The pace of both mainstream and assistive technology is rapid, and keeping up with the latest advances can be daunting. There are several technology-focused conferences where attendees can learn about the latest updates and explore the technology available to people with vision loss. In recognition of Global Accessibility Awareness Day, we have gathered the top five conferences in North America that we believe provide the most value in this space. Conferences are listed in the calendar order that they occur each year.

The Assistive Technology Industry Association Conference (ATIA)

The Assistive Technology Industry Association (ATIA) is a membership organization for companies who produce specialized technology for people with disabilities. The organization claims that they aim to provide a common voice for the assistive technology industry and they pursue initiatives that will allow assistive technology developers to provide the most helpful technology possible to their customers. For example, the association is involved in both research and advocacy work.

Each year, the ATIA hosts a conference in Orlando, Florida, which brings together assistive technology developers, mainstream technology producers, disability professionals such as teachers of students with visual impairments (TVIs), orientation and mobility (O&M) instructors, and individuals with disabilities.

ATIA has educational sessions as well as an exhibit hall. The conference sessions are a good source for learning about the general assistive and mainstream technology landscape. Most of the organizations and companies represented in the exhibit hall are assistive technology producers, though mainstream technology companies also have a smaller presence. If you are traveling on a budget, ATIA can be a useful conference as a free, exhibit-hall-only registration option is available. The ATIA conference takes place in late January/early February in Orlando, Florida.

The CSUN Conference

The CSUN Assistive Technology Conference (the CSUN conference) has been held by California State University at Northridge since 1985. Now in its 34th year, the conference is unarguably the top conference in North America for anyone with an interest in access to technology by people with disabilities. The CSUN conference draws participants from all aspects of the disability technology arena, from individuals with disabilities, to researchers, to access leaders from mainstream technology companies. The topics of the educational sessions can range from introductory sessions to advanced technical topics aimed at developers.

The CSUN conference has a significant mainstream presence. Many of the large technology companies such as Amazon, Google, and Microsoft have their own suites where they host sessions throughout the conference on developments in accessibility they have made. If you are seeking knowledge on the efforts of these companies, CSUN is the conference to attend. CSUN has a research track, and many researchers present sessions on their findings. After the conference, papers are published in a specific CSUN journal.

CSUN has an exhibit hall containing a mix of both assistive and mainstream technology companies. A major unofficial benefit of CSUN is the networking opportunities available with other participants, presenters, and exhibitors. The next CSUN conference will be held in March 2020 in Anaheim, California.

The M-Enabling Summit

The Global Initiative for Inclusive Information and Communication Technologies (G3ict), a non-profit organization created by the United Nations to promote accessibility of digital information technologies for those with disabilities, partnered with the conference planning organization E.J. Krause & Associates, Inc. to create the M-Enabling Summit. The summit is intended to promote the accessibility of information technology for those with disabilities and senior citizens. The M-Enabling Summit consists of breakout educational sessions and an exhibit hall and is attended by a combination of mainstream and assistive technology developers.

There is also a notable presence of companies that assist technology producers or others who employ information technology in improving the accessibility of their products and services. M-Enabling is unique with its greater focus on accessibility policy and the presence of international stakeholders in the accessibility industry. The M-Enabling Summit is held each June in Arlington, Virginia.

The National Federation of the Blind and American Council of the Blind Conference and Conventions

Each year, the two nationwide membership organizations for those who are blind, the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) and the American Council of the Blind (ACB), host national conventions which draw thousands of people with vision loss from across the country and abroad. These meetings serve as a place for members of the organizations to connect and make organization wide decisions, but they also have become hubs for learning about the latest technology advances for those with vision loss.

Both conferences boast exhibit halls filled with companies that produce assistive technology and increasingly a growing presence of mainstream technology companies. Like other conferences, educational sessions are also available and focus on detailing the general accessibility of various products and services for those with vision loss. If you are new to assistive technology and want to learn about the numerous options available to you, one of these conferences could be beneficial.

In addition, compared to the conferences discussed previously, all of the technology displayed and discussed at the NFB and ACB conferences are aimed at those with vision loss. Blindness-related technologies have a notable presence at the other conferences discussed, but also share a space with technologies for those with other disabilities.

The NFB and ACB conferences offer the most affordable conference and lodging rates in the industry, while still providing a full-featured and worthwhile conference comparable to the others discussed here. The NFB and ACB national conferences take place in early July of each year.

Bringing the Conferences to You

If you are unable to attend a conference but wish to keep abreast of technology developments in the accessibility space, you can find detailed articles in AFB's AccessWorld magazine covering many of the conferences discussed here. For example, the 2019 ATIA conference, the 2019 CSUN conference, and the 2018 NFB and ACB conferences were covered by AccessWorld. AccessWorld also covers AFB's own Leadership Conference; you can find the coverage for 2019 here.

If you enjoy podcasts or would like a deeper look at a specific aspect of a conference, the Blind Bargains podcast produces interviews with many participants of the CSUN conference each year as well as the ATIA conference. Blind Bargains podcasts also include text transcripts so that you can access the information provided how you would like.

Though the progress of technology is rapid, conferences can serve as an excellent way of keeping up-to-date with all of the latest technology advances, and if you cannot attend in person, don't worry, AccessWorld and other resources such as Blind Bargains can bring the conferences directly to you!