ISS 2020: Professionals Discuss Seating & Wheeled Mobility “Across the Lifespan”

VANCOUVER, B.C. — The International Seating Symposium (ISS), hosted by Sunny Hill Health Centre for Children and Interprofessional Continuing Education at the University of British Columbia, was back at the Westin Bayshore the first week of March, and seating and wheeled mobility professionals gathered once again to network, learn and catch up on best practices.

The theme of the 36th edition of the ISS was “Across the Lifespan.” But while considering the impact of aging with a disability was a recurring topic, an additional theme at the center of the many keynotes, plenaries, educational sessions and poster presentations was the all-important consumer.

Consumers in the Center

The ISS kicked off with pre-symposium sessions on Tues., March 3. That afternoon, the expo hall opened with traditional “Consumer Day” hours, giving wheelchair users and their families the chance to tour the exhibits free of charge.

The ISS officially began Wed., March 4, with a keynote by Geoff Fernie, CM, Ph.D., Creaghan Family Chair in Prevention and Healthcare Technologies, Department of Surgery, University of Toronto.

Fernie’s topic: “Technology to Overcome the Big Problems of Aging.”

Of the current efforts to use assistive technology advancements to enable people to continue to live at home as they age, Fernie said, “There’s more hype than actual success.” He noted that falls “are still the scourge of aging,” and called falling “a life-changing event.” A hip fracture, for so many older people “is the end of their mobility.”

Fernie and his colleagues are approaching the problem of falling in a unique way: They study and rate how well various brands and models of boots handle the icy, wet, slippery conditions that are so common to Canada — and many other countries — in winter. Those studies have led to the development of “winter labs,” where treacherous walking conditions can be created and maintained so testing can be conducted year round.

Fernie noted that the vast majority of commercially available boots do not currently pass the “Rate My Treads” testing, though in just a few years, boot designers and manufacturers have improved their products so that more boots now achieve a “snowflake” rating.

Following Fernie’s keynote, the first Wednesday plenary was presented by Isabel Jordan, Patient Partner, from Squamish, B.C. She presented on “Whose Voice? When What Matters to Patients and Families Drives Care.”

Describing herself as a person with an invisible disability, as well as the mother to a child with a rare medical disorder, Jordan emphasized the need for the healthcare model to move “from paternalism to patient centered to a partnership of care.”

The second Wednesday plenary was presented by Mary Forhan, Ph.D., MHSc, Associate Professor, Department of Occupational Therapy, University of Alberta. She presented on “Promoting Quality Care for Clients with Bariatric Care Needs: Key Issues to Address.”

Fittingly, Forhan was presenting on World Obesity Day, and she called for healthcare professionals to reject the stereotypes and preconceived notions they have about obesity, adding, “BMI alone doesn’t indicate health.” A paper published on March 3 in Nature Medicine calls for an international consensus statement and a pledge “to eradicate weight stigma.”

Under Challenging Circumstances

Of course, the health of our global community was also front and center during this year’s ISS. Hand-sanitizing stations were prominently posted throughout the Westin Bayshore, and amidst all the hand-shaking and hugging that’s common at complex rehab industry gatherings, there were also “footshakes” and elbow bumps, as attendees remained warily mindful of COVID-19, the coronavirus spread that was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization the week after the ISS.

Still, on March 3 ISS organizers announced an attendee number of 1,100, representing 23 countries. In comparison, the last time the ISS was in Vancouver — 2018 — ISS hosts announced an attendee number of 1,023.

And more than 75 exhibitors demonstrated products in the sold-out expo hall, emphasizing the importance of face-to-face contact and the human touch, even in an age of rapid technological advancement.

Staying people-centered was exactly what Geoff Fernie urged ISS attendees to do going forward.

“I want you to fall in love with the problems,” he said about developing new solutions, “instead of the technology.”


About the Author

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

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