Podcast: Play in new window | Download
Originally Aired: 8/28/2020
The ATIA conference will be in person this year starting next week and running through Feb. 4th, 2023.
David Dikter – CEO – ATIA
Find out more and register for ATIA here: www.atia.org
Hi, this is David Dikter. I’m the CEO of the Assistive Technology Industry Association, sometimes known as ATIA. And this is your Assistive Technology Update.
Hello, and 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 609 of Assistive Technology Update. It is scheduled to be released on January 27th, 2023. As the show comes out, some members of my team and myself are looking forward to going to ATIA next week, and I thought, just for fun, we would replay an interview with David Dikter, the CEO of ATIA, from back in August of 2020, just to kind of hear how they were dealing with COVID back then, and to remind us all just how happy we are to actually be seeing each other in person again. So, hope you enjoy this replay of our show from back in August of 2020.
Well, in case you’re unaware, there’s this pandemic thing going on. So, this year, the ATIA Conference will be held virtually. Today, we’re lucky enough to have David Dikter, CEO of ATIA, on the show, to talk about the conference and how his team is working to make it a great conference for all virtual attendees. David, welcome to the show.
Thanks a lot, Joshua. Nice to be here.
Well, it’s great to have you on, but before we get into talking about ATIA, can you tell our listeners a little bit about yourself?
Sure. I have been the CEO of ATIA for almost 20 years. I can’t believe that it’s been this long. I started when the conference was in its third year, and I’ve seen it grow from 600 people to over 3000 people, and I’ve just been involved in this industry for a really long time.
Before I started working for ATIA, I was, for the most part, a teacher in the Boston Public Schools for most of my 15 years of teaching, working in early childhood and elementary schools in Special Education, and also working with assistive technology, way back in the early days, going to events around assistive technology in the early days, and getting to know, not just the technology, but the companies themselves, which eventually led me to this role, running the industry association in this event.
That is excellent. Well, for our listeners who don’t know, what is ATIA?
So, we are the Assistive Technology Industry Association. Our membership are all those companies that you might have products of, or that you use as professionals, and for all different segments of the disability community across all ages. So, it could be screen readers. It could be products for the visually impaired. It could be products around learning and learning disabilities and communication technologies, as well as mainstream technologies. That’s who our membership is.
We have dedicated our organization, really, to be about educating about assistive technology, especially targeted to a lot of the practitioners and professionals and caregivers and consumers, and really trying to do high-quality, high-level education, because one of the things we knew is that not enough people know about the technology.
And it is not always just simple plug-and-play technology. A lot of folks with a disability need supports and have supports around their learning or around their use of technology or around their gaining greater independence. And they have practitioners and professionals, whether they be speech and language pathologists or occupational therapists or just teachers and folks who train around this stuff, around rehabilitation. And these folks need to know as much as we can provide them about this world of technology that we operate in.
We kind of talked about all the different places and some of the importance of that education, but what are some of the things that someone could learn from the ATIA Conference?
Well, I think you started off by saying, one of the most amazing parts about our event is the sense of community and the bringing together this incredibly … kind of this amazing variety of folks, who work in this field of assistive technology. And even all the new people, as it’s grown, the conference and the organization have become a really closely connected community, with really big, wide open arms to all the other folks, who kind of come into the field and need to learn.
It’s really impressive to me, when we’re at an event, when we’re at one of our event, and people are in a meeting room, and there’s maybe 100 or 200 people, watching a speaker who they’ve all read about and known about or seen their information and, afterwards, all they do is crowd around and want to talk to that person. And that element of the conference is really powerful.
Now, clearly, they can learn about how to use technology. They can learn about the best ways to assess around using assistive technology. They can learn about what other … Really, the key is, what other practitioners and professionals, what they’re doing to make this stuff work for the whole gamut and variety of clients and students and adults that they serve.
So, it’s not always simple and easy to say, “Well here’s one piece of technology. You just use it the same with everybody.” Well, when it comes to disability, everybody’s different and unique, and we like to have the idea that people share that knowledge and be able to share what they know, so that everybody else can get a benefit from it.
