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ATU521 – RESNA Virtual Conference with Andrea Van Hook

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Your weekly dose of information that keeps you up to date on the latest developments in the field of technology designed to assist people with disabilities and special needs.

Special Guest:
Andrea Van Hook – Executive Director of RESNA
www.resna.org
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—————- Transcript Starts Here —————–

Andrea Van Hook:
Hi, this is Andrea Van Hook, and I’m the Executive Director of RESNA. And this is your Assistive Technology Update.

Josh Anderson:
Welcome to your Assistive Technology Update, a weekly dose of information that keeps you up to date on the latest developments in the field of technology designed to assist individuals with disabilities and special needs. I’m your host, Josh Anderson, with the INDATA Project at Easterseals Crossroads in beautiful Indianapolis, Indiana. Welcome to episode 521 of Assistive Technology Update. It’s scheduled to be released on May 21st, 2021. I suppose, today’s show must be our 521 show, as this is 521 coming out on 5/21/21. And we’re very excited to have Andrea Van Hook, the Executive Director of RESNA, on this show. She’s going to talk a little about RESNA, about the ATP Certification, but mostly about their virtual conference, which is coming up. We’ll have links to RESNA down in the show notes so that you can check those out, get registered for the conference and make your plans to attend virtually, of course.

Josh Anderson:
Please don’t forget, if you like this show, or you have suggestions, or maybe somebody you’d like for us to have on as a guest, you can always reach out to us. We love to hear from you. You can call our listener line at (317) 721-7124, drop us a line on Twitter @indataproject, or send us an email at tech@eastersealscrossroads.org. All that information can be found down in our show notes. So please reach out. We always love to hear from you. And some of our best ideas for guests come from you, our listeners. Also don’t forget to subscribe to our podcast on your favorite podcasting platform, or leave us a comment or a rating. Those things are always great as well. Thank you so much for listening and let’s go ahead and get on with the show.

Josh Anderson:
For all these months of lockdown, maybe you’re looking for some new podcasts to listen to. We’ll make sure to check out our sister podcast, Accessibility Minute and ATFAQ, or Assistive Technology Frequently Asked Questions. If you’re super busy and don’t have time to listen to a full podcast, be sure to check out Accessibility Minute, our one minute long podcast that gives you just a little taste of something assistive technology based so that you’re able to get your assistive technology fix without taking up the whole day. Hosted by Tracy Castillo, this show comes out weekly. Our other show is Assistive Technology Frequently Asked Questions, or ATFAQ. On Assistive Technology Frequently Asked Questions, Brian Norton leads our panel of experts, including myself, Belva Smith, and our own Tracy Castillo as we try answer your assistive technology questions. This show does rely on you, so we’re always looking for new questions, comments, or even your answers on assistive technology questions. So remember, if you’re looking for more assistive technology podcast to check out, you can check out our sister shows, Accessibility Minute and ATFAQ, wherever you get your podcasts, now including Spotify and Amazon Music.

Josh Anderson:
Listeners, our guest today is Andrea Van Hook from RESNA. And as I was getting ready for this show, I really started thinking a lot about RESNA and about the ATP, which is a certification that myself and many, many members of my team have. And thinking about that, I thought about how I really use it in my daily job, and really it’s just the principles and the things that we hold ourselves to as assistive technology professionals, to make sure that we’re doing what’s in the best interest of those that we serve. Not in our best interest, maybe not in the best interest of the funding source or the people who even hired us to do the work, but in the best interest of the individual that we work with. And as I got to thinking about that, I got to thinking about the work that we do and the work that I’m sure many of you do.

Josh Anderson:
And I got to thinking about one of my team members, David Fry. David’s been on this show a few times before. He was never the biggest fan of being recorded in any way, shape or form. He actually had a habit of going back and listening to them, and finding out what was wrong and wanting to correct it, which you can’t always do in something that’s recorded and already put out there. But when David works with individuals, he always makes sure that he’s doing what helps them the most. And not just in assistive technology, he would even go further and try to help them in so many other ways. I do not think the one person he worked with did not receive a copy of getting things done, just because David had read that and believed that it helped to get the thoughts out of your mind, to be able to really set forth a plan and really be able to accomplish a whole lot more.

