TechAbility Conference 2024

A large group of people sitting around tables in a room. At the front Fil McIntyre is talking. Natspec and TechAbility banners are visible.

21 November 2024

Book soon to take advantage of the Early Bird Rate which will give a 10% discount for each delegate.

Building in the success of previous conferences, TechAbility2024 will give you multiple opportunities to learn from leading practitioners in the field of Assistive Technology. As ever, all presentations and workshops will be grounded in practice and research. Alongside this will be opportunities to meet with Assistive Technology suppliers and discuss the solutions they provide.

This year, the conference will take place in Leeds, which has excellent transport links to the whole of the UK. Make sure you book now for “the best AT in education and beyond conference in the calendar”.

Contents

    1. Bookings now open
    2. Costs
    3. Programme
    4. Keynote – Supporting the supporters
    5. Hot topics discussions
    6. Breakout sessions
    7. Venue
    8. Exhibition
    9. Speakers

  1. Bookings now open

    Book your place now!

    The Early Bird Rate gives a 10% discount for each delegate, but this rate can only last until the end of June.

    Costs

    All costs include an early bird discount – book now so you don’t miss out!

    £120 + VAT per person for Natspec member or Karten member organisations (regular price £130 + VAT)
    £140 + VAT per person for Natspec Affiliate member organisations (regular
    price £155 + VAT)
    £170 + VAT per person for non-member organisations (regular price £190 + VAT)

    Programme

    A woman with glasses and dyed purple hair sits listening attentively with delegates around her.

    09:15 – 10:00 Registration and Exhibition
    10:00 – 10:25 Introduction to the day + exhibitor pitches
    10:30 – 11:05 Breakout session 1

    Choice from three sessions

    11:05 – 11:35 Break, Exhibition and Networking
    11:40 – 12:15 Breakout session 2

    Choice from three sessions

    12:15 – 13:15 Lunch, Exhibition and Networking
    13:15 – 13:50 Keynote speech
    13:50 – 14:25 Hot topics discussion.
    14:30 – 15:05 Breakout session 3

    Choice from three sessions

    15:10 – 15:45 Breakout Session 4

    Choice from three sessions

    15:45 Depart

    Keynote – Supporting the supporters

    Professor Jane Seale, Professor of Education, Open University

    Jane Seale, a white woman with pale blonde hair smiling. She is sitting in a red leather armchair with a bookcase behind her.Professor Jane Seale has a national and international reputation as an expert in the fields of disability, technology and inclusion. We are extremely excited that Jane has agree to deliver the keynote speech at TechAbility24.

    To enable effective use of assistive technologies, we must also support teams around individuals to develop the skills and knowledge that is needed to effectively support people to use these technologies. During the pandemic many health, education and social care providers realized how important it was for adults with learning disabilities to be to use technologies to keep connected, to stay well and to do essential activities. Despite this enhanced awareness of the value of technology, many providers have struggled to support their staff to develop the skills and knowledge required to effectively support adults with learning disabilities to access and use technologies. Jane will describe her work with a range of self-advocacy groups and learning disability organizations to co-produce a range of resources which guide and inform the development of effective support practices. She will focus on the importance of ensuring the voice of users is represented through the co-production of the resources which include videos of AT users talking about their experiences of good support when using technology.

    As a bonus for TechAbility24 Jane has agreed to run two sessions during the hot topics discussions – immediately after her keynote. This will give delegates additional time to experience the resources and talk with Jane in a small group setting.

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    Hot topics discussions

    The hot topics discussions are a chance for you to share your experience, raise questions and air your views with other conference delegates. This dynamic session will feature small groups to give opportunities to meet with others working to support Assistive Technology. Delegates at TechAbility conferences often mention the benefits of interacting with others who can assist, support and challenge them to move forward in their practice. A range of topic groups will be available to join, or you could decide to start your own!

    Breakout Sessions

    A presenter giving a presentation to a packed room of delegates.

