TechAbility Conference 2023
“The best AT in education and beyond conference in the calendar”. This is the description given to the TechAbility Conference by a leading figure in UK Assistive Technology.
Taking place on 7 November, TechAbility 2023 will give you opportunities to learn from leading practitioners in the field of Assistive Technology with all presentations grounded in practice and research. Alongside the presentations will be opportunities to meet with AT suppliers and discuss the solutions they provide.
In response to delegate feedback an additional discussion forum has been added to the end of the day. This will give further opportunities for discussion with colleagues across the sector and spend additional time with exhibitors.
The venue for TechAbility 2023 is the Radisson Blu Hotel and Conference Centre conveniently located immediately next to Stansted Airport. Public transport links are excellent with the train station only 5 minutes walk away. The Stansted Express runs every 30 minutes from central London. There are also direct trains from Birmingham, Peterborough and Cambridge and rail services connect to all major destinations across the UK. If you are driving there is ample car parking and should you choose to fly it is only a 500 metre walk from the airport to the hotel.
Feedback about last year’s conference included:
“A wonderfully diverse range of workshops which encourage uptake of technology to support those with additional needs.” and “Great balance of seminars, exhibitions and opportunity to network.”
Application of learning is a key goal of the conference and 94% of delegates said they were “Very Likely” or “Likely” to apply learning from the 2022 conference in their work.
Over two-thirds of delegates rated the 2022 conference as “Excellent” in total 94% of delegates gave a rating of “Excellent” or “Good”.
On this page
- Keynote speaker
- Workshops and presentations
- Discussion forum
- Sponsors and Exhibitors
Keynote Speaker – Professor Annalu Waller OBE
We are delighted to host a true legend in the Assistive Technology community as our keynote speaker. Annalu Waller is Professor of Computing at the University of Dundee where her primary research areas are human computer interaction, natural language processing, personal narrative and assistive technology.
Annalu has worked in the field of AT and AAC (Alternative and Augmentative Communication) since 1985, designing communication systems for and with nonspeaking individuals. She established the first AAC assessment and training centre in South Africa in 1987 before coming to Dundee in 1989. Annalu focuses on empowering end users, including disabled adults and children, by involving them in the design and use of technology.
Annalu was awarded an OBE in 2016 for services to people with Complex Communication Needs and is an Honorary Fellow of the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists.
Annalu’s keynote speech will highlight how it is currently an inspiring and exciting time for Assistive Technology due to developments in solutions and integration into mainstream technologies. She will contrast this with areas in which there is still much to be done and will inspire Assistive Technology practitioners to continue pushing the boundaries of the possible.
Workshops and presentations
As ever, presentations are firmly based in practice and research ensuring delegates have the chance to learn from Assistive Technology users, supporters and researchers to enhance progress in the field.
The following sessions have been confirmed, with more to be announced in the coming weeks:
An accessible maths journey
Trying to create an environment where lecturers can create accessible maths is multi-faceted and requires quite a few streams of work. In this session, we present the approach taken by the University of York over a few years to progress accessible maths with the help of student interns, lecturers and disabled students. We describe the infrastructure and projects required to make creating accessible maths easy for all. Finally, the user research conducted with one blind maths student, with her own unique way of accessing and creating maths, will be discussed.
Beyond music therapy – hacking the paradigm
Lee Holder, Disability Lead, The Music Works
What do dance mats, electroconductive dough and carrots have in common? All of these things can be musical instruments with an accessible mind-set and a little ingenuity & know-how. For the last 35 years, Lee Holder has been using a huge array of music technology to overcome their own personal challenges to making music, from creating singing flowers to reading EEG brain-waves for audio-visual art installations. For the last 10 years they have used this experience to empower young people in their musical journeys as Disability lead for the Music Works. Using everything from handmade electronics to garden vegetables, Lee has dedicated his life to helping others make music and remove barriers to participating in music performance and creation. Lee will discuss techniques and technologies that work in 1:1 and small group music making and share the voices & stories of young music makers with disabilities who have experienced life-changing experiences as a result of an open-minded and adaptable approach to music and sound.
Realising the benefits of technology in supported employment
The All-Party Parliamentary Group for Assistive Technology’s next report is about the use of technology in Supported Employment. Technology, combined with human support, can help disabled talent to succeed by breaking down barriers at work. The report explores how policymakers can scale Supported Employment and improve outcomes by mainstreaming the use of technology by disabled people in these roles. In this session, Shamima will share early findings and recommendations from the report.
