Schmeler: ISS Tops 1,800 Attendees

In its inaugural visit to Nashville, Tenn., the International Seating Symposium (ISS) tallied more than 1,800 attendees.

According to course director Mark Schmeler, Ph.D., OTR/L, ATP, that breaks down to approximately 1,400 conference registrants and 450 exhibitor staff for the event that ran March 3-5, with pre-symposium educational sessions on March 2.

"This also represents about a 50-percent growth from 2009, where we had about 1,200 total people on site in Orlando," Schmeler said. The University of Pittsburgh's School of Health & Rehabilitation Sciences alternates hosting the event with the University of British Columbia.

Schmeler added that this year's attendees represented 31 countries, also an increase of 50 percent from 2009, the last time the University of Pittsburgh hosted ISS.

Asked which aspects of the event he was particularly pleased with, Schmeler said, "All aspects of the ISS ran very smoothly, therefore I am most proud of the people that made it happen. We had more registrants than expected -- a good thing by all means -- and the ISS staff and volunteers were able to accommodate people pretty smoothly. We were fortunate to have many of our Pitt graduate students on site to assist, as well as several local OT students from Belmont University to handle the flow."

He lauded the quality and range of educational presentations, adding, "It was especially noteworthy to see that we are evolving with more evidence-based presentations and therefore growing as a scientific field. There were also many new faces at the podiums, including more international speakers with fresh perspectives."

ISS took place at the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center, an expansive complex that underwent a property-wide renovation last year following devastating floods. Among the benefits of the much larger property was an extensive exhibit hall.

"The new exhibit hall with much more space and improved layout was also a significant accomplishment," Schmeler said. In addition to acting as a gathering place for breakfasts, lunches and breaks from the conference, the exhibit hall housed poster presentations and some of the educational sessions.

"We have not seen this much interaction and energy under one roof in a long time, Schmeler said.

Room to Grow

Moving a successful event from Orlando to Nashville was, Schmeler acknowledges, "a big risk," but he said a venue change was needed.

"We had outgrown the Orlando hotel and were challenged to find a venue that would accommodate our exhibit hall size needs with a reasonable room block requirement," he explained, alluding to the fact that in Florida, part of the exhibit hall was housed under a tent in the Buena Vista Palace's parking lot. "We also needed to consider anticipated growth for the event."

As it turned out, that growth happened immediately, and Schmeler was glad the new venue was able to rise to the challenges.

"It's a good thing we were in a place that had the resources and space to accommodate our needs," he said. "I'm just glad that no one needed to spend time in the parking lot...either to visit the exhibit hall or camp out."

He also credited the city for the boost in attendance, saying, "Nashville is also a centrally located city whereby many people were within reasonable driving distance. I think this in part had a lot to do with the fabulous attendance."

ISS will return to the Gaylord Opryland in 2013, the next time the event is in the United States. "We were able to show our numbers to the hotel and therefore will be able to expand further if needed when we return in 2013," Schmeler said. "There are no specific plans beyond 2013 at this point, but if the venue continues to meet our needs, there is no reason to not return in 2015 or beyond."

He described the resort as "an impressive operation."

Looking Forward to 2013

"Right now, we're wrapping up the 2011 event, evaluating what went well and what can be improved as we begin planning for 2013," Schmeler said. "We're busy reviewing course evaluations and feedback from all contributors and stakeholders. We plan to survey our exhibitors to determine how we can improve the exhibit hall experience for the attendees and the exhibitors as well."

Anecdotal comments from attendees and exhibitors during the event were overwhelmingly positive, and Schmeler confirmed he's heard more of the same.

"We've received nothing but positive feedback, and everybody seems to want more... more exhibit hall time, more pre-conference sessions, more topics covered, more international representation," he said. "We could easily meet for a full week! Given that option is not reasonable for most, we'll be doing our best to organize an exceptional event for ISS that provides outstanding educational programming and the best exhibit our industry has seen. We're looking forward to the ISS in Vancouver next March, 2012, and we'll be back in Nashville for ISS in March 2013."

In fact, the University of British Columbia has already started its mailings for the 28th International Seating Symposium ( Abstracts, which can be submitted online, are due May 27. The symposium takes place March 6-9, 2012, at the Westin Bayshore in Vancouver.

About the Author

Laurie Watanabe is the editor of Mobility Management. She can be reached at

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