And, so, there’s the networking, there’s the sharing part. We have all these themes around our event, which we’ll also have in our virtual event, and the learning part. So, really deep-diving. Do you want to learn about the technology? You can go visit companies, but you can also go to professional development sessions.
At our event last year in 2020, we had over 350 educational sessions, across every … 12 different strand topic areas, and all kinds of disabilities and age groups and environments, so, schools versus work and accessibility-related issues.
So, we really cover a lot of ground, in order to meet the needs of both our attendees and our membership. Our membership’s goal is to really get folks aware of their technologies and, for folks who want to buy it, that’s the connection right there. And that’s what we hope kind of grows, as we continue to grow.
Well, I have to agree with you. And just a real quick personal story. I was lucky enough to get to present there last year, in that coveted 9:00 AM Saturday morning spot. And like you said, folks just kind of had the best questions. And I present a lot, kind of just mostly around Indiana and some other places, but just the questions from everybody, I could have stood in there for another hour-and-a-half, if somebody else wasn’t presenting, just to be able to talk to the folks that were in the audience.
And again, it’s 9:00 AM on the very last day of the conference, and there’s 30 people in there, with great things to say and talk about. It is a very amazing kind of group of people.
Saturday morning at the event, our event ends on a Saturday afternoon, and I will tell you, that when we get to that Saturday afternoon, I am completely shot.
I know. I’ve spent two weeks, by that point, in Florida. I don’t live in Florida, but I spent almost two weeks there, prepping and getting ready. And the event is just a million meetings and a million things that I do, just as running the whole event, and working with my board of directors and all that stuff and the membership.
But the fact that people fill the rooms fairly well on Saturday morning is a statement about the level of dedication that everyone has that comes to this event. Sometimes, when you hold a conference in Florida, everybody thinks, “Oh, everybody’s just going off and having some Disney World time.”
That is not what our people do. Those rooms and that exhibit hall are full, from the minute we open until the minute we close for the end of it Saturday. And it’s powerful. It’s just part of this amazing community of folks who are just hungry for lots of information, for both on the sharing side and on the learning side.
Yeah. You got a whole group of people who are just out there to be able to help and work with folks to meet their needs. So, the more tools they have in their toolbox, the better they can do it. And like you said, they’re just hungry. They’re just hungry to get that information.
But I’m with you. I’m not down there two weeks. I’m down there four days. And it’s usually Tuesday or Wednesday of the next week of being home that I’m kind of back in any kind of normal, because it’s exhausting. It’s a lot of stuff.
That’s very exhausting.
Well, as we kind of talk of that, this year, you had to shift the conference online. What’s the biggest challenge with moving everything to an online format?
There are so many. The list is long. We’re still working out a lot of the logistics. The timing is different. But I will say, the biggest shift and the biggest difference and the biggest thing that that’s happened is, number one, the acknowledgement that our virtual event will not feel the same sense of community that our face-to-face event is. A lot of people who have been involved with ATIA, whether they be a company involvement or whether they be a speaker or an attendee for 20 years, really came to us and said, “Yes, we understand why.”
There’s no question about why we had to do what we had to do or the fact that we did … decisions we made. It’s the mourning the loss of not being able to connect with friends and colleagues because it’s the only time of year, other than virtual ways or email, that people do get to connect with each other.
In our field of AT and accessibility, a lot of the practitioners work in isolation. They work as one of the only people in a university that’s supporting students. They work in a smaller rehab center or in a smaller service provider organization, working with adults. And they are the one person who has lots of knowledge in assisted technology.
And, so, when they come together at our event, it is that being able to talk to people who are sort of like-minded about their goal, their professional goal of supporting people with technology. So, missing that for a year, I think, is really hard.
That being said, we are working really hard to create some social activities and some interactions, and we made a choice about technology that’s going to be harder to manage, but allow people more exposure to each other as a result of it. So, instead of putting people in things like a Zoom webinar room, where the attendees actually don’t get to see each other, it’s a speaker talking, and you’re going to have lots and lots of people in a room, and their audio is turned off, and they can ask questions through texts and stuff.