A virtual support system – Designing virtual assistants and AI-powered dialogue to enhance access to education
Dr Jess Carr, Research Associate, The Open University
Innovations in assistive technology, accessible teaching materials and inclusive design approaches present greater opportunities than ever for disabled people to study equitably. However, this is restricted by limited support for awareness and knowledge sharing, the administrative burden of gaining support and adjustments, and continued use of inaccessible platforms and media in teaching.
There is increasing potential for dialogue with artificial intelligence (AI) powered systems to support students in areas such as disclosure, guidance and adaptations. In this session Jess will discuss the design of a virtual assistant to support disabled students as they navigate higher education.
Building on this, Jess will invite discussion around key themes emerging in the broader space of assistants and advisors for accessible study. Themes include how disabled students and staff can participate in the design of these systems, how they could support knowledge sharing between students and with staff and experts, whether and how they represent an assistant to the individual or the voice of the institution, and designing these systems to be accessible themselves.
Exploring the potential of AI for accessibility
Jisc’s National Centre for AI in tertiary education (NCAI) is focused on supporting the sector to adopt AI technology ethically and effectively. Following the surge of interest and attention on AI in education this year we will take a look at the potential of AI to impact accessibility for students and staff. Delegates will have the opportunity to try out a selection of AI demos including some generative AI tools. Followed by a discussion exploring the potential opportunities and challenges these tools can pose for disabled students and those working in the sector to improve accessibility.
Participants are encouraged to bring their own devices where possible in order to get the most out of the session but can still take part without.
Seven stages of switch development
An introduction to the seven stages of switch development (7SSD), which provide a framework for understanding the gradual progression of skills necessary for successful switch use. The stages are designed to support switch users, their families, caregivers, and those who assist them in using switches, offering a clear scheme for measuring and tracking progress. This session will discuss key principles for supporting switch development, such as the “”Just Right Challenge”” principle, which ensures that activities are appropriate for the user’s abilities and the “”easy-hard-easy”” principle, which structures switch sessions for engagement and accomplishment. Additionally, the session will introduce the switch prompt hierarchy, a useful tool for guiding and supporting switch users in their switch skills development. The presentation will be beneficial for educators, therapists, caregivers, and anyone involved in supporting individuals with switch use.
Using technology to enable physically disabled people to explore their sexuality
Students at Treloar College reported that they were not able to access standard sex toys as they could not operate them independently or were too embarrassed to look at different items available. They said they just didn’t know where to start! To address this a member of our Assistive Technology Team and an Occupational Therapist worked together to identify a range of products suitable for our students and then set about making them accessible using different switches, 3D printed switch mounts, app linked control and interface boxes to allow different modes to be accessed independently.
Victoria will show examples of what technology is already on the market to assist in this area and describe adaptations made that enabled these items to be used safely and independently within a college environment.
Pathways to qualification in Assistive Technology
Many people in the field of Assistive Technology may have been working for some time with few qualifications specific to their role. Rohan will outline the mix of skills and knowledge required for effective delivery of Assistive Technology assessment and support. People in different roles, in a range of organisations need to know how to support AT users. Training must be provided at all levels from awareness raising or entry level through to continuing professional development and advanced courses. He will highlight a range of pathways to gain qualifications for those who want to broaden knowledge, formalise experience, or improve their career prospects in Assistive Technology. Rohan will propose a mixed research and service delivery project that aims to explore how the creation of an AT training framework and the mapping of existing training and resources onto this framework can improve discoverability of courses and resources as well as provide decision makers with a gap analysis identifying what areas of AT training and development are not well served. The session will close with discussion on this proposed project.
Implementing AT Solutions at scale within mainstream settings
Jonathan Kerry, ALS Systems & Technology Team Leader, Disability Services, Bradford College
Bradford College has seen significant growth over the past 6 years in the students supported through the Disability Services Department. As a result of this the Assistive Technology Service has had to scale up in order to service an increased and diverse range of support needs through interventions, resource, training and support. Jonathan will explain how the Assistive Technology service at Bradford College efficiently meets the needs of both FE and HE students at such a large scale, but also the methods that have been used to maintain a student focused service.
Specialist assistive technology support in a mainstream environment
This session will describe and discuss how learners with different learning difficulties and disabilities are supported through Assistive Technology in the mainstream environment of Weston College. Nicola and Andy will explore how Assistive Technology can support learners beyond the college walls, with a focus on building independence and employability skills.
Transforming single-site AT delivery into multi-site AT delivery: a model for success
Leonard Cheshire recently completed a three year pilot project to establish what makes Assistive Technology work well in adult social care. In this session Dave will describe how the initial of delivery model at Hill House – a high dependency care setting – has broadened to eight sites providing a range of Assistive Technology, AAC, environmental controls and accessible entertainment systems to 130 clients. Alongside the rollout Julie has been formally researching the technology desires and requirements of client to ensure that their Assistive Technology is truly fit for purpose.
