A warm southern welcome greeted us at the 2018 AHEAD conference in Albuquerque. The number of people attending grows each year and the exhibition hall was crowded with an ever-expanding number of vendors presenting opportunities to disability staff to see the latest in innovative technology, and programs of support.

The sessions reflected the wide range of disabilities that accessibility staff in universities and colleges throughout the US are accommodating. The main issues were – much as reflected in Ai-Media’s recent Ideas Series on compliance with the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) – the rise in the number of students with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and issues of Mental Health such as anxiety and depression.

Whilst the research and approaches presented through the sessions offered practical examples of social support programs for students with an ASD, Ai-Media’s Simple Text captioning program still appears to be unique in addressing the learning styles of students with an ASD. Hearing from experts in the field is encouraging, demonstrating as it does, the ongoing commitment to sharing understanding and awareness of the challenges faced by this growing group of students. The opportunity to share research and practical strategies is one of AHEAD’s strongest draws and from discreet sessions to poster sessions, this year’s program did not fail to deliver.

Mental Health and chronic illness was addressed in sessions ranging from strategies to enable students to disclose, share and manage their challenges, to issues in cognitive remediation and executive function.  Delegates learned from both medical researchers and practitioners, sharing real experiences.

Sessions on the practical management of disability services recognized the pressure that staff work under, and offered information on both automated systems and documented strategies.  Practical Management, together with the consequences of noncompliance with the ADA and the investigation of complaints, were clearly high on delegates agenda. Hearing from fellow disability services departments on ways to ease the pressure of the everyday management of demand, whilst still working to be compliant, was one of the underpinning themes of the 2018 AHEAD.

Last but not least, we heard from the Office of Civil Rights, and the lawyers involved in hearing from both Disability Services and students/carers, of noncompliance issues, not able to be resolved locally. To know and understand that the OCR is there, continues to give delegates confidence in the process but also concentrates their continuing attention on accessibility and the ultimate outcomes for all students with disability.

It was a privilege to attend the Recognition event and to share in the appreciation of the outstanding contributions made by professionals both past and present. This year’s awardees were at once, both overwhelmed and modest in their acceptance of the honor awarded to them and all paid tribute to the other professionals involved in their work.

Our congratulations, thanks and appreciation to all involved in AHEAD from attendees to organizers, we look forward to 2019 in Boston!

Eileen Hopkins

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