Thanks in part to receiving a scholarship from ISAAC Australia to attend ISAAC2014 in Lisbon, Portugal, and saving for two years (we ate a lot of rice and pasta). I was fortunate once again to expand networks around the world after attending the biennial conference in Pittsburg in 2012; I was determined to attend future conferences. Then I was invited to run a pre-conference workshop on AAC and intimacy, of course I accepted this opportunity! I was not expecting the number of participants this attracted, and must admit I was a little out of my depth with the various languages. It was during this, I saw a true international community of people supporting each other. People started translating for one another, and became engaged with each other with the common passion of allowing everyone’s right to communicate without judgment.
There were many highlights to the conference, from the amazing dance troop at the opening ceremony, the consumer lecture – which was truly outstanding – presented by Fiona Given made all Australians very proud. At the conclusion of her presentation the stage was over taken by Australian delegates, making for a great photo opportunity.
I saw many great sessions, besides the outstanding consumer lecture, our Australian delegates stood out once again, from the insightful session on how AAC and technology is being used to engage students. The session delivered by Adelaide west special education centre principal, Silvia Flato and support teacher Leanne Shane gave practical examples of engagement, backed up by academic statements around student engagement and success.
Again Meredith Allen presented a deeply thought provoking session on how people with disability and particularly those who use AAC are perceived as less equal in supporting other family members through grief and hard times, when quite the contrary is our reality. This session has sat with me since returning home, as the day after I arrived home my great-nephew who was born prematurely whilst I was in Portugal for the conference passed away suddenly. My family as were all quite devastated by this loss, we rallied around my niece and her partner and I took responsibility for sorting out leave for my sister and other business, as my sister and I are quite close she has shared much of her grief with me.
Another stand out for me was my now life long friend Ingé van Gils from the Netherlands, we first met in Pittsburgh, and have remained in contact, with our friendship being enriched further by spending time together both at the conference and socially. Her presentation at isaac2014 was a cautionary story of merely being a statistic for boards and committees to ‘make up numbers’ so they’re seen to be inclusive. Her experience rang true to my personal experiences in the past also, whereby there is no consideration of time given for AAC users to communicate in meetings, nor access to information in alternative formats were considered. Leading to the feeling of and obvious ‘tokenistic’ approach of inclusion.
Although I had personal things happening at home, and I was torn between my commitment to attending the conference and my family needing me, I did have amazing experiences at isaac2014, the host city turned on the great summer weather, the social events were full of culture and great opportunities to network, and learn from peers and professionals. The calibre of social events was superior to ISAAC2012, with class, culture and a deeper sense of belonging and community years conference was certainly higher for me personally, I am looking forward to seeing how ISAAC2016 can possibly match the spirit that was captured in our hearts at ISAAC2014. The organizing committee did a fantastic job, the staff both paid and volunteers were all amazing, I hope the Toronto team can take some lessons from the Lisbon crew!!
For those of you who know me, and know I lost my passport, I got that sorted the day after the main conference ended. I am obviously home now, we didn’t get ‘banged up abroad’ but we sure had one big adventure – my travel companion and I fondly labeled the trip ‘the hardly normal’ European summer adventure’.
In reflecting on the theme of ‘discover communication’ for me is best summed up by Australian band The Cat Empire song ‘How To Explain’ with the lyric – music is the language of us all… For all the cultures, and nations represented, the artistic performances were all connected by the amazing music throughout the conference and social events.
Here’s a a link small ‘flipagram’ I made of some my highlights and memories from ISAAC2014.