By Martin Littler
Promptly at 4:30 the formal meeting closed and 27 of the founder members (click on picture for full view and caption) of the British Assistive Technology Association (BATA) toasted their future with champagne. The setting, the Shaftsbury Room of the Grade 1 listed Institute of Directors building in Pall Mall, was distinctly un-shedlike while the CEOs of key UK assistive technology companies were more amused than bruised by the “Men in Sheds” sobriquet reportedly applied to them by officials (see earlier article).
In their two-and-a-half-hour meeting they discussed the scope of assistive technology, finalised the aims of the association; approved the name, logo and URL; discussed membership levels, service levels and subscriptions; decided its legal form and elected six of its nine directors.
In opening remarks introducing the aims of the association, Martin Littler (Inclusive Technology) gave a history of how, in the early years of the millennium some children who faced the largest challenges (and their teachers) had been missed out of government initiatives like NOF IT Training, National College of School Leadership training, Curriculum Online software and the provision of learning platforms. Since then, lobbying had worked, resulting in the Bercow Report and the inclusion of assistive technology in the current Home Access programme.
Those present agreed that Home Access had spotlighted government agency’s need for impartial advice from experts – difficult when the experts were companies with a vested interest. Conversely, tendering companies could fear disadvantage if the advice they gave was too candid. The upcoming election and the future prospects of quangos added to the need for a fleet-footed organisation to lobby for people with special needs.
'What starts as special needs can become mainstream'
Tim Tarrant (Teacher Development Agency) pointed out that special needs practice could lead mainstream. When Special Schools’ needs were included in the NOF training programme a consortium of special needs organisations out-performed the rest.
Several CEOs commented on the “Men in Sheds” theme with John Crick (Crick Software) saying just how wrong this was with the large premises now necessary for the leading AT companies and Mark McCusker (textHELP) describing the large British presence at major AT shows in the USA and how several British AT companies led the world in their niche markets.
The four initial aims of the association were agreed as follows:
- to lobby for the rights and interests of those needing Assistive Technology;
- to provide expert and impartial support and advice to government departments and agencies;
- to educate and inform widely on the benefits of AT;
- to promote British AT products and expertise at home and overseas.
Later, during discussions of the trade shows, road shows, overseas missions, shared contacts databases and indemnity insurance, Ian Litterick (Iansyst) suggested a fifth aim of BATA “providing services to its members”, and this met with general approval.
The founders then went on to work through membership levels, service levels and subscriptions. BATA will differ from its American cousin the Assistive Technology Industry Association (ATIA) as it will embrace the whole AT community – assessment centres, charities and other third sector organisations, academics and AT professionals. Companies (.com and .co.uk) would contribute more in subscriptions depending on their scale while charities, assessors, researchers and LA teams (.org, .ac, .gov etc.) would be more likely to contribute focus and expertise rather than cash.
BATA is to be formed as a “not-for-profit” company and the meeting went on to elect directors of this company:
chairman, Martin Littler, Inclusive Technology;
deputy chairman, Nigel Lewis, AbilityNet;
treasurer, Mark McCusker, textHELP;
secretary, Trish Hornsey, Inclusive Technology;
membership secretary, Nasser Siabi, Microlink;
director, Ben Jabuni, ACE Centre.
Three further directors are to be appointed shortly.
BATA has meetings planned with sister organisations like BHTA and the special needs group of BESA, both of which were represented, and a meeting with the American ATIA executive director in Chicago.
“It is exciting to have such massive support for a first meeting of a new association”, commented Martin Littler. “ I have had more than 60 folk from various companies and third sector organisations sending messages of support and 27 giving up a day to travel to London and set this up. We have had generous support from RM plc which covers all of the start up costs and keen interest from TDA and Becta too – and not a shed in sight!”
A new website is being planned for this address http://BATAonline.org