“Learning about new ideas and exploring new collaborations in Assistive Technology” – a scientific committee member of #AAATE2019 shares her expectations for the gathering of 300+ AT experts in Bologna this August

From 27-30 August, the AAATE 2019 Conference brings together researchers and practitioners from academia, service providers and industry to discuss the latest innovations and visionary ideas in the field of assistive technology (AT) in its broadest sense. In the run-up to the conference, we have asked one of our scientific committee members, E.A. Draffan from the University of Southhampton, UK, about her expectations for the conference and which immediate challenges she sees for the AT sector.

1)     Can you give us a quick overview of your background and experience in the assistive technology sector?

E.A.: I trained as a Speech and Language Therapist working with those who have complex communication needs, before specialising in the use of Assistive Technology and the issues of digital accessibility. My career began in hospitals and moved on into specialist schools and finally with disabled students in Further and Higher Education. I set up a university Assistive Technology Centre assessing and supporting disabled students for over 10 years and went on to contribute to the work of the UK National Assistive Technology Centre, before becoming a Senior Research Fellow within the Web and Internet Science Group at the University of Southampton. Research interests remain linked to the ease of use and accessibility of technologies and their content, the mainstreaming of assistive technologies and working with cultural and language differences in Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC and symbol use). Further work has included  international elearning inclusion and digital accessibility MOOCs and other online courses, lectures on Assistive Technologies and Universal Design. Recent research includes ‘AI and Inclusion’ as part of the Alan Turing Institute work, as a consultant on an EU project for mobile app choices for those with literacy difficulties (A is for App) and working with the W3C WAI WCAG cognitive task force on web based accessibility for those with cognitive impairments.

2)     What are the most important challenges we need to tackle in the #AT sector in the next 6-12 months?

E.A.: Making sure the EU Web Accessibility Directive is adhered to and ease of use and accessibility is improved across all digital ecosystems so that built-in and additional AT systems can support those with disabilities.  

3)     Are there any stakeholder groups that you think the AT sector should work with more closely?

E.A.: Important are bottom up approaches with increased interactions with users within their favoured settings rather than when they visit centres etc to appreciate true barriers. AT experts need to get out of their comfort zones… Ensuring AT experts share their knowledge at conferences, meetings and focus groups made up of individuals who are NOT aware of the barriers they may unwittingly create for AT users e.g.: an AT specialist and AT user speaking at a Maths conference or meeting computer scientists building apps or thinking about AI, data and algorithms that need to include everyone not just the young able-bodied individuals. Obviously, we also need to work closely with governments, policy makers and local councils etc. But also with businesses who make software as a service (SAAS) difficult and expensive for users.

4)     What part of #AAATE2019 are you particularly looking forward to?  

E.A.: Learning about new ideas and exploring new collaborations.

5)     What would be your advice to young people starting off in the #AT sector?

E.A.: Stay open minded and excited about how new technologies that may initially appear irrelevant to AT users, can turn out to be incredibly helpful for a range of difficulties.

To get more information about the conference and register, go to: http://aaate2019.eu