We actually are going to use the Zoom meeting platform, which allows people to actually see each other, who’s in the room, and they allow them to chit-chat behind the scenes in a chat function, to each other or to the whole group, even when a speaker’s speaking. So, we’re going to-
… open it up in that way. Now, we’re not going to let everybody turn their cameras on that. That would be a mess, and people aren’t going to be allowed to turn their audio on because that also would be challenging, if you get hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people in one room. But we are going to try and find ways, during these live sessions of the event, to make it as close to an interactive environment as we can.
In addition, we’re going to have lots of social activities each day. We’ve carved out a schedule for each day of our event, that tries to meet the needs of lots of different folks. And, if I can, I’d like to go through what we’ve kind of how we’ve coordinated the event.
Yeah, please do.
One of the challenges that we had was we have over 350 educational sessions at our live event. We had to abandon ship on a lot of those concepts. What is our original event, and what is the virtual event? We had to really go in different directions.
What is possible? What do people need the most of? And we know that people want education. So, professional development is at the core of what we’re doing. And instead of 350 educational sessions, we’ll probably have a little more than 120 of them, and they’ll be continuing education credits for all of this stuff. We have five different organizations that we give continuing education credits for, AOTA, ASHA, ISAAC, ACVREP, and we’re adding one more. Well, I’m not going to say right now, because we don’t have permission to say it, but we have one more, sort of around rehab counselors.
Anyway, so we have those things and those continuing education credits for people. So, we wanted to provide a lot of professional development, but we also wanted to carve out a schedule that made it possible, people cross time zones and across work environments. Unlike a lot of virtual events, our attendees, if they’re back at their workplace, whether they be face-to-face or they’re virtual at their workplace, they’re working with clients and students. And the fact of the matter is, they don’t have all day for many days to spend on live stuff.
So, instead of having content spread across eight days, all different stuff, we’ve created two days. We have an eight-day conference live, but we’ve created strands, and a strand will occur on a single day.
So, those four strands that we’ve done are Augmented Communication, Vision and Hearing technologies, AT for Physical Access, and the last one is Education and Learning.
So, on week one, there’ll be one strand on each day. And any of your listeners can say, “Okay, what is the content I want the most of, and if I can carve out one afternoon and early evening, that I can spend that time on that set of topics, for that particular day? And then if I have an hour here or an hour there during the rest of the time, I can do live.”
Here’s the cool part. All that live content will be recorded, and all of it will be available until the end of June. So, the last week of January, first week of February is our live event. And then, everything will be recorded, and it’ll be captioned, and it’ll be awesome. And then you’ll be able to go to it whenever you choose. If you decide to kind of want to take a lot of months to do all of that learning, you can do that.
We’ll also have some pre-recorded content that will start to be available in October and November. So, if you register early, you can go and watch all this stuff early and get some professional development before we even have a live event.
So, the idea is to try and accommodate lots of scheduling and opportunity and content that people want. Everybody wants something different. So, we’re trying to spread it out so that you pick the times that are best fitting for you. You look at the content, and you say, “This is the content I want.” You schedule it into your life. The stuff that you still want, but you can’t schedule into your life, you’re not going to miss it. You’re going to be able to get it at another … when you want, on demand.
The social activities are in the latest part of the day, so we can have talk with speakers or some spotlight sessions or a panel that might be really fun and interesting. Our exhibitor hour is going to be different each week. We’ll have one, where we do lots of prizes and giveaways. And the second week, we’re going to do just basic booths, where people can go virtually, look at essentially a webpage, and then go visit with those companies in their own Zoom rooms or their video conferencing rooms. Some of them use other than Zoom, and it’ll be really easy to click a link, and you just go in and talk to the company about whatever you want.
Excellent. You kind of a answered my next question there, because I was going to ask, how are you going to do the vendor hall? That’s got to be very hard to do online, but it sounds like you got a great idea made for that.
