A Look Back at OCALICON 2019: Stories from Attendees


On November 20-22, more than 3,100 state and national leaders, K-12 education leaders and practitioners, service providers, policy makers, families and self-advocates from 39 states and three countries gathered in Columbus, Ohio at OCALICON. Now in its 13th year, OCALICON 2019 had record-breaking attendance—a trend that has continued over the past three years.

Rather than writing a traditional recap article, we decided to ask a few attendees to share their personal experiences at OCALICON. Don’t forget to save the dates for next year’s conference—November 11-13, 2020, once again at the Greater Columbus Convention Center in Columbus, Ohio. Details will be coming soon!

people gathered at entrance of OCALICON exhibit hall
Just some of the people that helped make OCALICON 2019 our biggest year yet!

A Conference with No Comparison

By: Annemarie Horn, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Old Dominion University
From the positive energy to informative poster and interactive sessions, OCALICON 2019 was truly a one-of-a-kind experience! As a first-time attendee traveling from Virginia, I assumed the experience would be similar to that of other national conferences. However, starting at check-in and over the days that followed, it quickly became apparent that OCALICON was not like other conferences.

In the field of special education, we emphasize the importance of inclusivity and focus on ability. At OCALICON, these ideals were embraced and celebrated to their fullest! Talented singers and musicians performed while inspired and energized conference organizers, attendees, and volunteers danced and celebrated. Self-advocates, families, practitioners, policy makers, and leaders traveled from all over the United States and beyond to come together and celebrate and learn through attending interactive poster sessions, visiting vendors, attending lecture sessions, and, perhaps most importantly, connecting with one another. 

Accompanied by a colleague and an international student from Greece, who is pursuing a graduate degree in special education at Old Dominion University, we collaboratively presented two posters on video modeling, as well as an interactive lecture on eCoaching with Bug-in-Ear technology. We had the opportunity to share our research and offer recommendations for practice while simultaneously connecting with parents, practitioners, and administrators. The sense of community and support at OCALICON was inspirational and there has yet to be a conference that compares. 

Part of Something Bigger

By: Marika Nadel-LaMotta, Project Assistant – Information and Data Management, OCALI
I remember my first day working for OCALI in March 2019. Everyone I met immediately made me feel welcomed, included, and comfortable, even while I was adjusting to never having introduced myself to individuals who are deaf, hard of hearing, blind, or visually impaired. Is there a polite and specific way to introduce myself? I know what the words “accessibility” and “inclusion” mean, but what does it mean to me? Not far into my first day I heard the word OCALICON. I thought to myself, I know this event is big, but how big is it if we are talking about it eight months before? For the next eight months I was eager and excited to really see OCALICON from everything I heard about.

OCALICON 2019 was an amazing experience, personally and professionally. Professionally, I was able to see the hard, behind-the-scenes work from the OCALI staff (especially the OCALICON team) finally be put into full effect. No kidding, this conference takes a whole year to plan! OCALI’s Research & Impact Team was able to celebrate because we received more conference evaluations than OCALICON 2018, one of our main goals going into 2019’s conference. It was clear that all of OCALI’s centers and staff were dedicated to providing resources and making everyone feel welcome, whether that meant dancing in front of the registration desk or in our flash-mob on Friday, or practicing great customer service at any given moment. A comfortable atmosphere for every guest was what was given.

In addition, OCALICON allowed me to have some personal revelations. During the first keynote, I stood because 3,000 chairs in the exhibit hall were taken. The sense of community truly gave me chills. Everyone was there for a common reason—impacting change. Accessibility and inclusion are important to every single person here. When I was conducting in-person interviews for future podcast episodes, I, someone who has never been a great speaker and often gets flustered while talking to someone, let alone a stranger, suddenly felt more comfortable. I couldn’t help but wonder why. Was it the inclusive environment that OCALICON created from the very beginning and continues to embody every year? Everyone can be themselves here.

I knew that OCALICON was going to be exciting, fun, and informative for everyone, but I could never grasp just how big the sense of community would be in one room until I experienced it. I knew how I felt starting at OCALI in March and I was able to understand the community that OCALI itself brings and practices. But it wasn’t until I attended OCALICON 2019 that I could feel a force in this community. I felt hopeful and a part of something bigger.

OCALICON: Our Inclusive Community

By: Ron Rogers, Director, Universal Design for Learning Center, OCALI
The following question was posted on Twitter near the end of OCALICON: Through your experience during #OCALICON, how would you describe your experience of our inclusive community we are creating at OCALICON? The same question was given verbally to a few people at OCALICON 2019. 

After going through tweets and looking over verbal responses, some common language and thoughts appeared. Words such as, “inspiring, engaging, invigorating, hopeful, empowered, appreciative, personable, conversation, appreciate, collaboration, diversity, inclusivity, and equity.” Those are a lot of words, and they all sound essential. One person told me that the word “relationships” really stands out. 

Some said the message became stronger and more lifelike with the number of amazing people with real stories that have a message wrapped in a mission. This made for a fantastic visual picture of what they are saying. Some tremendous presenters were able to display images on the big screens that assisted with the visuals while discussing and going deeper in their explanation. There were interpreters for the keynote presentations, and many turned on their closed captioning in their PowerPoint or Google slides. One person commented on, “The beautiful ripple of the diversity of presenters.”

While conversing, sharing, and having in-depth discussions, attendees learned a lot from each other. One person said, “I learned so much from so many different people.” Another commented, “Folks are here to share and not be competitive.” It was heartwarming to hear a person say, “No matter where I’ve been during my education career, you have had sessions that supported my needs.” If I were a betting person, I would put money on OCALICON, continuing with its momentum around inclusivity and equity through their conference in the years to come. 

Already Looking Forward to OCALICON 2020

By: Katie Robinson, AEM Production Specialist, Assistive Technology & Accessible Educational Materials Center, OCALI
Another year, and my fourth OCALICON under my belt. This year, I spent the majority of my time in the middle of OCALI Central giving out door prize tickets and answering questions. I enjoyed being in the center of the action. The new OCALICON app helped me answer questions that I could not answer. An important part of the conference for me is collaborating with other disabled people and talking about wheelchair use, ableism, and a variety of disabled-life topics. I walked the vender hall and purchased a few new fidget items. The North Market was decorated for Christmas, so I enjoyed the trees and decorations and lunch with coworkers.

A particular point of interest for me was the virtual reality experience. I am visually impaired, so I wanted to see if I would actually get anything out of trying it. I was not able to read any of the text instructions, so the audio readout was how I understood what I was supposed to do. I have no depth perception so the concept of reaching forward to click on menus was a bit of a learning curve. After figuring out all of this I successfully completed the scenario. I look forward to trying different scenarios in the future.

Overall, this was a good conference where I networked and tried new things. As always, I look forward to what next year brings.

Didn’t Make it to OCALCION 2019?
To check out the program and other information from this year’s event and to watch for details on the November 11-13, 2020 conference, visit https://conference.ocali.org/