Josh Anderson:
He worked with a young man who needed some assistive technology to really help himself in school. And when he found out what this person’s goal was, he encouraged them to maybe go volunteer at that place or at that kind of place. A few years later he heard back from the individual, and before they had even finished their college degree, they were already working in that field because they’d taken his advice. He always became pretty upset when people didn’t take his advice. Whenever he said, “I’m doing all this extra stuff to try to help these folks and they won’t listen, and they really can’t seem to understand that if they would just put this a little bit of extra effort forth, it could really help even more than the technology could.” While he knew the amazing things that the assistive technology could do, he knew it was not the end all be all of true accomplishment of reaching your goals. It’s something to overcome barriers. It’s something to help individuals. But it’s not the kind of the end or the magic bullet, the one thing that solves all issues.

Josh Anderson:
After meeting with folks and making recommendations, he always would stand by those recommendations. If a funding source or another individual would come forward and say, well, what about this? David would look at it, would research it, would try to find. And if it was lower cost option that would still meet the need, then he was totally fine with it. But if it wasn’t, he would fight for it just to make sure that individual got exactly what they needed. I remember us working on a project together and he called one of the people who had given us a referral. Talked to them on the phone, and then in talking to them, found out that they actually were having difficulty accessing their computer because of a slight impairment. And by the time they were off the phone, he had talked to them through setting up all the accessibility features on their computer so that they were able to use it. He just couldn’t really help himself to help other folks.

Josh Anderson:
Today would have been David’s 42nd birthday. David passed away a few months ago in March and left a huge hole in this team and in all of our hearts. He’ll be greatly missed by all of us, as well as many others. The folks he served and the ones who will never get a chance to actually work with him. So David, wherever you are out there, I want to let you know that we all miss you. I’m sure you don’t like me taking time out to talk about the great things you do. You never did like that kind of recognition. But I think it’s important to definitely take the time, especially in this field and in the fields that many of us work in, we get to meet so many great people that do so many great things, that perhaps we think that’s the norm. And in a perfect world, I think it would be. People who do good just because they don’t understand how to do it any other way are rare. And when they leave us unexpectedly, it can leave a wound that takes a very long time to heal.

Josh Anderson:
On today’s show, we’re going to talk about the RESNA Conference. And I can remember when I first started working here, I hadn’t been here long when the RESNA Conference actually came to Indiana. And I actually got to spend a lot of time with David, and that’s when I really grew to like him. And then as I kind of grew as an AT specialist and even became his manager, David was always kind, nice and helpful. So really and truly, I do have to thank you, listeners, for letting me take a little bit of time out just to go ahead and think about a true dear friend, a great team member and someone that is greatly missed. Thank you so much for letting me take the time to do that as it helps in my healing process, and hopefully in that of those others who knew him. Now, let’s go ahead and get on with the show.

Josh Anderson:
So listeners, most of my team holds the ATP Certification from the Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology Society of North America, or RESNA. Well each year, RESNA gathers for their annual conference to help ATPs, other assistive technology professionals and rehabilitation engineers connect and learn from each other to better the services that they provide to those they serve. Well, that conference is rapidly approaching, and today we’re lucky enough to have Andrea Van Hook, Executive Director of RESNA on the show to talk all about RESNA and their annual conference. Andrea, welcome to the show.

Andrea Van Hook:
Thank you, Josh. It’s great to be here.

Josh Anderson:
Yeah. I’m really excited to talk about your conference, to talk about RESNA. But before we get started in that, could you tell our listeners a little bit about yourself?

Andrea Van Hook:
Sure. So I actually am a boomerang employee of RESNA. I was RENSA’s Communications and Marketing Manager from 2011 to 2016, and then I left for a few years and now I’m back as Executive Director. So I’m really thrilled to be back at RESNA with all the people that I love. And working on this mission of RESNA’s, which I love so much, which is to promote assistive technologies for people with disabilities to live healthy and independent lives.

Josh Anderson:
Excellent. And we definitely know about boomerangs here at Easterseals Crossroads. We actually have a whole wall devoted to them. I feel like it’s a good mark of an organization of folks leave for greener pastures and then come back.

