the curse of the exhibitor/speaker, was that I didn’t get to sample any of the brilliant workshops or take part in the kinky sounding, ‘Assistive Technology Speed-dating’. However, the vibe I got from the delegates I spoke to and the panel discussion that ended the day, was that now is both an exciting and challenging time for the world of Assistive Technology (AT).
‘The Internet of Things’ is continually expanding and enhancing the ability to integrate and streamline AT into our everyday life’s. AT is now becoming mainstream and profitable, and can achieve things we thought were only possible in the realms of science fiction. For instance Amazon have cracked Back to the Future Part II’s automated home.
As well as the more mainstream AT that has a more universal reach and is seen as innovative and cool, brands are starting to shout about the AT that has traditionally been seen as less sexy and hidden away under the ‘accessibility menu’. A point in case was the opening film for apples latest glossy product launch.
So a big thumbs up for the big tech companies for recognising that accessibility is important, but as, Hector Minto, Senior Technology Evangelist for Accessibility at Microsoft said in his keynote speech, all of this innovation is pointless if these advances in tech don’t reach the people they are intended for. As he referenced in his speech, word of some of the most ingenious solutions to accessibility, that could have made a huge and positive change to the lives of niche communities, have failed to reach the communities they were intended for. For instance, many in the audience were not aware that Microsoft have used Skpye to create their own working version of the universal translator first dreamt up by the writers of Star Trek:
(Watch from 01.06)
Any businessman watching this that needs to deal with clients or suppliers that speak a different language to themselves and didn’t know about this functionality must be kicking themselves. But this is the kind of innovation that could come and go with out ever reaching and impacting the users it was aimed at.
Rather than just being a shame that these niche communities aren’t connected with the tech that will change their lives, this in fact has bigger implications. Without engagement and take up of this AT, rather than just being under used, without the exposure and subsequent funding that could help take these innovations to maturity and profitability, many of these solutions could simply seized to exist. So maybe for 2017, rather than the column inches and buzz around technical advancements, the real innovation may come from finding better and more targeted ways to promote and to make sure that those that need it, are actually able to benefit from the AT revolution that is currently moving forward at warp drive speed.
You can learn more about ATEC or sign up for info about next years event here.
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