Mike Paciello interviews Sandy Plotin about the upcoming CSUN Assistive Technology Conference for 2022, the history of the Center on Disabilities at CSUN, and how the conference operates.


Dave Gardy - Hi I’m Dave gardy for WebABLE tv from our studios here in near Washington DC for this special presentation in preparation for WebAble TV's CSUN 2022 coverage joining me now via the New Hampshire via zoom is Mike Paciello who's going to do an interview with the managing director Sandy Ploten

Mike Paciello - Thanks a lot Dave uh sandy thanks again for joining us on WebABLE tv how's the weather out in California

Sandy Plotin - it is hot and it's going to be hot next week so pack your swimsuit

Mike Paciello - Yeah, we'll have to we got six inches of snow last night and we got six more coming in the next couple of days so I’ll be looking forward to the warm weather

Sandy Plotin - I heard your weekend's gonna be bad

Mike Paciello - yeah well, we'll see hey look it's great it's another year CSUN the CSUN conference so um I thought I’d just run a couple of quick questions by just to kind of get things started um you know I’m not sure how many people know a little bit about your own personal story as it relates you know to the conference and in the center on disability so can you give us a little insight into how you got involved in in the history of the conference

Sandy Plotin - uh basically I wanted a new job I found this job and I applied and I got it and I had absolutely no experience with people with disabilities at all and I started to learn and I realized that I was also going to be a person with disabilities because I was aging rapidly and I was getting physical problems so that's how I mean I got the job but I it just opened up a whole new world for me

Mike Paciello - so your role is as managing director of the center on disabilities at Cal state university of Northridge and along with that comes the conference so how does your role actually work out between you know more or less dual responsibilities the conference is you know the largest assistive technology conference in the world um carrying that responsibility along with the center on disabilities is quite a bit

Sandy Plotin - well you know most people don't know that we are very small department we run a giant conference but there are six of us so when I think of myself as a leader, I think of myself as a leader of a team that they all contribute and everybody's essential here so it's easy to lead people who are passionate and know what they're doing so they make my job easy

Mike Paciello - yeah, it's always good to have a good a good strong team um the conference is uh the 37th 37th

Sandy Plotin – 37th

Mike Paciello - 37th conference and that goes back obviously to harry murphy but how long have you actually been with the conference now

Sandy Plotin - I started working here in 2005 and my first conference was 2006 and we were in LA back then at our two hotels and before we left LA we were at three and one year four so um it's been an interesting ride first conference was not a raging success for us I’ll be honest I think everybody will agree who is there but it was a learning experience and it was great to have harry kind of mentoring me along the way.

Mike Paciello - yeah, it'll be good to see him again this year I know he sees he and Debbie are planning to attend but um why don't you just kind of lay out what the conference will uh uh feature to highlight uh for this year in 2022.

Sandy Plotin - well last year you know we went virtual and we changed the schedule up a little bit and we actually found that that worked well so we went back to that schedule we're starting on Monday instead of Sunday this year but we're starting the keynote Tuesday morning and you think you know that um and um that way we can get sessions in on Tuesday so it's just adding another day of sessions but it allows us to expand the rooms so we can have social distancing and we'll have a preview of the exhibit hall Tuesday night for conference attendees and then we'll have the welcome reception and then we're also going to have future presentations and all the featured presentations including the keynote are live streamed and open to the public and something else we added this year is um live streaming sessions all day whenever there's a time slot there'll be a live streaming session those are also open to the public these are general sessions and so you'll see sponsors you'll see exhibitors it it'll be great so um and then we're gonna have some social events because we did some focus groups this summer and we were told that people want to have some fun at night we always thought they were too tired but no they wanted to do things at night and so we're going to have bingo Wednesday night and karaoke Thursday night and I wish you could join us but um let's see if anybody comes up and sings with us so uh it's gonna be fun um it's gonna be great to be back in person because I think we all miss that so we're excited

Mike Paciello - yeah that's good and uh along with the socials we there's a couple of um award ceremonies that are usually we have every year can you tell us a little bit about the Star Key award in the art Kercher awards yeah the Fred Star Key leadership award is given to it is actually named for a former uh vice president of student affairs here who was very uh instrumental in founding the center on disabilities very supportive of harry murphy and so that's why they named it for him and this year um it's for people who work with people with disabilities either with students or mentoring and um given to somebody who's really committed themselves to it and uh this year we're really happy that Jody Johnson is right behind me is gonna get it she is the director of dress which is disability resources and educational services here on CSUN and she will be very familiar to a lot of people at the conference because she used to run it with harry she was number one really and um the Dr Arthur Carson award is for name for an old friend of ours who was also instrumental in helping us uh start the journal uh track along with Dr Klaus Metzen Berger so um the best submission for the journal track is gets the art Karishma award I do not have the title in front of me

Mike Paciello - yeah, it's great it's always good I think one of one of the uh features and highlights of that you know opening ceremonies are those awards and folks get introduced to individuals that they may not know like kind of working behind the scenes that are contributing so much to the field in research and development or like Jody I mean it seems to me like Jody and I were kids when we were first going to CSUN back in the early 90s right so uh it'll be good it'll be good to see

Sandy Plotin - she started here as a student worker so in this at the center so it she's really gone way up

Mike Paciello - yeah exactly hey you know the COVID pandemic has presented some challenges you know as you kind of alluded to earlier are their policies that attendees that are coming should be aware of this year