Andrea Van Hook:
Definitely.

Josh Anderson:
That’s usually a pretty good sign. Well, you kind of mentioned a little bit about it. But before we get into talking about the conference, can you tell us what is RESNA? When was it started? And what role does it play in the world of assistive technology?

Andrea Van Hook:
Oh, great. Well, RESNA, we actually celebrated our 40th anniversary last year. So RESNA has been around for a long time. It got started in 1979 when five rehabilitation engineers got together at a conference and decided that there needed to be a professional membership organization for people working in what was then not a profession at all. There were quite a few people working on technologies for people with disabilities, and they got together and started RESNA and it grew from there. We are the professional help for everyone that works in assistive technology, from seating and wheeled mobility, to alternative and augmented communication, research, computer access, home modifications, job accommodations, you name it, we cover it all.

Josh Anderson:
Excellent. And you guys also have the Assistive Technology Professional Certification, or ATP. Could you tell us just a little bit about that for our listeners who don’t know what that is?

Andrea Van Hook:
Sure. We actually have three certifications. So the Assistive Technology Professional Certification is for professionals that work directly with people with disabilities and are helping them with their assistive technology needs. It is an exam based certification. Part of the eligibility also includes work experience. And if you take the exam, and pass it and you meet be eligibility requirements for the work experience, then you can use ATP as your credential. And it marks you as someone who has met a standard of knowledge in assistive technology service delivery. So we’re very proud of that. We also offer the Seating and Mobility Specialist Certification, which is an advanced certification for people who work in seating and mobility. And you have to already be an ATP to qualify to take the Seating and Mobility Specialist Exam. We also offer thanks to our roots, the Rehabilitation Engineering Technologist Certification, and that is available to anyone who is an ATP and has graduated with a degree in rehabilitation engineering.

Josh Anderson:
Very cool. And yeah, we take a lot of pride in having that ATP after our names as well. And I will say that I still remember taking that test, because with the exception of moments of great joy or pain, it’s one of the few times I’ve cried as an adult. At least when I took it, and I don’t know if it’s changed, but you actually got your results right afterwards. And it takes a few seconds for it to come, and that was the longest few seconds I think I’ve ever experienced in my life, just waiting [crosstalk 00:13:10] for that thing to pop up.

Andrea Van Hook:
Yes, it is a tough exam. We recommend that people study for it. Don’t think that you’ve been working for so long you can just go in and wing it. It’s 200 questions and it’s a computer based exam. And it can be tough to get through. But once you have, you are then certified. And as long as you keep up your continuing education and every two years renew your certification with all of the great courses you’ve taken to keep your skills fresh, you are an ATP.

Josh Anderson:
And I’m not trying to scare anybody off of it. I promise. Because just like Andrea said, definitely do study for it if it’s something that you do want to get into, because it is very important. But at the same time, it’s a great certification and really and truly shows that you do have those credentials to be able to work with folks. Well enough about that. I could talk the entire time just about things like that. But we’re actually here to talk about the RESNA Conference. So let’s go ahead and jump in. When is the RESNA Conference this year?

Andrea Van Hook:
So RESNA 2021 is July 7th, 8th and 9th. It is a virtual conference. We were hoping to be in-person this year, but that did not work out. So we are virtual. Anyone who attended our first virtual conference last year knows that we put on a great conference, whether it’s virtual or in-person. So we’re very excited about it. It’s three days of assistive technology, everything about it, from ethics, to how-to’s, to what’s going on internationally. We are an IACET accredited provider for continuing education, which means that our conference sessions do meet very high quality standards. So people who attend can earn up to 3.6 IACET CEUs, which means that there are 36 hours of continuing education for three days.

Josh Anderson:
Wow. That is a lot. Well, Andrea, what are some of the cool things going on at the conference? I mean, I know that you can get all these CEUs, but just what are some of the cool kind of things that folks can expect at the virtual conference?

