AAATE, the Association for the Advancement of Assistive Technology in Europe, held its 7th European Conference for the Advancement of Assistive Technology, ‘Shaping the Future’, in Dublin from 31 August to 3 September 2003. The Conference was organised on a collaborative basis by the Central Remedial Clinic (CRC), University College Dublin and Media Lab Europe.
AAATE was constituted in 1995 with the aim of stimulating the advancement of assistive technology for the benefit of people with disabilities. The Association achieves these aims through creating awareness, promoting research and development and contributing to knowledge exchange in the area of assistive technology.
The recent conference coincided with the European Year of People with Disabilities and its aim was to focus on the users of assistive technology. The Conference was centred on the following themes:
- Standards in information and computer technology
- User-centred approaches to assistive technology
- Interdisciplinary practice, and
- New technologies.
The days were organised around plenary sessions with a number of key speakers addressing each theme. A large number of parallel sessions gave participants the opportunity to attend sessions on their particular area of interest. In this way the conference managed to look at a vast number of areas, such as design for all, assistive technology and the older person, assistive technology for visual impairment and assistive technology for education and training. Over twenty topics were covered and the parallel sessions offered an opportunity for discussion and debate.
During the conference there was also an opportunity to attend an exhibition from a number of services, projects and companies. Participants could collect catalogues regarding assistive technology equipment and ask questions about products or services.
My overall view of the conference was that it was an ideal way of finding out about the range of projects, activities, and equipment available for users of assistive technologies. I was particularly interested in the range of sessions that dealt with the needs of the older person and how assistive technology devices can be used to help an older person stay in their own home as long as possible. Some of these devices were very simple, e.g. reliable security systems or communication aids. Others, such as a system to monitor the use of a cooker, ensured people were safe, as well as independent, while remaining in their home.
The exhibition was also very informative, particularly in relation to finding out about Irish projects in this area. Enable Ireland’s SEAT (Supported Employment and Assistive Technology) project, for example, is working to enable people with disabilities to enter paid employment in the open labour market.
In short, this was an excellent conference. The only disadvantage was that the large variety of sessions running in parallel made it difficult to attend all one’s choices. More information and conference papers are available on the conference website http://www.atireland.ie/aaate/.