We are happy to introduce AAATE 2023, the 17th International Conference of the Association for the Advancement of Assistive Technology in Europe, taking place in Aubervilliers, near Paris, from 30 August to 1 September 2023. Since the first conference was held in Maastricht in 1990, and every 2 years thereafter except in 2021, the AAATE conference has become, together with its twin conference ICCHP (International Conference on Computers Helping People with Special Needs), the main rendez-vous for all stakeholders interested in the field of digital accessibility and assistive technologies (AT) for people with disabilities: researchers, experts, practitioners, manufacturers, AT users, decision-makers, providers of AT and accessibility, as well as anyone else working in this field.
The topics discussed at this biennial conference have continued to evolve for more than 30 years, but the constant of AAATE, to borrow a mathematical term, is its focus on research which is aimed at improving the lives of people with a disability. This could be seen as a restrictive focus, but in reality it is a universal goal. Indeed, improving the lives of people with a disability simply means improving the lives of all human beings. There are two reasons for this. The first is that most of what we, as a society, do for people with a disability will improve the lives of everyone; for example, street accessibility for wheelchair users also facilitates the lives of young parents pushing prams, elderly people, delivery workers and many more. The second reason is that if we consider a person’s entire life, and not just their situation at any given moment, disability will affect almost everybody at some point. Indeed, supporting people with a disability is part of what makes us human, that is, a species that cares about others and the future.
This last point may seem quite optimistic in the current global context, where human activities now endanger the survival of the entire species, but we are convinced that improving the lives of people with a disability – and consequently all people – is a key issue that will contribute to making our world more sustainable. In the same way, sustainability and inclusiveness are intrinsically linked, with both seeking to ensure the safeguarding of the most vulnerable members of society. This undoubtedly leads us to Assistive Technology: Shaping a Sustainable and Inclusive World.
One of the major changes witnessed in our domain of research has been the role played by end users; indeed, people with a disability should not merely be involved in the testing of prototypes designed to meet some specific need, it is essential to place them at the centre of the research and development process. Not only do people with disabilities best know their own needs, they also have great potential to be part of this process. Let us recall a certain Charles Barbier de la Serre, who invented the concept of raised-dot writing to facilitate night messaging, and whose name very few know two centuries later. There is also Louis Braille, who was blind, and who turned this tactile writing style into a reading system which revolutionised the education and lives of blind people all over the world. (Barbier’s night writing system offered only the possibility of deciphering, making its usefulness extremely limited.)
The AAATE 2023 conference is hosted by University Paris 8-Vincennes-Saint-Denis at the Centre de Conférences of the Condorcet Campus (For more information about the Condorcet Campus, see https://www.campus-condorcet.fr/). This campus was founded in 2019 to provide new research infrastructure for the humanities and social sciences, and includes several buildings housing research labs, a large documentary centre known as the Humathèque, L’Hôtel à projets, where labs can have additional temporary offices for the duration of a project, La Maison des chercheurs providing short- and long-terms accommodation for invited researchers, as well as student housing and the very functional congress centre that is hosting the conference. More specifically, the conference is organised by the THIM team of the CHArt laboratory at the University Paris 8-Vincennes-Saint-Denis. THIM stands for Technologies, Handicaps, Interaction et Multimodalités (Technology, Handicap, Interaction and Multi-modalities). The team’s research has focused on AT and accessibility for the past two decades. It is connected with the Master’s programme Technology and Disability, which has been training students in AT development and assessment, as well as digital accessibility, since 2001.
As AAATE is intrinsically multidisciplinary, the conference has an original structure. Contributors were given the choice of contributing either an oral presentation, or an oral presentation combined with a paper to be published in the conference proceedings. This choice reflects the diversity of disciplines represented at the conference, as some fields value conference papers, provided they are peer reviewed, while others will only consider the publication of articles in scientific journals. Overall, 157 scientific presentations will be delivered in four parallel sessions during the three days of the conference. In addition, an Inclusion Forum will cover 17 sessions on education, 7 on policies and 24 on innovation.
Over 240 proposals were submitted in response to the call for contributions, demonstrating the research community’s keen interest in these topics in Europe and beyond. Of these proposals, 123 were also submitted for publication in the conference proceedings. After completion of the review process, 74 of these were selected for the current proceedings, published by IOS Press in the series entitled Studies in Health Technology and Informatics. Each paper was reviewed by at least three reviewers from the International Scientific Committee, which is composed of 110 international experts from 32 countries around the world and reflecting the diversity of disciplines in our community. Many of the papers rejected for publication in the conference proceedings were subsequently reoriented to other categories of the conference, for oral presentation, or to the education, policy or innovation sessions.
At the time of writing this preface, two months before the conference, we have already registered attendees from 45 countries across five continents.
We are grateful to all the authors whose research efforts are published in this volume. We would also like to acknowledge the efforts of the International Scientific Committee, as well as that of the members of the Programme and Organisation Committees, who dedicated their time and effort to the realisation of this event. Finally, we would like to thank all conference participants for supporting the mission of AAATE.
Dominique Archambault and Georgios Kouroupetroglou