Andrea Van Hook:
Sure. So our theme this year is Welcome Home. Of course, we thought at the time that it would mean that we would all be able to be in-person. This time it has perhaps an ironic twist in the sense that you can attend the conference from home in your pajamas, if you wish. But it also is about the fact that the RESNA Conference tries to provide sessions on all areas of assistive technology. So regardless of where you work in the field, we do try to provide inspiring sessions in continuing education for everyone in the field. So this year we also have a new track on smart home technologies. It is growing for many ATPs as something that they’re doing with their clients. And we also have sessions that are highlighting many of our partners that we work with on an individual basis.

Andrea Van Hook:
So for example, the Clinicians Task Force, ADED, which is driver’s rehabilitation, AgrAbility, who works with farmers needing assistive technology. And Incart, one of our major partners who works with us on advocacy issues. We also will have international sessions with GAATO, the Global Association of Assistive Technology Organizations, of which RESNA is a member. So it’s an opportunity to learn about assistive technology and what’s going on in places like Africa, and India, and Europe, and basically the whole world comes to RESNA. And we’re very proud of that.

Josh Anderson:
And I know you said that it is virtual this year and that last year was virtual as well. Andrea, what are some of the challenges of trying to put on such a large conference virtually?

Andrea Van Hook:
Well, I think one of the major challenges that people always talk about is what they really love is that in-person networking component at conferences. Fortunately, with RESNA, that’s not an obstacle that needs to be overcome virtually. Our folks really love to connect. So we don’t have any problem. We have a conference platform that allows you to chat with each other, to message with each other. We had at our last conference over a thousand messages were sent in a two day span. People really do know how to connect on the platform. We’re also doing things, like coffee chats every morning, where you can just hop on Zoom and chat with people. We’re going to be doing a minute madness for our poster sessions.

Andrea Van Hook:
And we have an award ceremony every year. Our virtual award ceremony last year was a big success. People really enjoyed it. And even though, I think we’re all experiencing Zoom fatigue this year, people really do enjoy getting together with their colleagues and their peers, especially in assistive technology where you tend to work with small teams. It is fun to get together with about 400 to 500 people who all understand and know what you do.

Josh Anderson:
No, I completely agree. So kind of along those same lines, what do you find are some of the advantages for having the conference online as opposed to in-person?

Andrea Van Hook:
One of the biggest advantages is that you can actually earn all 3.6 CEUs. When you do an in-person conference and you have four or five concurrent sessions happening at the same time, you can only go to one of them. But with a virtual conference, you can go to one live, and then you can watch the recordings and participate in the chat for all the other sessions as well. So that’s what’s really unique about it, is you can get CE four sessions that you were not able to attend live.

Josh Anderson:
And I know that’s been kind of my favorite thing, I guess, to come out of this, and something that I hope if we all go back to in person, I hope all those recordings are still made and kind of allowed to access. Because it’s like, I don’t know, I guess going to a music festival or something, all the bands you want to see play at the same time. It seems like all the sessions you want to see. Then there’s maybe an hour where none of it really pertains to you, so you kind of go to one. But yeah, I know that’s always at any conference, at any kind of event like this, always the hardest part is picking, which one do I go to? And if you can go as a whole team, then maybe you can divide and conquer. But you always get mad if the one person’s in the one you really wanted to be in. But I think that’s a great thing, and hopefully something that we can see continue kind of as we do get back to actually being able to see each other in-person.

Andrea Van Hook:
I agree. I think the hybrid live and recorded event is probably going to be something we’re doing in the future.

Josh Anderson:
Excellent. Excellent. Well, Andrea, let’s say I’m a new participant, I’ve never been to a RESNA Conference before. What is the best way that I can kind of prepare to get the most out of the conference?

Andrea Van Hook:
Well, I think the best way to prepare, we are going to be allowing all registered attendees to access the conference platform a couple of days before the conference actually starts. So you will be able to get on the conference platform, take a look at the agenda, take a look at the exhibit hall, watch some videos and just get yourself oriented to what’s going to be happening over the next three days. We do recommend that people try to attend as many things as they can live, because that interaction and that chat is just so valuable. So you’re going to want to pick out the sessions that you’re going to want to go to definitely live.