    ATech and national policy

    Robert McLaren, Policy Connect

    Embedding ATech into the delivery of education, health and care services will require influencing the people who write policies and make funding decisions. Real-world experience is critical so policy makers can understand how ATech solutions are currently delivered and what might need to change. Robert will provide an overview of the current national situation with regard to policy, along with discussing how your experience and knowledge can influence future national decision making.

    Inclusive storytelling – approaches to telling stories for all!

    Pete Wells, Teacher and Author

    Pete Wells is a winner of both Bett and ERA Awards in 2023. Join Pete as he explores how storytelling can be beneficial for all learners. The author and creator of the award winning Inclusive Stories will demonstrate how his age appropriate, highly engaging stories can be used to promote a range of appropriate key issues. These include tricky subjects such as PREVENT, vocational education and SEMH, whilst promoting engagement, use of assistive technology and learner voice. During the presentation, Pete will discuss the many benefits of the stories, ways to adapt them for differing cohorts and share some of the thousands of lovingly created resources that accompany them. Please bring a sense of humour and be prepared to get wet!

    Affordable and accessible ideas for SEN music technology

    Charlie Baxter, The Music Works 

    Charlie will disprove the myths that assistive music technology is expensive, difficult-to-understand, and can only be used by trained musicians. This practical journey will demonstrate making music with technology for SEN participants on the cheap and easily. Charlie will present and discuss techniques and technologies that he has used in his work in both 1:1 and group sessions for young people with additional needs and in challenging circumstances. Offering up ten ideas for SEN music technology that all cost under £200 each (many of which you may already have), he will inspire with quick wins that engage young people and break down the barriers of what has traditionally been seen as an intimidating and exclusive practice. These approachable ways of incorporating creative practice into your work are suitable for SEN-focused staff who don’t consider themselves musicians at all. Delegates will work with Charlie to create a piece of music together from scratch using accessible instruments, tools, apps, as well as the evolving world of ChatGPT and AI.

    AAC Communication Partner Skills Workshop

    Joanna Holmes and Beth Moulam, The AAC Connection

    Joanna is parent of Lucy who has complex communication needs and former Speech and Language Therapist, Beth is a post graduate student who has used high tech AAC for over 25 years.

    Lucy and Beth are very different people, not just by their 20-year age difference, but with their personal journeys. When we talk about experiences of AAC in day to day situations we come to the same conclusions about the similarities, differences and challenges of using AAC in everyday family life, and what skills different communication partners need in different situations.

    In this session Beth and Jo will share their experiences of using AAC as part of wide ranging multi-modal communication. They will then share a model of communication partner skills which can be used to consider what skills different partners need.

    Delegates will have the opportunity to use the model to explore how to support communication in their own contexts.

    Everyday Technology for Accessibility

    Learners from The Oaks College and Libby Wilkins 

    Learners from The Oaks will share ways in which they use everyday technologies to access college, workplaces and the community. This learner-led session will be a hands-on workshop allowing delegates to try some of these apps and see real world applicability. Delegates will gain an insight into The Oaks’ holistic embedding of these skills and the ways in which they support job coaches, supported living settings and workplaces to enable young adults fulfil their aspirations. This session will focus on the use of mobile phones, with reference to laptops and tablets. Delegates should come prepared to use their own phones to experiment with various apps.

    Finding new cause and effect opportunities through switch-adapted devices

    John Schaer, Activate CES 

    This presentation promotes creative practice which extends cause-of-effect beyond the ‘typical’ sensory approach. The role Assistive Technology can play in developing and extending understanding for PMLD/High Needs learners will be discussed. Throughout, examples will be provided of cause and effect across different subject areas – music, art, life skills, physical skills – along with the different ways switch-adapted devices can be incorporated into motivating activities. For example, use of switch-adapted electric scissors and staplers through to switch-adapted stirrers and peelers. Software examples will also be demonstrated, such as free-to-use programs like Tarheel Gameplay and Google Experiments.

