This year I had the opportunity to attend the assets2016 conference in Reno, Nevada and it was an excellent learning experience. For clarity, ASSETS stands for ACM SIGACCESS Conference on Computers and Accessibility.
The ASSETS conference is the premier computing research conference exploring the design, evaluation, and use of computing and information technologies to benefit people with disabilities and older adults.
Accessibility is a field of growing interest for me, and while I have previously had the opportunity to do some research related to wearable interventions for individuals with cognitive impairments, this was my first opportunity to truly engage with the community. At this conference, I got the chance to deliver a poster presentation about my work on a smartwatch app for individuals with attention deficiency and anxiety. I did get some really great feedback, and the pleasure was all mine connecting with this awesome community! Below are highlights on my experience attending the conference.
Keynote on Advances in Accessibility over the past decade.
The keynote speech for this conference was delivered by Dr. Richard Lardner – a rather unusual but deeply enlightening speech titled Accessibility is Becoming Mainstream. Dr Lardner provided a rich account of important changes observed within the accessibility field over the past few decades. He started by outlining how more effort was being made to include, rather than exclude individuals with disabilities. He further explained a shift in societal perspective from viewing disabilities as a medical phenomenon to considering it as a social phenomenon. He gave examples of universal (inclusive) design – designing for all people and not just the average person. He also highlighted that as opposed to efforts primarily geared at “normalization” of individuals with disabilities, effort is now invested in celebrating their diversity. Finally, disability conditions are no longer seen as stigma, but rather opportunities for a positive identity.
One of the other important highlights from this talk was the growth of American Sign language as a taught language at colleges (now the 3rd most popular language).
Statistics indicate that ASL is only surpassed by Spanish and French, followed by German and Italian. Another important highlight was
the emergence of C-level executive positions related to accessibility, citing the example at Microsoft with a Chief Accessibility Officer.
A deeper insight into Accessibility
This conference offered me an opportunity to better understand challenges faced by individuals living with disabilities – especially those with sight and hearing difficulties. All talks at the conference were sign language translated, and presenters were encouraged to speak at moderate pace and have visual slide decks. This really got me thinking about the breath of ways technology (software mostly) can be harnessed to make this translation/communication process better. There were also several presentations on accessible technologies (see here) .
Reno is small, but has many treasures – Lahe Tahoe!
Reno Nevada is a fairly small city, but does have enough to keep most people fully entertained! In addition to the famous, sprawling casinos and hotel resorts, Reno does offer an eclectic set of options – fast food chains, asian cuisine, etc. I did try out an Outback restaurant and a Vietnamese restaurant while there. However, the highlight of Reno for me was the trip to see the crystal clear, mesmerizing waters of lake Tahoe. Was simply awesome!
Overall Impression .. and ASSETS 2017 ? Baltimore MD, Yay!
Overall, I feel the conference was very well organized – registration, planning, everything was just smooth. Huge credits to the conference chairs and the entire team! It is a fairly small conference (173 attendees this year) but also a close knit community of researchers who deeply care about the topic of accessibility. I definitely look forward to attending Assets next year, and even more inspired by its location – Baltimore MD! The committee for next year’s conference have hinted as some halloween special events too!
As mentioned earlier, I did get some valuable feedback during my poster discussions and these could serve as foundation for a research project to be presented next year! I’ll have to work on this carefully!