It’s really hard to do online. So, we’re trying to keep this as simple as we can. It probably sounds really complex, just listening to me talk, but we’re trying to make it so you go to a single page, and you look at a list of companies. You decide which company you’re interested in. You click on it, and you go to their page. You learn about what they’re doing, and you click a link, and you can go and visit with them, or you can sign up for more information.
That’s, for now, I think, the best that we’re going to be able to do, and we’re really going to encourage people to … Every company we’re encouraging to do a prize giveaway, so if you’re interested in getting prizes. And then we are also going to be doing prize giveaways every day. Look, if we can’t see everybody, and we can’t … Let’s have some fun along the way.
So, we’re going to be giving out rather nice gift cards, that’ll be like cash money, and some other products and things like that. Our companies are going to be giving away lots of products. I just saw some of the lists that’s being developed, and some of them are pretty big lifetime use of a product and things like that. And some are cool, cool giveaways.
So, we’re going to have all of that available, and you’re going to have to walk through it like webpages. And that’s kind of what a virtual booth experience is. You go to a virtual set of pictures and things, and then you click on stuff, and you end up either filling out a form or, in our case, on the one day, at a certain time, there’ll be a live Zoom link into those booths, where you can actually talk to a representative from that company. But for the most part, that’s kind of how we’re doing it.
On the first week, we’re actually got every company, we’re asking them to give us a three-minute little video that’s a product pitch, kind of like a Shark Tank product pitch. Everybody’s going to be in one room, and we’re going to play these quick three-minute videos and, after every few of them, we’re going to give some prizes away each and every time to all the people who come to that. So, that’ll be one of the times to come.
And, so, on each strand day, it’ll be companies related to that strand. So, if you’re interested in augmented communication, then you’re going to come on that day, and you’ll be able to, that exhibitor day on the first week, and you’ll see the companies that they’ve talking about, what their new products are. And then you’ll be eligible for some pretty cool stuff. So, that’s how we’re doing the exhibitor experience.
The social stuff is just, a lot of it is through virtual meeting rooms. So, there’s going to be a lot of stuff in the Zoom rooms. And each day, there will be three one-hour blocks of time for education. So, we’re not trying to overdo it. Each day will start a little bit before 12 o’clock Eastern time, and it’ll end somewhere around six o’clock in the afternoon.
We have breaks built in, breaks between every session, and sometimes, we have a little bit of a longer 20-plus break, just for having something to eat or you got to make a phone call or do some email or check on your kids, whatever it is. So, we tried to think about the best way to let our attendees interact with us.
I want to talk real quickly, because I didn’t say it at all, we have a registration fee for everyone. We have a whole bunch of content, like we have on our regular conference, that is free. So, you can sign up for free, no cost. You can do all the exhibitor stuff. You can do a whole bunch of professional development that’s going to be free. You can do all some of the social stuff, and you can be part of the prize giveaways. All that stuff can be, and is, free.
So, you don’t have to pay for coming to the ATIA 2021. We have options for people to buy just a single day. They can buy a strand, which is two days, with a specific topic, or they can buy the whole event. And I’m going to hint right now, that if you are going to pay for the full event, you should be inquiring to our member companies or look for our member companies who will be putting discounts out there for everybody.
So, because they’re members of ATIA, we’re going to let them share that discount with everybody who wants to take advantage of it. And I think that that is really important. It was really important to us to find ways to make this, not just flexible schedule-wise, flexible content-wise, but also flexible from a money point of view, from a registration fee point of view.
So, if you only have $125, you can do a single day. If you have no money, you can do the free event and get lots and lots of good content. It’s not lightweight. It’ll be good.
Excellent. I think that’s really important, and I’m glad you guys thought about that, just as I know a lot of folks, and even organizations and programs, can be struggling at this time, but it’s still important for them to have that professional development, be able to serve those they work with better. So, again, I’m glad that you thought about that.
At the regular, at our face-to-face conference, the exhibit hall is free, and so too our whole bunch of the educational sessions that the exhibitors do. And we really thought long and hard, “How do we do that on a virtual event? And then how do we create flexibility around the actual event itself for pricing point of view?”
