CSUN’s Annual Tech Conference for Persons with Disabilities to Mark Its 30th Anniversary

Attendees at the 2014 CSUN Conference. Photo courtesy of CSUN’s Center on Disabilities.

Attendees at the 2014 CSUN Conference. Photo courtesy of CSUN’s Center on Disabilities.

Thousands of people from around the globe are expected to gather in San Diego next month to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the world’s largest event dedicated to exploring new ways technology can help persons with disabilities.

California State University, Northridge’s Annual International Technology and Persons with Disabilities Conference is scheduled to take place from March 2 to 7 at the Manchester Grand Hyatt Hotel. The conference will include time to reflect and celebrate its rich history and contributions to advances in the field.

Persons with disabilities make up the largest group of attendees and “are the reason we all gather to push the research and challenge industry professionals to keep moving technology forward and to tackle new challenges,” said Sandy Plotin, managing director of CSUN’s Center on Disabilities, which organizes the conference.

The “CSUN Conference,” as it is known in the industry, is the only one of its kind sponsored by a university. It provides a unique opportunity for persons with disabilities to have direct input on the creation of or modifications to assistive technologies intended to make their lives easier, from wheelchairs to interactive software and apps.

“Our conference brings together thousands of people from around the world — including scientists, practitioners, educators, government officials, tech industry executives and entrepreneurs — all committed to driving innovation in assistive technology to promote inclusiveness for people with disabilities,” Plotin said.

About 600 people filled the rooms of CSUN’s University Student Union in 1985 to attend the university’s first Technology and Persons with Disabilities Conference. The conference proved so popular that, five years later, it had to move to a hotel near the Los Angeles International Airport. The conference expanded one more time to include a second hotel venue four years later. It moved to its current location in San Diego in 2009 in an effort to keep up with demand.

“In 1985, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg was 1 year old, a movie ticket cost $2.75 and we were impressed with technology like the first Macintosh and a portable computer that weighed 30 pounds,” said Harry Murphy, founder of CSUN’s Center on Disabilities and the conference. “We’ve come a long way.”

Plotin, who has overseen the conference’s planning for the past 10 years, called its growth “a testament to the rapid pace that technology exhibited and the size of the audience that craved information.”

Today, the conference explores all aspects of technology and disabilities, and features a faculty of internationally recognized speakers. There are more than 350 general-session workshops and more than 130 exhibitors displaying the latest technologies for persons with disabilities.

This year’s conference will include featured presentations by representatives from the U.S. Department of Labor, Department of Justice and the Department of Transportation.

The keynote address will be given the evening of Tuesday, March 3, by Mick Ebeling, founder of The Ebeling Group, an award-winning international production company and think tank, and founder of the Not Impossible Foundation, a nonprofit take seemingly impossible ideas and transform them into useful applications that redefine the boundaries of possibilities. Among the foundation’s efforts is Project 001: The Eyewriter, an open-source, low-cost, do-it-yourself device that enables individuals with paralysis to communicate and create art using only eye the movement.

Organizers will honor Murphy with the Strache Leadership Award at the keynote address and in celebration of the conference’s 30th anniversary, a Thursday night concert will be emceed by actress Geri Jewell. Comic Chris Fonseca and musician Mark Goffeney will perform.

The conference team is working once again with WebAble TV, an Internet TV channel for people with disabilities on the TV Worldwide Network, which will serve as the conference’s official webcaster. The keynote address will be live-streamed for the first time.

For more information about the conference or how to register, visit CSUN’s Center on Disabilities’ website at http://www.csun.edu/cod/conference or call (818) 677-2578 V/TTY.

California State University, Northridge has more than 40,000 full- and part-time students and offers 63 bachelor’s and 53 master’s degrees, as well as 28 teaching credential programs. Founded in 1958, CSUN is among the largest single-campus universities in the nation and the only four-year public university in the San Fernando Valley. The university is home to dozens of nationally recognized programs where students gain valuable hands-on experience working alongside faculty and industry professionals, whether in the sciences, health care and engineering or education, political science, the arts and the social sciences. While regionally focused, the university’s faculty and administrators recognize the important role its students and alumni play in shaping the future of the state and the nation.

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