Assistive Technology delivery in specialist settings – what is required?
Fil McIntyre MSc, Manager and Assistive Technology Lead, TechAbility
This session presents and discusses research undertaken in specialist colleges to establish the factors which need to be in place to ensure quality delivery of Assistive Technology. Specialist colleges responded to a wide range of survey questions about their current delivery and the barriers in place to further development. The conclusions present three factors required for specialist settings to deliver high quality AT support and are likely to apply to other specialist settings within and outwith education.
In response to requests from delegates for more networking opportunities, we have added a discussion forum at the end of the day. This exclusive event gives you the chance to relax with a drink and a canape while taking part in a themed discussion, form your own discussion group, or meet with exhibitors. You will have the option to choose to attend the discussion forum when you book, though places are limited.
Themed discussions will include:
- How can learners’ Assistive Technology requirements be integrated into an MIS?
- The dynamics of learned helplessness: Strategies to empower disabled students.
- Moving the agenda forward – how can individuals working in Assistive Technology have a wider impact?
- What do you want from TechAbility in future? Your chance to tell us what you might need in future.
- How do you get Assistive Technology right for transition?
- Research in Assistive Technology – what’s missing?
- Karten Network update. What’s new and coming up?
Sponsors and Exhibitors
Originally developed in a Specialist College to monitor and record non-accredited skills, DatabridgeMIS delivers functionality designed specifically for the Specialist sector.
Featuring RARPA usage, EHCP/Personal Goals, Photo/Video evidencing, Incidental Learning, Qualifications, ILR Manager, Baseline Assessments, Timetabling, Care Plans and Residence support, Staff Rota, Event Log for Safeguarding/Incident/Accident etc, Learner/Parent portals and much more.
Glean is the antidote to information overload for improved learning, productivity, and student success. Our inclusive learning technology empowers students with note taking barriers to take meaningful audio notes with a proven note taking process. Students engage fully in class without distractions, and then identify and retain information when studying.
We are a leading supplier of software and hardware for people with special needs. We dedicate ourselves to providing pioneering and lifechanging assistive technology to our customers worldwide. From ground breaking eye gaze and communication technology through to award winning educational online software and Apps, switch access, mounting solutions and environmental control, we provide a full range of innovative products to enable our customers to communicate, learn and play.
Booost Education was founded in 2021 by Education and Disability Professionals, the aim was to create solutions to problems reported by students where no assistive technology was available. Over 7,000 students now use their first product, Booost, which helps them organise their tasks, optimise their time, and overcome challenges. Their second product, Luna, helps with learning information through AI-generated flashcards and personalised revision schedules. Booost Education now aims to help more students to get the most out of their education.
Brain in Hand is a digital self-management support system combining human and digital support for students who need help remembering things, making decisions, planning, or managing anxiety. Improving the lives of students with anxiety-related mental health difficulties and neurological difference.
Abilia have over 20 years in Scandinavia, supporting people in education, with a simple easy to use, easy to set up, digital solutions to support students who have challenges in remembering what to do, focusing on the task at hand, planning their day, being motivated to start and finish activities and have difficulties in understanding time. Abilia have a broad portfolio of technical aids, from easy time management devices to tools for planning and creating structure.
AI Leader in Assistive Technology, specialised in solutions for students with Learning and Reading Challenges.
LessonUp is the most complete interactive toolkit made especially for teachers. With it, you can create engaging lessons for your students without having to open multiple screens. Enjoy having complete digital lessons provided with instructions and lots of student interaction (quizzes, mind maps, drag & drops, and more) and the possibility of instant feedback in 1 platform only! Our interactive features promote accessibility and inclusivity, and designed to support students with different types of learning levels.
The complete Communication and Collaboration solution for a better-connected learning environment in Further & Higher Education. From lecture theatres and seminar rooms to collaborative teaching spaces, the Clevertouch ecosystem creates dynamic interactive workspaces for greater student collaboration and communication.
Soundbeam is an award-winning state-of-the-art ‘touch-free’ musical system, It is a revolutionary device that has transformed the field of music therapy, empowering individuals to express themselves through music. With Soundbeam, anyone can create music, opening up a world of possibilities in terms of inclusive music-making. Its innovative technology and ability to bring people together through music have earned Soundbeam numerous awards and recognition, making it a true game-changer in the world of music technology.
Sensory App House creates apps for learning support, coordination ,relaxation, fun, art, communication and speech therapy. Our apps can be used by professional therapists and educators to help younger people with visual, reading, speech development and sensory issues. The new Sensory Readable text to speech reading assistant for Windows is our latest release – see our website for more details and free assessor download.
