Highlights from the RESNA 2021 Conference

The RESNA 2021 conference: 2+ days packed with learning, sharing, and networking in assistive technology. Here are some highlights (and links to my own presentations).

Highlights of RESNA 2021 Conference

Highlights of RESNA 2021 Conference

I was fortunate to attend the virtual RESNA 2021 Conference, July 7-9, 2021. No, a virtual conference is not the same as in-person, but I really enjoyed this year’s edition.

Here are a few highlights (by no means exhaustive) — sorry for the length, but it was tough to keep it this short!

Incredible keynote by Molly McCully Brown!

Molly McCully Brown shared her perspectives on the deep complexity of being a person with cerebral palsy in our society. Because I spent the entire talk feverishly taking notes to try to capture the eloquence and clarity of her words, I have a couple of quotes to share here:

The work of intervention is incredibly useful work, but it’s useful not only for its utility but also because it makes emotionally expansive lives available to people.

How you talk with people will matter – it’s the language that they will use to talk about themselves.

People in your life who see you as an expansive and nuanced human being are so important: aspire to be that person for others.

To be a whole person means to be in community and in communion with other people. What you [as AT providers] are making possible is not just function, not just tasks, but the ability to be with others, to be of use, to be a friend, a family member. Our lives are most well-rounded when we’re not just taking, but when we can offer something to others in return.

I hope that gives you a feel for the deeply important messages in Molly’s talk, even though these isolated snippets can’t do it justice.

Honestly, hearing Molly McCully Brown’s keynote was worth the entire conference registration fee. Even over Zoom, it was clear that every attendee was completely riveted during the presentation. I’ve since purchased her book, Places I’ve Taken My Body, and it’s absolutely brilliant. Simply a must-read for anyone in the field of assistive technology.

Book cover of Places I've Taken My Body by Molly McCully Brown

Tara Chay – Self-care for Patients and AT Practitioners

Self-care is a refreshing topic to see at an AT conference, and something we can all use. So I was glad to see that the conference included this presentation by Tara Chay, an ATP and speech-language pathologist from Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix, AZ.

Tara presented a few sobering statistics from late June 2020: 40% of US adults reported struggling with mental health or substance use. 75% healthcare workers reported feeling overwhelmed.

You can assess your own Professional Quality of Life using this self-assessment tool, developed by Dr. Beth Hudnall Stamm and shared by Tara during her presentation. And find additional resources like a pocket card on Caring for Yourself in the Face of Difficult Work at the ProQoL website.

She shared a variety of wellness apps to help handle stress and mentioned several practices that can enhance well-being, such as laughter yoga.

Along those lines, this conference also featured a morning meditation, which was a great way to start the day. I hope more conferences pick up this idea.

Home Automation: Improving Safety and Independence with the use of Smart Home Technology

This was a neat collaboration between Kristen Mastony of Fairfax County Public Schools and Megan Mahaffey, Olivia White, and Stephanie Hernandez from National Rehab Hospital.

Alternate Control of Smart Technology, including Apple watch, smart buttons, apps on phone or tablet, AAC devices, and Tap to Alexa

They went through an encyclopedia of options for home automation, and included a couple of case studies, to boot. It was a really thorough and welcome overview of the current state of home automation technology and its applications to the needs of people with disabilities.

Proceedings papers

One valuable and fairly unique feature of RESNA is the paper proceedings, which includes dozens of short papers on a range of topics from Access & Accommodations to Service Delivery & Outcomes. You can find the papers on the RESNA 2021 Proceedings page.

Here’s a little sample from the proceedings:

1. Drew Redepenning’s research on the effect of adaptive gaming on quality of life.
“The results from this study show that there are possible quality of life and social benefits from participation in adaptive gaming, as well as translation to functional tasks. This supports the need for an increase in the availability of adaptive gaming services within the rehabilitation field, as there are clear benefits to providing these services for individuals with disabilities.” It was great to meet Drew (virtually) at this year’s conference. He’s a young researcher (and med student) with a lot of skills and energy. I hope to see him at many RESNAs to come!

2. Callaway and colleagues’ work on building capability of allied health professionals to work with people with disability who experience complex needs, and of people with disability in selecting and evaluating the quality of allied health services provided to them. They employed some innovative methods (including digital co-design) to bring in perspectives from all stakeholders.
The results from this project have been made available via a free website, called My Allied Health Space. Check it out!

Keep in mind that you can get the proceedings from every RESNA conference since 2003. I feel like this is an under-the-radar resource, and there’s a ton of good stuff there.

Start thinking about what you might want to write about for RESNA 2022!

Presentations I was involved in

I presented at three different events at RESNA 2021:

1. Overview of the RERC on AAC. This provided an overview of the six research and development projects as well as the training and dissemination activities within the RERC on AAC. It has some good foundational statistics and intro material as well, including this worthy mission: “Ensure that all individuals, including those with the most complex needs, have access to effective AAC technologies and interventions to realize the basic human need, the basic human right, and the basic human power of communication. I’m thrilled to part of this group, working on the Access Assistant project as well as the Smart Select project on an innovative brain-computer interface technique. For more on the RERC on AAC, see https://rerc-aac.psu.edu/.

2. Poster on Designing an app for computer access assessments: using interviews to uncover and define user needs. This describes our discovery and design process for the Access Assistant project, specifically how we identified key themes and requirements to drive the design and development of the software. It’s also available as a paper, here or in the RESNA proceedings.

Thumbnail of the poster on the Access Assistant project for RESNA 2021 Conference

3. Scoping review on the breadth and quality of research on assistive technology devices. This was spearheaded by Sajay Arthanat and some of his OT students, with help from me, Anne Cronin, and other members of the RESNA Research Committee. This includes early findings from a project to examine the breadth, nature, and quality of research studies that demonstrate the outcome of AT interventions. If you’re interested in this kind of scoping review and helping translate research to practice, you may enjoy being part of the RESNA Research Committee. Feel free to contact me for more info.

I hope you were able to attend RESNA 2021 yourself, and if not, perhaps this gives you a feel for the kinds of things that were presented. If you went to RESNA 2021, what were some of your highlights? What topics would you like to see at RESNA in the future?

Hope to see you at RESNA 2022!

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