Logo to the Reinventing Quality 2020 virtual conference.

About 1,500 unique visitors registered for sessions of Reinventing Quality last month, a virtual alternative to the biennial conference highlighting best practices in person-centered supports for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). The live event was rescheduled for August 8–11, 2021, in Baltimore, due to the pandemic.

Participants saw a glimpse into the future of technology-enabled data collection, an update on pandemic-related regulatory changes and research projects of national significance, and early details from the largest survey to date of direct support professionals.

“All of the sessions offered high-quality information from thought leaders in the field, and the overall experience was streamlined to make it accessible to a virtual audience,” said Margaret Nygren, executive director and chief executive officer of the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (AAIDD), an event co-sponsor. Conference sponsors underwrote the entire cost of the event, allowing participants to access the sessions free of charge.

Other co-sponsors, in addition to ICI’s Research and Training Center on Community Living were the American Network of Community Options and Resources (ANCOR), Human Services Research Institute (HSRI), National Association of State Directors of Developmental Disabilities Services (NASDDDS), and the University of Delaware National Leadership Consortium.

“The virtual nature of the conference enabled people who might not otherwise be able to attend the in-person conference to access critical and timely information,” said ICI Director Amy Hewitt. “As an example, recent data was shared about the experiences of direct support professionals and the people with intellectual and developmental disabilities who they support during the COVID-19 pandemic. Panelists were able to discuss the implications of this data on current and future services and policy.”

Federal and state disability services officials discussed pandemic-related regulation changes and the unwinding of those changes once emergency conditions are lifted, which is currently scheduled for October.

ICI’s Sheryl Larson and other representatives of federally designated research projects of national significance provided updates on trends in housing and work arrangements among people with IDD, as well as state variability in IDD spending.

“That variability for family members and individuals with disabilities makes navigation of the disability services system complicated, let alone figuring out the best options and outcomes,” said Nicole Jorwic, senior director of public policy for The Arc.

And in this time of pandemic, it raises important questions about justice for people with IDD, particularly those still living in congregant settings who are subjected to a patchwork of rules about visitors and other restrictions, Larson said.

The pandemic also is driving new opportunities—and challenges—in IDD research. Challenges include the inability to conduct in-person interviews because of the virus, as well as technology issues such as bias in artificial intelligence systems, said panelist Shea Tanis from the University of Colorado. Opportunities include disruptive technologies, such as virtual reality, for remote data collection.

All of the sessions had between 700 and 800 registered attendees, and in total there were 1,500 unique registrations, about double the number of a typical live event, Nygren said.

“We’re excited about the reach of this conference and that it can give a large group of people a sense of the quality of the live event, which will have much more content,” she said.

To access recorded online conference sessions, go to http://www.reinventingquality.org/upcoming/schedule20_virtual.asp