Interested in exhibiting?
The venue for TechAbility 2023 is truly exceptional with a highly welcoming area for the exhibition. The Wine Tower Bar will be transformed exclusively for the TechAbility conference. Both refreshments and lunch will be served from the central bar, with easy access for delegates to the surrounding exhibition stands.
Exhibitors at TechAbility 2022 stated they had “many high quality conversations” and “lots of interest and lots of opportunities throughout the day for people to come and talk to us”.
To ensure exhibitors have maximum time with delegates, the discussion forum after the final session, takes place in the exhibition area. Delegates can book time to come and talk to you at the end of the day, or simply have more time to browse the exhibition.
As at previous events, each exhibitor will have a chance for an ‘elevator pitch’ at the start of the day, so delegates are aware of their presence and offering.
Please express an interest by contacting email@example.com
Costs & booking
These costs will cover your attendance at workshops and the exhibition, an excellent buffet lunch and refreshments all day.
- £120 + VAT per person for Natspec member or Karten member organisations
- £140 + VAT per person for Natspec Affiliate member organisations (previously known as Transform members)
- £170 + VAT per person for non-member organisations
Early bird offer: The first 80 bookings will have the opportunity to attend the early evening discussion forum. Terms and conditions apply.
A preferential rate is available at the venue hotel for the night of 6 November, if you book before 24 October. A code will be supplied when you book you conference place. After this date the best prices for room bookings are available directly from the Radisson Blu hotel booking site.
|09:15 – 10:00
|Registration and Exhibition
|10:00 – 10:25
|Introduction to the day
|10:30 – 11:10
|Breakout session 1
Choice from 3 sessions
|11:10 – 11:40
|Break and refreshments
|11:45 – 12:25
|Breakout session 2
Choice from 3 sessions
|12:30 – 13:10
|Breakout session 3
Choice from 3 sessions
|13:10 – 14:15
Exhibition and Networking
|14:15 – 15:00
|Keynote speech and discussion
Professor Annalu Waller OBE
|15:05 – 15:45
|Breakout session 4
Choice from 3 sessions
|15:45 – 16:00
Move to wine tower for canapes if attending discussion forum
|16:00 – 17:15
|Discussion forum and exhibition
Shamima is a Policy Manager for Assistive and Accessible Technology at the cross-party think tank – Policy Connect. She supports the work of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Assistive Technology and is currently leading its next report about technology use in Supported Employment.
She also supports the ATech Policy Lab and the Higher Education Commission. She works on education, employment, accessible transport, digital inclusion and independent living public policy in the UK.
Shamima’s background is in disability inclusion having worked on policy and campaigns as an elected officer on the National Union of Students Disabled Students’ Committee and in the Disabled People’s Organisation sector.
Lilian Joy is an educational adviser at the University of York, who is passionate about staff development and the ‘learning’ in technology-enhanced learning. She has over 30 years’ experience as a teacher, trainer, e-learning manager and consultant in vocational education, higher education and the private sector. Her current research interests include accessible maths, the experience of disabled staff and students and appreciative inquiry as a model for development. When she’s not working, she enjoys camping, paddleboarding and baking.
Hi, I’m Natalie and I’m a maths Masters student at the University of York and an Assistive Technology Tester for the BBC. Whilst I have done a fair amount in the world of accessible technology, I’ve also done lots of other things too. My biggest passion is probably helping people, and hence I do a fair bit of volunteering and fundraising. I started making and selling jewellery for charity when I was 12 and I skydived for Visibility Scotland (a sight loss charity) when I was 18. However, this isn’t a CV, so what you really need to know is that: I’m extremely talkative; love laughing; and am addicted to chocolate!
Victoria is Head of Occupational Therapy at Treloar’s School and College where she has worked for over 20 years with children and young people with sensory and physical needs. Before this she worked in a variety of NHS and independent settings delivering OT interventions across a wide spectrum of paediatric disability. Her principal area of interest is the use of developing technologies to enable physically disabled young people to control their environment and access communication and mobility. The subject of her presentation was a new area of interest developed to ensure the needs of students were met holistically.
Luke Thompson has worked with children, young people and their families for over 18 years. As an Occupational Therapist, in the last 7 years Luke has specialised in working with children with Neuro-disabilities and Assistive Technology [AT]. Luke is specifically known for designing and defining the first SMART Special school in the UK (Pace, Aylesbury) and developing the Seven Stages of Switch Development. Luke is the inventor of the patented Pace Power Wheelchair Simulator. He is co-creator of the Pace MyWay App and has partnered with Imperial College London for the last 3 years, developing many other tech solutions for people with disabilities.