    Masters research showcase: Barriers to AT goal adoption and Smarthome devices in a specialist environment

    Helen Mills, Sense College East and Maizie Morgan, National Star 

    Featuring not one, but two, research projects undertaken by recent students on the EduAT Masters course. Both projects highlight the advantages Assistive Technology can provide in a specialist environment, But also some of the barriers which need to be overcome to enable effective use.

    Helen will present the findings of her investigation into the enabling factors and barriers to AT goal adoption. Findings include the value of specialist AT support, training, tracking tools, the effect of teacher confidence, staff attitudes, and legal requirements in the creation of successful AT goals for learners. Delegates will discuss how to encourage honest staff feedback to better understand the barriers and enabling factors of AT goal adoption, and how this can lead to effective embedding of AT within their curriculum.

    Maizie will present research into whether the use of Mainstream Environmental Control Systems (M-ECS) could enhance the independence of students with disabilities and how living in a residential setting would have an impact on its use. Interviews conducted with staff and students, and a thematic analysis showed that while M-ECS has the potential to greatly enhance independence for individuals with disabilities, its implementation in a specialist residential college setting presents additional challenges compared to its use in a home environment.

    Customised travelling VR experiences

    Max Bianconi, Jewish Care

    What if you used to love going to the pub during a football match? Or you used to enjoy a stroll in your local park with your partner? Max is progressing beyond pre-made Virtual Reality experiences by creating customised 360 videos of places and situations which are specific to an individual. These experiences can then be viewed using VR to allow an immersive experience, getting to the heart of the action in the pub, or having a different experience on every park ‘visit’ dependent on where they look. In addition to demonstrations of completed videos, Max will demonstrate to delegates by mapping the presentation room and discussing what technology to use and points to consider such as safeguarding, using navigation and text.

    Using AT to alleviate stressors in the education of Neurodiverse students

    Sandra Braddick, Kingston Maurward College 

    Since the COVID lockdown periods, marked improvement in metacognition amongst some neurodivergent student groups have been discussed and noted. In the land-based FE college context of Kingston Maurward, an exploration of the flexible potential of Assistive Technology has been developed by specialist learning support tutors. Sandra will discuss how AT sustains a growth mindset and enables mutual exploration of alternative working methods between staff and students. AT use can allow individuals to maintain greater responsibility for balanced and bespoke learning and result in classes that are easier to manage. Classrooms which enable use of AT for all, regardless of diagnosis or self-diagnosis of differences, can alleviate the pressure loads in cognition. This can have a marked impact on mental wellbeing and balanced learning.

    The Four Pillars of Positive AT Outcomes in the UK: Infrastructure, AT Skills, Financial Pathways, and Leadership

    Julie Eshleman, Leonard Cheshire 

    In this presentation of research findings, Julie will delve into the four foundational elements that are instrumental in driving positive Assistive Technology (AT) outcomes in the UK. She will begin with an examination of the physical infrastructure, highlighting its role as the bedrock of technological reliability. Next, Julie will explore the importance of AT knowledge and skills, emphasising the need for continuous learning in the face of rapidly evolving technology. The third pillar, financial pathways, underscores the significance of sustainable funding models for acquiring and maintaining new AT. Lastly, leadership behaviours in adult social care leaders will be discussed, underscoring their influence in shaping tech-positive environments. By understanding these four pillars, delegates will better comprehend the UK’s AT landscape and work towards fostering an environment conducive to positive technology outcomes. This presentation aims to inspire thought, provoke discussion, and encourage further exploration into these critical areas.

    Building a More Inclusive Assistive Technology Service

    Richard Nind, Sheffield Hallam University 

    Over the past decade, Sheffield Hallam University’s (SHU) assistive technology service has shifted from Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA) focused provision to a more inclusive model that supports students at any stage of their journey. This was first developed to offer group sessions and promote site-based assistive technologies to all students. Richard will present the lessons learned from this process which have influenced SHU’s specialised one-on-one service for disabled students. He will also show how their service has adapted to post-Covid changes in work and study patterns, along with a significant increase in students ineligible for DSAs, including international and apprenticeship students. As the service has evolved, SHU have adopted a limited number of assistive technologies that prioritize ease of use, ease of access, and self-service, while establishing clear routes and processes for students to access them. Although still offering individualised support and assessment, Richard will discuss the move towards a more generalist, institution-wide approach to the provision of assistive technology.