Sandy Plotin - yeah oh they're a lot and they're on the websites everybody should be familiar with them hopefully you will need to show your vaccination proof when you check into the conference um if you're not vaccinated we certainly hope you are you can present us with a negative test and the tests and how many days ahead are on the website I’m not going to be able to remember it um but then you will get a wristband for the day the next day you will have to do a health screening and you'll present that and you'll get a new wristband for that day so you will know that everybody who's at the conference has done a health is shown vaccination proof or a negative test and has done a daily health screening so it we are doing an overabundance of caution I think but we're going to keep everybody safe and healthy

Mike Paciello - yeah excellent and so again just as a reminder for anyone that's watching this go to the CSUN homepage and you'll see the link right to those policies and reminders for being COVID safe we want to have a great and exciting conference but we also want to be safe and we're conscious of everybody everybody's needs at that level that's it

Sandy Plotin - and at this point I just want to and even though California has dropped its mass mandate we are going to ask that people wear masks in the conference area because we just again we want to keep everybody safe

Mike Paciello - good that's great now on another topic again you kind of alluded this alluded to this a little bit before several conferences’ um are going virtual or some notion of a hybrid, I don't see CSUN is not doing that this year but I just want to get your insight your perspective on hybrid virtual conferences and in person

Sandy Plotin - well when we went virtual last year and we went virtual because let's face it we had to and um it was uh quite a detour for us and but we felt that we missed a lot of things and we think the attendees missed a lot of things it's really kind of impersonal to be honest sit at your computer and be at a conference and you don't really get to interact with people I think that's the thing that's so great about the CSUN conference is the networking and the newcomers who get mentored and the old friends who see each other in the halls and everything and it's just I don't think you get that out of a virtual conference if you just want to it to me it's like doing a series of webinars but you don't talk to anybody you're just sitting there and listening to somebody I think you know you have you go to presentation on site and you can talk to the presenter right after you can ask questions you can't do that in a virtual conference and if whether it's recorded or live it's really difficult to manage so I know that a lot of other conferences are doing it we would prefer not to do virtual or hybrid uh we are you know we're doing the live presentations but at some point we may go back consider the hybrid we do think it might it is the future and people have gotten used to it and they like it because they don't have to travel but we think that the best way to do a conference is in person

Mike Paciello - one of the things I really enjoy that about a an in-person conference that you really can't get um is the exhibit hall the exhibit room and you're meeting with the vendors right and so this year house how's that looking at the conference exhibition

Sandy Plotin - looking pretty good and we're going to have exhibitor demos that's new this year which I forgot to add thank you um so Wednesday Thursday maybe Friday I have to look at the schedule we will have exhibitor demos in the exhibit hall and uh you'll be able to see uh devices products being you know shown how to use it you can try them at at the booth but get one-on-one with the exhibitors in the demo area so um that's something new too but you are right about the exhibit hall and a virtual platform it just doesn't work and we knew it was going to be a stretch and it was a stretch and it just exhibitors came and said you know it's just we miss talking to people we can't this is a virtual exhibit hall is just like being in a zoom meeting again so you cannot touch a product you cannot see how it works it's kind of meaningless

Mike Paciello - yeah especially for people with disabilities where personalized experience is so critical to you know to their ability to be able to try and use technology that in their everyday life is important

Sandy Plotin - absolutely I mean especially if you're a blind person how do you go to a virtual exhibit booth just it doesn't make sense

Mike Paciello - yeah exactly so sandy um what do you think the future holds for the CSUN assistive technology conference um as your kind of looking forward

Sandy Plotin - I don't know I’m it's we're we always want to grow but we also have to be mindful that we can't get too big because we it's hard to control and because we're only six people it's there's just so much we can do so we would like to think that we are just going to keep improving what we have and we thought about going to the convention center to expand and maybe that's a few years away um we would still like to expand where we are and maybe have exhibit hall in the convention center and we could open up all the rooms to sessions so they could be huge so but other than that we would I don't think we would get much larger but it's going to have to change it's going to have to evolve I mean if we go hybrid that will be one direction but you know right now we're just trying to keep our heads above the water the last two years were incredibly challenging and we're trying to get back to where we were honestly so this year we're feeling pretty good about getting close to normal and next year we hope it's going to be the big old see some conference that everybody wants

Mike Paciello - yeah that'll be good I know I know a lot of folks are looking forward to really getting back um to the conference as it has been so successful the past few years hey it would be wrong if we didn't mention um some of the sponsors that are coming in there I don't know if you wanted to just mention a few of the sponsors that will be there this year

Sandy Plotin - sure able talks new sponsor thanks you Visparo Crawford technologies IBM amazon and if I miss somebody, I apologize the list is over there so I think I got everybody

Mike Paciello - got good there's a lot of sponsors there there'll be a lot of people on the floor in the exhibit hall um there's we got a full uh week of schedule between pre-conference uh workshops that are that'll be there and a full session full venue of sessions throughout the whole week and as you said before we've got a lot there will be a lot of social activities as well at night so it's another full week of CSUN Cal state at the Anaheim Marriott um in Anaheim California so we're looking forward to seeing that Sandy thank you so much for being our guest today here on what able tonight we wish the greatest success for uh for the conference and maybe for the keynote speaker

Sandy Plotin - I I’m pretty confident it'll be fine

Sandy Plotin - we'll see what happens Dave thanks so much okay

Dave Gardy – thank you Mike, thank you Sandy

Again, we've been covering this for WebAble TV from our studios here near Washington DC in preparation for the CSUN 2022 coverage join us I’m Dave Gardy thanks for watching.

Posted on March 16, 2022

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