In 2019, I attended the Assistive Technology Industry Association’s annual conference in Orlando, Florida, which is held yearly in January/February. As a college student with low vision who is passionate about assistive technology, I was excited to attend the conference with a student discount and learn more about new and emerging technologies, as well as network with others in the field of accessibility. Here are my tips for attending the ATIA conference with low vision, based on my own experiences.
Planning before the conference
The ATIA conference takes place about a week after the semester begins, so I told my professors in advance that I would be attending this conference and would not be able to attend class- at the time, I was talking to my professors daily after a registration error dropped me from my classes. Two of my professors extended assignment deadlines for me so that I didn’t have to worry about rushing to finish assignments, and one of them asked me to write an extra credit report about any interesting vendors or people I met that were involved in data science and accessibility.
Participants don’t have to sign up for sessions in advance, so my primary focus on planning before the conference was getting a student discount on registration, booking a flight, and reserving a hotel room on the conference property so that I could easily walk to various sessions and activities. I also reached out to some friends I’ve known since high school that lived in the area and made dinner plans with them.
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Printing business cards
Another way I prepared for the conference was by printing new copies of my business card, which feature my website and other contact information as well as a link to my resume. I was interested in talking to different attendees and vendors about my website and generating new post ideas, so this was an easy way for me to share information- since this conference doesn’t focus a lot on employment compared to others I’ve attended, I didn’t feel the need to carry physical copies of my resume. I have an entire post about designing business cards with low vision linked below.
Getting ready the day before the conference
I arrived in Florida a day earlier than planned as my flight was at risk of getting canceled due to an unexpected snowstorm- I was able to switch my flight to an earlier day and adjust my hotel registration. I had an entire day to prepare for the conference, so I took this time to read about what sessions were taking place and make notes of tracks/topics I was interested in, such as emerging technologies, visual impairment, accessibility, and other educational sessions. I also made a goal to attend at least one session every day in a topic that I was not familiar with or that I didn’t work with regularly, since I love finding new intersections for assistive technology services.
The night before the conference began, the vendor/exhibit hall hosted a free preview event so that people could become familiar with the conference layout and who would be attending. After having dinner with my friends, I invited them to come with me to the exhibit hall and they served as my human guides- they let me know where different booths I was interested in were located, and we stopped to say hello to a few different vendors as well. By the end of the night, I had a solid mental map of the exhibit hall and we were able to find the rooms for my first sessions the next morning as well.
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I attended eight different sessions over the course of the ATIA conference, not including the general introductory and closing sessions, averaging 3-4 sessions per day. Some of the sessions I attended covered topics such as college transition, emerging technologies, coding accessibility, learning about functional vision, and video accessibility. In some cases, I had to skip sessions I was interested in due to a surprise migraine or not being able to attend two different sessions at once, so I would make a note of who the speaker was and either try to find them somewhere else at the conference or see if they shared any information online/on social media. All of the sessions had digital handouts available in accessible formats.
“10 Technologies Changing Lives (And How To Live With Them)” was my favorite session that I attended for the entire conference. David Banes is a super engaging speaker and talked about how new innovations in robotics and artificial intelligence can benefit people with disabilities, and I was excited to meet him after following his account on Twitter.
Exploring the exhibit hall
I covered most of the exhibit hall on my first day of the conference, and went to visit people from Microsoft, Google, and several other assistive technology companies. Since I had just recently accepted a summer internship with Microsoft, I found it especially helpful to talk to people at that booth and learn more about their experiences working at Microsoft with vision loss. I also had a lot of fun at the Google booth learning about new features with Google Lens and the Google Lookout app, as well as sharing feedback on how I use Android.
While this wasn’t intentional, I mostly visited high-tech assistive technology booths on my first day of exploring the exhibit hall, and no-tech and low-tech assistive technology booths on the second day. This worked out well because I was able to take notes on my phone about what I learned from each booth and follow people on social media before leaving their booth.
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Spending time with GMU alumni
I’m a student at George Mason University studying data science and assistive technology, so I was excited to see my favorite professor and other familiar faculty and staff at ATIA, as well as meet many alumni from the assistive technology program. Since I knew everyone at the GMU booth, I would circle back around there if I had any questions about the conference or needed to sit down for a few minutes, and appreciated being able to talk to people about how to navigate such a large conference- as well as eat some of the Swedish Fish that were on the table.
Even though I am not an alum of GMU’s Masters in Assistive Technology (yet!), I was invited to several events and networking opportunities, which was incredible. I was able to talk to people who are doing lots of different things within the assistive technology and accessibility fields, learn more about different strategies and techniques that they share with their students, and see how what I was learning in my classes would prepare me for employment in the future. Also, we got to go to some amazing restaurants- shoutout to Siro Italian Kitchen for their incredible Brussel sprouts!
Since a few of the GMU alumni already knew me from the university or from social media, they served as my human guides while I was walking in the dark, and also helped me access the bus transportation services.
Organizing items I received at the conference
I received several different items while attending the ATIA conference, including prototypes of assistive technology devices, magnets, and items from the make-and-take day such as key grips and 3D printed items. Learning from my experience at the Grace Hopper Celebration, I had left extra room in my suitcase and backpack to take items home with me, and also had brought some fluffy scarves to wrap fragile items with so that they didn’t get crushed in the suitcase/backpack.
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Spending time in the hotel
I was frequently exhausted after a day filled with conference events, and stored shelf-stable items such as muffins in my room in case I needed a quick breakfast or snack. I was able to eat lunch at the conference during the day, and on my last night I had food delivered to my room since I didn’t want to worry about going out by myself- I left at 6 am the next day as I was worried about not being able to get to the airport in time after the conference concluded.
More tips for attending the ATIA conference with low vision
- I didn’t request a human guide for the exhibit hall or for helping me get to sessions as I was familiar with where I was going and could ask conference staff or other people I knew for directions. A lot of people were attending this conference who used blindness canes or other mobility aids, so staff were well-versed in how to help
- Before leaving for the conference hall every morning, I would check the updated schedule to determine if a session I was interested in was relocated or canceled.
- Attendees dressed business casual during the day and casual at night- learn more about choosing clothes in
- When I travel to conferences, I bring a carry-on rolling suitcase and a backpack as my personal item, so that I can use my blindness cane with a free hand
- Want to explore more perspectives from ATIA 2019? Visit the ATIA19 hashtag- #ATIA19 | Twitter Search