One of our decisions when we did cancel the face-to-face event, was the fact that we knew that a lot of our folks work in nonprofits. They work in schools, and budgets this year are going to be really difficult. Now, granted, nobody’s going to be able to travel anywhere in January, I think. I think traveling is just still a really difficult thing to do. And, so, that’s really the main thing.
But we also thought long and hard about budgets, and it’ll certainly … These budget issues for cities, towns, states are going to impact events for a long time. So, we’re well-prepared for dealing with that. Our event may be, we’re hoping it grows out of this virtual event, actually. More people will learn about us virtually, and then have all kinds of options for 2022.
David, we talked about the challenges. We talked about some of the things you’re doing for the vendors and to make everybody feel connected. What are you most looking forward to at this year’s conference?
If I get over my inherent, “Is all the technology going to actually work properly when we get to the live thing?” That’s the one thing that can go wrong. Right? We’ve all been somewhere where the technology just goes crazy.
I’m actually looking forward to, because I have a great team of folks, I’m going to be able to jump in and out of rooms, and I won’t have to be in one room the whole time. I’m looking forward to kind of seeing how our attendees interact with all of this stuff. I think that there is a lot of lessons to be learned.
Look, and this goes into, I think, something else you were talking to me about earlier, we provide a lot of online education already. We record the conference sessions, and we then resell them after the fact, as packages. So, for people who couldn’t go to the conference, they can get some of that content. And we sell it to the people who do go to the conference, but can’t attend every session, so they want more content as well.
So, we’re really familiar with online learning environment, and we have a learning management system that manages all this for us. Thank goodness for that. But I think the best part for me is probably going to be those social hours and being able to sit in that and sit back and experience, like I do in Orlando when we have the annual event, being able to step back from all my day-to-day kind of detailed work that it takes to manage an event, and watch how people interact and connect with each other.
I truly believe this, that, no matter what the platform is, this group of people who come to ATIA and who are new to ATIA, they will find a way to make connections. And it doesn’t have to be in our event, and it could be in our event. It could be in Twittersphere. It could be all different places.
But we all are looking for supports and be able to talk about what we do and just say, “Hey, I’m trying to find answers of how something works with this student, who has this kind of profile.” And I’m looking forward to being able to take a breath, sit back, and watch everybody do that kind of stuff. And I think that’s, again, that’s the community piece of it.
And I will be honest, I am seriously looking forward to being at a face-to-face event in 2022.
I was just about to say, I’m looking forward to maybe we can have this conversation again in 2022.
We have a big party already in the works for 2022. I’ve already asked the board of directors for extra budget for 2022. It’s like, “We need to throw a party somehow.”
Well, David, if our listeners want to find out more about ATIA, maybe check out that online learning center, or kind of get registered for the conference, what’s the best way for them to do that?
The best way is atia.org. Our website is a, T, as in Tom, ia.O-R-G. And just go there. There is a conference link. There is a learning center link, and then there’s some information for attendees.
David, it’s been a pleasure to talk to you today and, as I said, I really hope we get to do this again next year, face-to-face.
Have a great conference. We’re looking really forward to it, and we’ll look forward to hopefully having you in person next year.
Joshua, thank you so much. I really appreciate it.
Do you have a question about assistive technology? Do you have a suggestion for someone we should interview on an Assistive Technology Update? If so, call our listener line at (317) 721-7124. Send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or shoot us a note on Twitter @INDATAProject.
Our captions and transcripts for the show are sponsored by the Indiana Telephone Relay Access Corporation, or InTRAC. You can find out more about InTRAC at relayindiana.com. A special thanks to Nikol Prieto for scheduling our amazing guests and making a mess of my schedule.
Today’s show was produced, edited, hosted, and fraught over by yours truly. The opinions expressed by our guest are their own and may or may not reflect those of the INDATA Project, Easterseals Crossroads, our supporting partners, or this host.
This was your Assistive Technology update. And I’m Josh Anderson with the INDATA Project at Easterseals Crossroads in beautiful Indianapolis, Indiana. We look forward to seeing you next time. Bye-bye.