A Look Back at OCALICON 2018

Inspired. Energized. Game changer. Sense of community.

These are just a few words that attendees used to describe their experience at OCALICON 2018. On November 14-16, nearly 2,900 state and national leaders, K-12 education leaders and practitioners, service providers, policy makers, families, and self-advocates from 42 states and eight countries gathered in Columbus, Ohio, at OCALICON. Now in its 12th year, OCALICON 2018 had record-breaking attendance—a 48 percent increase over last year.

“We knew early on that it was going to be our largest event ever. Our first attendee came in 30 minutes after opening registration in April—before we even had a chance to send out the official announcement,” said Simon Buehrer, conference and events manager. “That enthusiasm, energy, and excitement continued and kept building in the months and weeks leading up to OCALICON.”

More than a conference, OCALICON is truly a personal and professional learning experience.

Collage of photos of attendees and presenters at OCALICON 2018
Thank you to everyone who helped make OCALICON 2018 our biggest and best yet!

“OCALICON draws a cross section of participants from a variety of roles, backgrounds and experiences, and focuses on needs and challenges across the lifespan,” said Jill Hudson, coordinator of national and state partnerships and OCALICON. “That creates a rich and dynamic learning environment and numerous networking opportunities. We loved welcoming back our long-time friends and colleagues, as well as seeing so many new attendees this year.”

OCALICON 2018 offered more than 250 breakout sessions, featured presenter Dr. Rosemarie Allen, a nationally-recognized leader and expert on culturally-responsive practices, and two keynote speakers—Dr. Christopher Gillberg, professor of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden and head of the Gillberg Neuropsychiatry Centre, and Dr. Bill East, Executive Director at the National Association of State Directors of Special Education (NASDSE). From the latest research to looking into the future of the disability community to practitioner-based strategies, various perspectives on autism and disability were shared with this year’s attendees. Complete OCALICON 2018 details are included in the conference program.

According to one attendee, “There were many more options for sessions and the additional opportunities (Special Education Leadership Institute, Braille AT Forum, Summit on Sensory Disabilities, and University Summit) were all excellent. Everything looked so interesting it was difficult to choose. Everything was outstanding this year.”

2018 Features & Highlights

Special Education Leadership Institute
This year, OCALI partnered with the Ohio Department of Education’s Office for Exceptional Children to integrate the Special Education Leadership Institute with OCALICON. The Institute was designed to provide a platform for special education leaders to collaborate, share research and best practices, and inspire change for students with disabilities.

“The collaboration between the Office for Exceptional Children and OCALI allows us to continue to cultivate and strengthen our ongoing work and partnership,” said Dr. Kimberly Monachino, Director, Office for Exceptional Children at the Ohio Department of Education. “Most importantly, it allows us to collectively leverage resources and opportunities to best support professionals and families across Ohio and beyond.”

New Ways to Engage Attendees
Several new features designed to engage attendees and presenters were added to this year’s event, including presenter meet and greets, an exhibit hall meet-up board, and mastermind sessions. These opportunities provided attendees new ways to network, collaborate, and personally connect.

“We’ve offered a keynote meet and greet for some time now,” said Jill. “It’s always a popular feature, but it was previously limited to our two keynote speakers. By opening it up to include some of our other knowledgeable, experienced, and talented speakers, attendees had additional opportunities to continue the conversation and learning beyond their breakout sessions.”

New Ways to Showcase Products & Services
More than 90 companies and organizations shared their products, services, and solutions in the ever-bustling exhibit hall. Partnering with people with disabilities to showcase their products and services and engaging the local community were important goals for this year’s event. The Artists & Entrepreneurs Showcase provided people with disabilities exhibit space to shareand selltheir products and services with attendees. Participants included an artist from Anchorage, Alaska, and an entrepreneurial, community-based employment project from State College, Pennsylvania. Friday’s Local Marketplace featured a collection of Columbus-based businesses offering artisanal soaps, handcrafted items, jewelry, and moreallowing attendees a chance to “take a piece of Columbus back with them” or get an early start on their holiday shopping.

A New Way to Think of Professional Learning
The following excerpt is from the Ohio Department of Education’s Extra Credit blog and provides a unique perspective about OCALICON and professional learning.

“When I was a content area teacher, OCALICON wasn’t on my radar. None of the special education conferences were. Yet, all my classes included students with disabilities. I never realized how little I knew about students with different disabilities and how to support them in accessing grade-level content. By attending conferences only related to my content area, I was limiting my learning and my ability to improve my practice and meet the needs of all the learners in my classroom. At OCALICON, I found myself outside of my comfort zone—and it was great. I’m beginning to think we are approaching conferences in the wrong way. I’m a social studies teacher and know a lot about history because it is something I’m interested in. I read books and watch movies about history all the time. What I don’t know enough about is how to support students with multiple disabilities. What I don’t know enough about is how to use technology to provide students with intellectual disabilities access to grade-level content. So, what have I learned? I’ve learned I should attend conferences that focus on content I don’t know a lot about. This is one of those ‘aha!’ moments when I realize I’ve been looking at something the wrong way for years.” Virginia Ressa, Education Program Specialist, Ohio Department of Education

Save the Date

If you share our passion for inspiring change and promoting access for people with disabilities, mark your calendar for November 13-15, 2019, in Columbus, Ohio. Join us to learn, network and help inspire people to action. The Call for Proposals opens in February 2019. Registration and the Call for Exhibitors open in April 2019.