On behalf of the Association for the Advancement of Assistive Technology in Europe (AAATE), the Centre for Assistive Technology and Connected Healthcare (CATCH) at the University of Sheffield and congress committees and staff, we are honoured to present the rich tapestry of articles accepted for the 14th AAATE Conference in Sheffield 2017. After Maastricht 1990, Stockholm 1993, Lisbon 1995, Porto 1997, Düsseldorf 1999, Ljubjana 2001, Dublin 2003, Lille 2005, San Sebastian 2007, Florence 2009, Maastricht 2011, Vilamoura 2013, and Budapest 2015 we are proud to host this conference for the first time in the UK.
Now that the World Health Organization's International Classification of Function includes long-term conditions there is a less stigmatising environment in which innovation can occur. While applauding this, care is needed that the massive investment in interventions for those with common long-term conditions does not obscure the important work for other groups. Increasingly international policies and agreements such as the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities are helping to drive equality, inclusion and independence forward. Legislation make changes happen. The AAATE conferences highlight innovations that are within this movement and can contribute to it. Knowledge sharing about and spreading awareness of innovations in technology, services and understanding are actions that the AAATE pursues to improve the quality of life of people with disabilities.
The 14th AAATE conference, with its theme of ‘Harnessing the power of technology to improve lives’, is intended to refresh how we approach the event. The AAATE board has taken a greater role in developing the conference, attempting to broaden its appeal and strongly encouraging experts in our field to show leadership in their specialisms. This has led to many successful engagements with project and centre teams from around the world. We would especially like to thank all those who proposed themed sessions and indeed in many cases have also become session chairs. Thanks are also due to those organisations that signed up to become ‘Conference Approved’ partners and promoted our conference to their members and networks.
We would really like to resoundingly thank the authors for submitting their work and the reviewers in volunteering to review them. There are well over 200 papers in the Congress; in the Conference there are two plenary talks, 3 platform sessions and 30 multiple presentation and workshop sessions. All presentations and posters have double-blind reviewed contributions in these 1100 plus page proceedings (barring a handful which have open-access online short communications instead). Authors can freely share electronically their pre-review original draft submissions, provided the document also quotes the reference for their final article here.
The breadth of the articles encompassed by ‘Harnessing the power of technology to improve lives’ affirms that the lives of people are complex with many situations where technology – assistive technology – might, can or does already make a real difference. It highlights the AAATE interest not only in innovating in matters of technology but also around services and service provision. It is clear that the smartphone and tablet computer, through apps, continue to increase the independence and quality of life of their users. However, it is also clear that further innovation of ICT and other forms of technology for use in people's lives is as necessary as ever: some people need a better rollator, white cane or wheelchair as much, or even more, than they do a digital device. In 2017 robotics has really been brought to the fore with a global – especially Japanese and European – collaboration to offer three whole sessions discussing their uses for providing independence and care. These sessions raise many complex issues, not least around the ethics of their use, issues which are bound to be the subject of debate and discussion in AAATE conferences for years to come.
Luc de Witte