Missouri Assistive Technology Hosts Annual Conference

Missouri Assistive Technology, a state program funded through the federal Assistive Technology Act with the mission of improving access to assistive technology for people with disabilities, hosted Power Up, MO AT’s annual conference, on April 7-9. The conference highlights emerging developments in assistive technology (AT) and creates space to try them out.

“For people with disabilities, digital technologies can improve their transition, retention and learning independence.” ~Judith Heumann (Disability Rights Advocate)

The event featured hundreds of booths with interactive AT, sessions to learn about the multitude of tech in Missouri and beyond and its usability, and networking opportunities amongst entities in Missouri and surrounding states. Attendees and exhibitors included emerging technology, AI-generated communication devices, universities all across Missouri, and educators and client-facing organizations wanting to learn more about how to successfully serve their clientele. 

Some of the AT showcased targeted specific impairments, but all of them were very savvy and user-friendly. For those with blind/low vision, there were magnifiers, enlarged font keyboards, braille image identifiers, and glasses for macular degeneration (that in turn blocks blue light from computer screens). For users with limited mobility, there were adaptive video game consoles, ergonomic mice, easy-to-use tablet holders, and eye tracker mice. And for individuals who are deaf/hard of hearing, there were phones with live captioning, loud alert home systems, and bed shaker alarm clocks.

Conference sessions included discussions about different software usability: “Apple vs Android Accessibility basics” (essentially blind/low vision users need to get to know your software) and “Microsoft vs. Google for Blind/Low Vision,” which includes screen readers, font size customization, live captions and magnifiers. Also, “Accessibility for Microsoft 365,” which noted the plethora of accessibility features, as long as you’re double-checking that they’re correct for a screen reader.

“By making a product more accessible for people with disabilities, we’re enabling people to learn more, to accomplish more. I feel so proud to be able to help make our products better for people so that they can do anything that they want to do in their lives.”  ~Eve Andersson, Senior Director, Accessibility & Disability Inclusion at Google

In the education sector, sessions included: “Navigating Digital Landscape in Secondary Education at the University of Missouri-Columbia,” which explains that K-12 emphasizes “success” and post secondary focuses on “access” for the students, and “AT: School Team Approach through North Kansas City Public Schools,” who is doing lots of great work to utilize AT as effectively and efficiently as possible for their students.

In addition to AT, other sessions explored ethics and awareness topics, such as, “Duet of the Digits: Interpreters vs. Technology, Why it Matters?” which listed the pros and cons of both live ASL interpreters and interpreting software. “Video Game Accessibility Features” discussed a new video game called “The Vale,” where users experience a game as if they were blind (with very limited visual cues). “Augmented and Alternative Communication (AAC) and Autism” had the presenter Catalina present over her personal experiences with AAC while using her device to talk. Finally, there was “3D Printing AT: Missouri Landscape”, which shared the heart-wrenching story of printing children’s custom sized limbs for children who survived an earthquake in Turkey.

The conference also featured a keynote from Sam Seavey, also known as “The Blind Life” on YouTube and other streaming platforms, who spoke about his life journey and what brought him to being an influencer today. Sam tests AT for blind/low vision users since he is legally blind and provides honest opinions on the products. He said that technology is helping to innovate the ways people with disabilities live their lives. Case in point: robot seeing-eye dogs!

Most people with disabilities have difficulties accessing the digital world, whether it is a lack of resources, knowledge, or affordability to meet their needs. AT enables individuals to surf the web, call their loved ones, and get work done with ease. This, in turn, will bridge the gap for people with disabilities and other impairments to live a more connected and digital life. In order to provide better access for older adults, people with disabilities, and the greater KC community for digital skills development and computer access, KC Digital Drive is currently finalizing a partnership with MO AT to become an AT demo site. 

Find more information about what MO AT provides, including device loan programs, free assistive equipment, and developments to come in the KC region. 

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