ISS Brings Together Clinicians & AT Providers from 27 Countries

VANCOUVER, B.C. - More than 1,100 registrants representing more than two dozen countries. More than 100 exhibitors, with dozens more on the waiting list. More than 100 educational sessions, from keynote addresses and plenaries to paper presentations and posters. And of course, countless networking opportunities, from formal evening receptions to informal meet-and-greets in lobbies, hallways and restaurants. ISS post coverage

The 2014 International Seating Symposium (ISS) - sponsored by Sunny Hill Health Centre for Children and Interprofessional Continuing Education, University of British Columbia -- took place in the familiar surroundings of the Westin Bayshore. Despite Vancouver's size - it's Canada's third-largest metropolitan area, says National Geographic - the city made for an intimate backdrop for the seating & mobility clinicians, assistive technology providers, and technology manufacturers who came together March 4-8.

From Humble Beginnings

This year's was the 30th edition of the ISS, and in the opening remarks on March 5, Co-Chairs Dave Cooper and Maureen Story recalled the conference's humble beginnings.

The first ISS was held Feb. 17-19, 1983 - the same year, the co-chairs pointed out, that McDonald's Chicken McNuggets and Swatch wristwatches made their debuts.

The event lasted two and a half days, had 98 participants and 11 exhibitors, and focused on pediatrics. The first day was devoted to medical topics, the second to technology and products. Day three was for paper sessions. In those days well before PowerPoint and iPads, session notes were handwritten or typed.

After a hiatus of several years, the second ISS took place Feb. 20-22, 1986, with the topic "Seating the Disabled." Then the University of Memphis, which was contemplating its own seating-focused conference, proposed making the ISS a joint venture, and in 1987, Memphis hosted the ISS.

In the mid-1990s, the University of Pittsburgh became, and is still, the home of the American ISS events. There have been 16 ISS events in Vancouver to date, and 14 hosted by Memphis or Pittsburgh. In addition, the ISS has spun off events outside North America. The European Seating Symposium was established in 2007; other events have been held in Brazil and Argentina. And the first Asia Pacific seating symposium is scheduled for May 2014.

Bridging the Gap

The 30th ISS adopted the theme "Bridging the Gap," with Cooper and Story explaining the gap applied to clinicians, researchers, providers and manufacturers.

There was also a gap, Story pointed out, a "disconnect between providers and consumers." That disconnect was approached in multiple ways, including a day for assistive technology consumers and caregivers to visit the exhibit hall free of charge. Tuesday, March 4, was devoted to full- or half-day pre-symposium educational sessions for professionals, with an afternoon exhibit hall in which those professionals mingled with assistive technology users.

Also new on Tuesday: a Demonstration Stage, right outside the main exhibit hall, where selected exhibitors gave 15-minute product presentations.

Then on Wednesday morning, March 5, keynote speaker Dave Calver addressed the gap between providers and consumers in his morning presentation. In his talk, "Client to Provider: Spectrum of Health Care and Wheelchair Experiences," Calver shared his personal experiences as an Ontario native who became a whitewater kayaking enthusiast as a boy and an expert as a young adult. Calver channeled that passion into a profession, as he became a kayaking instructor and worked in adventure tourism.

About 10 years ago, Calver went mountain biking and crashed. From his whitewater training, he said he immediately knew he'd sustained a spinal cord injury. After surgery - coincidentally, done by a surgeon who wore a halo from his own spinal cord injury - Calver landed in the care of a physiatrist who, despite lacking expertise in spinal cord injuries, refused to discharge Calver to a rehab facility.

"He's my chance to learn about spinal cord injuries, and he's rehabbing here," the physiatrist told Calver's mother and brother.

Calver's family checked him out of the facility against medical advice and took him to Vancouver's GF Strong Rehabilitation Centre, which was waiting to receive him. It was at GF Strong, Calver said, that he felt "a real sense of community" and thought for the first time "There's life after spinal cord injury." Calver did feel, however, the disconnect of a young man who'd been highly active and was suddenly not as active anymore.

After his injury, Calver attained a master's degree in occupational therapy, and today he works for Health Services for Community Living, North Island, Vancouver Island Health Authority. He's also worked internationally on projects that have included a pilot program in Sri Lanka to help healthcare professionals and families better support new spinal cord injury patients.

The life expectancy for a newly injured spinal cord patient in Sri Lanka is just two years, Calver said, largely due to lack of education about pressure sores and other life-threatening complications.

Other international projects Calver has participated in focus on the new generation of improvised explosive device (IED) that results in amputations, traumatic brain injuries, and spinal cord injuries.

The goals of many of these projects, Calver said, are "that spinal cord injury will not become a terminal injury in the developing world."

The ISS of the Future

In characterizing the importance of seating systems, Calver suggested the successful ones are capable of "breaking down barriers between where you came from and where you want to go."

In acknowledging that people with mobility disabilities indeed want to go to diverse places and have many different experiences, clinicians and ATPs at the 2014 ISS attended classes on seemingly every facet of seating & mobility, from transportability to special considerations for clients with ALS or cerebral palsy.

And believe it or not, it's not too early to talk about the next ISS, scheduled for Feb. 26-28 in Nashville, Tenn. Pre-symposium workshops will take place Feb. 24-25, with Consumer Day on Feb. 25, and the University of Pittsburgh has opened its call for papers. Fittingly, the 2015 ISS is themed "The Next Chapter."

About the Author

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

Rolling Dynamics, Rolling Resistance &  Optimizing Wheeled Prosthetics