Helen is an AI Specialist in Jisc’s National Centre for AI team, and her work is focused on encouraging the ethical and effective adoption of AI to support teaching and learning. Helen is part of a team producing advice and guidance for the sector around AI as well as building a community network to enable members to collaborate and share best practice around AI adoption. Helen also works with Jisc’s member institutions to pilot promising AI tools and evaluate their potential benefits for the sector.
Rohan has been working to support technology in the education sector for more than 20 years. Rohan has an IT, assistive technology, and education management background. Between 2015 and 2020 Rohan worked for Jisc, the EdTech not-for-profit that provides support to colleges and universities. Rohan was previously employed at Beaumont College as assistant principal and formerly as the head of technology. Rohan is a member of the Natspec technology strategy group and is currently vice chair of the Karten Network Trustees.
Rohan joined the University of Dundee as a senior lecturer in Assistive Technology at the end of 2020. Rohan leads on the delivery of an MSc in Educational Assistive Technology that aims to professionalise the assistive technologist role and to provide professional development pathways for people who wish to support the assessment, provisioning and ongoing support of Assistive Technology.
Dr Jess Carr
Dr Jess Carr is a Research Associate within the Institute of Educational Technology at the Open University. Dr Carr completed her PhD at the Open University; it focused on the use of inclusive and creative research methods to engage adults with learning disabilities in citizen science. Her research interests lie in citizen science, equitable practices, inclusive research and creativity in research.
Jonathan has worked within the SEND technology sector for the last 12 years, for the last 6 he has managed the Assistive Technology Service at Bradford College.
Jonathan is passionate about the possibilities Assistive and Inclusive Technology can bring to remove barriers to learning for students and has shaped the service to meet the growing demand over the last 6 years.
Jonathan has recently completed an MSc in Educational Assistive Technology through The University of Dundee which has helped him implement and plan further developments to the service and its associated delivery to students. Jonathan ensures the college keeps at the forefront of delivering innovative support solutions to students with additional needs in order to meet individual, group and departmental needs.
Having led a 3 year pilot project for Leonard Cheshire to establish what makes Assistive Technology work well in adult social care at a high dependency care home in Cheshire, Dave is now leading the team into its fourth year to see how their person centred assessment, delivery, support and training processes can scale to support a wider range of social care settings in the North of England. The team are currently providing a range of Assistive Technology, AAC, environmental controls and accessible entertainment systems to 130 clients across eight sites. Prior to working with Leonard Cheshire, Dave held a number of senior management and executive level positions in Technology, Business Transformation and Cultural Change.
Julie has degrees in education and behaviour analysis, with a postgraduate certificate in organisational business psychology. She is a PhD candidate at the University of Stirling, with a research focus on how disabled people use technology to build the lives they want. Julie has worked as a teacher, trainer, clinical behaviour analyst, organisational behaviour consultant, and disabled technology user experience researcher for over 16 years. Her current focus is on building cultures and environments where disabled tech users can build lives they love.
Nicola is a highly innovative and experienced FE educational manager with a proven track record of leading and successfully implementing outstanding curriculums and sustainable employment opportunities. She specialises in enabling neurodivergent young people through ambitious and inclusive learning environments to access employment opportunities. An accomplished strategic and operational manager, Nicola currently assists with the development of innovative, effective projects to enhance provision for learners with SEND in line with Weston College’s strategic plan.
Andy is an experienced education practitioner, working for 17 years in the area of SEND within both secondary education and Further Education. He initially supported learners as a support worker, before moving to teaching learners with complex needs on a specialist provision within a GFE, then supporting and implementing quality development plans and managing large curriculum teams. Andy is currently a subject area manager for a preparing for adulthood programme leading the implementation of innovative and creative curriculum designs for learners with profound and complex LDD. As an accomplished practitioner, Andy shares practice in the FE communities through the Weston College SEND Centre for Excellence.
Fil is passionate about the advantages the right technology can give to enhance life, learning and communication. He has provided training in assistive technology hardware and software to a wide range of professionals from schools, colleges, universities, charities and healthcare. Fil moved to managing TechAbility full time in February 2021 after three years in a split role between TechAbility and Beaumont College in Lancaster. At Beaumont College, Fil was the Lead Assistive Technologist where he managed a team which assessed and supported students to gain maximum advantage from technology. Prior to Beaumont College, as part of The BRITE Initiative, Fil delivered Assistive Technology training and support to every college in Scotland. He has also been part of the training team at Inclusive Technology and developed the first assistive technology post at Seashell Trust specialist school and college.