ISS 2015: Big Numbers in Nashville

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The International Seating Symposium (ISS) was back in its massive American venue, the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center, for the week of Feb. 23, and the event put up some equally big numbers in its 31st edition.

In the symposium’s opening session the morning of Feb. 26, ISS Director Mark Schmeler, Ph.D., OTR/L, ATP, told attendees that the 2015 event encompassed 85,000 square feet of expo hall space, with 126 companies and organizations exhibiting. More than 140 educational sessions would take place, an increase over past symposiums.

Attendees came from more than 35 countries, and is tradition, Schmeler recognized the nations — including the Czech Republic, Mozambique, Micronesia, the Republic of Georgia, Croatia and Turkey — that sent participants for the first time. Seven of the 10 Canadian provinces were represented, and 49 of the 50 United States sent attendees – Wyoming being the lone state without an attendee in Nashville.

Schmeler indicated that the ISS educational review board was impressed by the high quality of presentations it received, a fact that led to more educational sessions being offered. And he told attendees that a goal of the ISS was to balance learning opportunities with the chance to check out the latest and greatest in seating & mobility technology via the expo hall.

Despite a number of continuing policy and reimbursement challenges, Schmeler added, “The industry is still growing.”

Where CRT Goes from Here

The opening session was followed by keynote addresses that were forward thinking and that complemented the symposium’s theme: “The Next Chapter.”

Rory Cooper, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Rehabilitation Science & Technology, University of Pittsburgh, spoke on “The Next Chapter in Wheelchairs & Seating: Globalization.” To demonstrate what challenges remain on a worldwide front, Cooper pointed out that 70 million people in the world need a wheelchair, but only 20 million have access to one. And of that 20 million, 8 million are used in North America or Europe, emphasizing that accessibility is not uniform or anywhere near complete.

While Cooper said he believes awareness of the need for wheelchairs and independent mobility is growing, he added, “I don’t think we’ve reached full inclusion.”

And along that path, Cooper also emphasized the need for the industry to continue to evolve and grow.

“We need to promote the power of innovation,” he said, while urging support for the American Association for the Advancement of Science (, an international non-profit organization focused on using science to improve quality of life for all people. Cooper also encouraged support for the fledgling International Society of Wheelchair Professionals (, created from a grant to the University of Pittsburgh from the U.S. Agency for International Development. The organization’s mission: to ensure “wheelchair users are provided the best technology with the best service worldwide,” according to the ISWP Web site.

“I think we need to move further toward professionalization,” Cooper said.

Building on Strength

Exhibitors in the expo hall had a lot to say about innovation as well. There were power wheelchair and ultralightweight/manual wheelchair launches from multiple manufacturers, and plenty of powered and manual seating & positioning launches — thus upholding the contention that more and more R&D teams and engineers were done designing product that put HCPCS coding and reimbursement ahead of what functions and features would truly be most beneficial for end users.

It was a fitting statement for this year’s ISS, which took place 25 years after the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act, as Schmeler pointed out. Ultimately, more than 2,000 professionals attended the symposium, which also emphasized the strength of the event, even at a time when assistive technology funding continues to be an everyday challenge.

After the symposium ended, Schmeler told Mobility Management, “I feel attendees recognized they are not alone with their local issues. Collective and global efforts can drive change as long as we work together. Regardless of the perception that the situation might be deteriorating, attendance at ISS continues to grow, more countries attend, many new innovations in technology continue to be brought to market, people are sharing strategies, outcome management systems are coming together, and we are perhaps getting better at working in synergy versus competing agendas — i.e., we were even able to have an ISS ONE Celebration for Advocacy supported by many manufacturers and organizations versus competing social events.

“I am confident many will continue to be inspired and motivated to be agents of change long after the ISS rather than contribute to a race to the bottom.”

The 2016 ISS takes place at the Westin Bayshore in Vancouver, B.C. March 1-4.

About the Author

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

Rolling Dynamics, Rolling Resistance &  Optimizing Wheeled Prosthetics