    Establishing an AT competency framework

    Rohan Slaughter, University of Dundee

    Rohan will present on a research project established to develop and test an Assistive Technology competency framework. He will provide an overview of the supporting literature review that was undertaken as part of the project. Following the brief presentation an interactive activity will be carried out in the session to further test the framework with TechAbility delegates. The development team are particularly interested in the extensibility of the framework from education to health and social care contexts and would welcome colleagues from all sectors to contribute during this session.

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    Venue

    The Royal Armouries museum, a concrete and glass building that sits on a waterfront.

    We are pleased to be hosting TechAbility24 at a world-class conference venue, The Royal Armouries museum. Situated close to the city centre on the bankof the river, the venue is highly accessible with step-free access, all rooms accessible via lifts, facilities for assistance dogs and a Changing Places toilet.

    Easily accessible no matter how you travel, The Royal Armouries is within walking distance of Leeds train station, or along the river using the Leeds Water-taxi*. If you travel by road, there is a large car park only two minutes walk away from the venue.

    A range of hotel accomodation choices are close to the venue and discounted booking is available to conference delegates.

    *Water taxi is unlikely to be accessible to delegates with limited mobility.

    Exhibition

    An attendee speaks to some exhibitors

    The exhibition area at TechAbility24 is situated in a large space, right next to the main presentation room. Refreshments and lunch will be served in the same room as the exhibition, with easy access for delegates to stands and space for browsing and conversation.

    Exhibitors at TechAbility23 complimented the “Well organised, good venue, excellent quality of delegates &speakers.” and stated “everyone who engaged with me was interesting and interested… the can-do sort of contact I wanted to meet”.

    Sponsors of TechAbility24 will have the additional opportunity to interact with delegates, by hosting a dedicated session at the Discussion Forum held during the day. Delegates will be able to select a sponsor’s session from a range of discussion options

    As at previous events, every exhibitor will have a chance for an ‘elevator pitch’ at the start of the day, so delegates are aware of their presence and offering. This was described last year as “a great opportunity to feel that everyone knew who was there exhibiting”

    Please express an interest by contacting techability@natspec.org.uk

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    Speakers

    A speaker, a white man in a purple top, speaks in front of a TechAbility banner

    Jane Seale

    Jane Seale, a white woman with pale blonde hair smiling. She is sitting in a red leather armchair with a bookcase behind her.Jane has developed a national and international reputation as an expert in the fields of disability, technology and inclusion. In the higher education field her work focuses on the role that technologies play in making education more (or less) accessible and inclusive for disabled students. In the adult education field Jane specializes in examining the role that technologies play in the lives of adults with learning disabilities.

    In 2020 Jane undertook some research which examined if and how people with learning disabilities were being supported to access technologies to keep connected and stay well during the pandemic. The resulting report revealed vital insights into the digital exclusion of people with learning disabilities but also highlighted the key characteristics of what ‘good’ support looked like when it was provided. This research informed the £2.5 million Digital Lifeline Project funded by DCMS.

    Jane was President of the Association for Learning Technology (2006-7) was Co-Director of the ESRC National Centre for Research Methods (2007-2010). She also served on the REF 2014 Education panel in the UK which had the responsibility for assessing the quality of research conducted in UK universities. During her career Jane has taken on a number of School, Faculty and University leadership roles including Director of Research, Director of Research Degrees, and Director of Social Science Postgraduate Training Centre.

    Julie Eshleman

    Julie EshlemanJulie 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.

    Rohan Slaughter

    Rohan SlaughterRohan 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 board.

    Rohan joined the University of Dundee as a senior lecturer in Assistive Technology at the end of 2020. Rohan is working to support the development and 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.