Andrea Van Hook:
In addition, we start off each day with a keynote, and that’s a great way to sort of get yourself into the conference. The keynotes all start at 11:30 AM Eastern, and they are inspiring talks by really interesting people, some of who work in assistive technology and some of who don’t. And that can kind of get you oriented for the day. So for example, on our first day, we have Molly Story, who is an expert on universal design. She works now for Sanofi, a pharmaceutical company. She is an early RESNA member, and she’s going to be talking about how universal design, what the thinking is about it right now. On the next day we have a poet, Molly McCully Brown, who is a very well-known young poet, who has published about her disability.

Andrea Van Hook:
And along with an international panel of women assistive technology professionals from all over the world. So we have AT professionals from the UK, from Europe, from Australia and from Latin America participating on that panel. And then our third day we have Peter Axelson, the CEO, founder and CEO of Beneficial Designs, who will be talking about designing assistive technologies. Peter is a long time RESNA member. He is co-chair of our Assistive Technology Standards Board. He had his first patent at the age of 16 for a mono ski for people with disabilities. So we’re really pleased to have him as our [inaudible 00:22:49] lecturer this year.

Josh Anderson:
Excellent. Excellent. Andrea, I don’t even know if you can tell me this, but what are you most looking forward to with the conference?

Andrea Van Hook:
Well I really love the developer showcase. This is something that we have when we’re in-person, and it basically is an opportunity for people who are developing assistive technology to get feedback, and suggestions and ideas from our members and attendees, conference attendees. So you get to see some really cool prototypes that are really going to change things when they get out to market. We couldn’t figure out how to do that virtually last year, so it wasn’t a part of our conference last year. This year though, our conference platform has added some new features, so we’re going to be able to capture, we think the same kind of feeling that you have in-person with a developer showcase, where you get to go from table to table, talk directly with an inventor or a developer about what they’re trying to do, see a prototype. And then we love having a voting on an audience favorite, and we do other categories as well. It’s always a really fun event. It is going to be that Friday afternoon. It’s unopposed, so it’s two hours. And you just get to see some really cool stuff.

Josh Anderson:
Nice. And I can remember being at a RESNA Conference, and it’s not only great because you get to see all these things, but those developers are there to get your ideas and your input as well, and try to make sure that when they do bring it to market, that they’ve considered everything. So it’s a very great, oh, just a great conversation with them and with other folks there.

Andrea Van Hook:
Yes. Yes. It is always, it’s my favorite event, because you walk into that room when you’re in-person and it’s just a beehive of activity. And people, sometimes you have to jump out of the way because sometimes someone’s cruising around on a mobility device. But it is just such a cool, cool event.

Josh Anderson:
It really is. It really is. I’m glad that you found a way to be able to do that virtually, because that’s, I’m sure no small feat. But I’m sure that it’ll work out great. Well, Andrea, if our listeners want to find out more about RESNA, about the conference, or even kind of get registered, what’s the best ways for them to do that?

Andrea Van Hook:
So everything is up online on our conference event page at www.resna.org. You can read about all of the sessions that we’re offering, the keynote speakers. You can find out about all the student competitions we also hold during the event. The developer showcase and more. See the registration, how to sign up for registration. We are also offering group discounts this year. So four or more people from the same organization can get an additional 10% off, which is a great deal. And also find out about some of our social events that we’ll be holding over the three days as well.

Josh Anderson:
Excellent. We put a link to that over in the show notes. Well, Andrea Van Hook, the Executive Director of RESNA, thank you so much for coming on today, telling us a little bit about RESNA, the ATP, but most importantly, that conference that’s coming up this summer. Thank you so much.

Andrea Van Hook:
Thank you.

Josh Anderson:
Do you have a question about assistive technology? Do you have a suggestion for someone we should interview on assistive technology update? If you do, call our listener line at (317) 721-7124. Shoot us a note on Twitter @indataproject, or check us out on Facebook. Are you looking for a transcript or show notes? Head on over to our website at www.eastersealstech.com. Assistive technology update is a proud member of the Accessibility Channel. For more shows like this, plus so much more, head over to accessibilitychannel.com. The views expressed by our guests are not necessarily that of this host or the INDATA Project. This has been your Assistive Technology Update. I’m Josh Anderson, with the INDATA Project at Easterseals Crossroads in Indianapolis, Indiana. Thank you so much for listening, and we’ll see you next time.

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