With a dream. They do come true. Not always. But, this time one did.
Fourteen years ago, I wrote my first article on connecting people with disabilities to emerging technology for the Advance, a newsletter for APSE-The Employment Network. Ever since, I have been talking, writing and speaking about bridging the digital divide.
It took a while, but on a beautiful, warm October day, families gathered in a village on a mountain top and stood at the forefront of technology. Participants came from as far as Birmingham, Alabama and Chicago, Illinois to The Viceroy Hotel located in Snowmass Village, Colorado. The daylong conference focused on 21st Century rehabilitation solutions. Thanks to our sponsors, everyday families and people with disabilities heard some of the most innovative professionals, business leaders and advocates in the country speak directly to them.
The day was designed to cover five areas of innovation: Bionics, 3D Printing, Apple Accessibility Features, Apps and SmartHomes.
The event kicked off on Friday evening with appetizers by the fire in the Viceroy’s lounge. The first of its kind in our state, maybe even in the country, the room buzzed with anticipation. Old friends connected, presenters introduced themselves and everyone wondered just how this first-time effort would come together the next day. Fortunately, we were off to a good start.
My fellow conference organizers, Katie and Max Grange, Alice and Kara Bouchard, Jill Pidcock and Sallie Bernard were amazed we managed to pull together a conference rich with technology gold in just over four months.
A quiet, loving revolution took place that day on the mountain top. Families and individuals with disabilities shared ideas, swapped stories and created the future with people making history, fostering innovation and providing services.
Amanda Boxtel, injured in a ski accident got out of her wheelchair, into her computer powered exoskeleton and walked into our hearts. Our next presenter, Bill Decker, International Businessman and 3D Printing expert cursed me for having to follow such a beautiful example of determination and courage. Bill charmed the crowd with his combination of comedy and 3D printing breakthrough technology. He went down a comprehensive checklist of ways 3D Printing can customize everything from orthotics to eye glasses, even toys and countless other things we use every day.
Our friend and respected Senior Engineer from Apple Computers, Ron Utasch, was our much speculated, super-secret-special guest. With the recent launch of the iOS system, he detailed the new features embedded in the newest iphone and iPad. He introduced to our participants the potential of iBeacons to help students with disabilities navigate public places and private institutions like universities, helping them get to class without assistance.
Ron shares a passion for technology with fellow collaborator, Marsha Thelkeld from The Washington Initiative on Supported Employment. Standing at the podium with no less than three iPads at her disposal, she demonstrated just how easy it to use many of the apps available for the iPad designed to facilitate employment options for people with disabilities.
Real stories, real people.
Jill Tullman and Alice and Kara Bouchard shared specific ideas on how they implemented iPad technology; apps accomplishing practical solutions for real world challenges. This is what we need.
Dare to be different? Ask the business community to come to a technology conference. Kevin Custer, from Arc Development, blasted into the afternoon detailing how business venture capitalists both need and want to get involved in creating products for people with disabilities. Over eighty attendees grabbed their pens, reached for their iPads eager to capture what Kevin had to say. One by one, he revealed a host of companies in which is firm at invested in. These creative business people had captured both an idea and a market displaying a key strategy to the next emerging market—the special needs market.
Ideas. Smiles. New Connections. Inspiration. Hope…. Possibilities.
Sallie Bernard led a discussion on SmartHomes. The Yellow House—a home designed for three men who experience Autism. Kara’s home. And, a home built for veteran, Scott…..by Habitat for Humanity. SmartHomes give people options and can reduce staff costs, helping to facilitate more individual freedom and alleviate the constant financial burden almost all families caring for those with disabilities have felt.
We finished off the day with a cocktails and dinner. Laughter echoed through the Viceroy dining room, more stories were shared, and a new community was formed at the forefront of technology.
Sunday morning was filled with tours of the SmartHomes. Real stories, real people.
It was beautiful. It was wildly successful.
But it isn’t over. It is just beginning.
A special thank you to all our conference sponsors for which this conference would not have been possible.