An underwhelming response from sponsors forced the organisers of a unique global conference on special needs technology to cancel the event. But the overwhelming response from interested parties convinced the organisers of a serious gap in the market.
Transform 2004 was due to be held at UMIST in Manchester in July and showcase new technologies that can transform the lives of those with special needs. "It is time for a world conference to pull together what has been achieved in assistive technology, to celebrate our achievements and to establish a platform for future development on a world scale," its website proclaimed.
It was being organised by Oldham-based firm Inclusive Technology.
Co-director Martin Littler said the planning group had included representatives from the British Educational Communications and Technology Agency (Becta), other special needs companies, as well as university academics. Despite that support, the interest and call for such an event was so vast that it quickly became too large for Inclusive Technology to take the risk of financially underwriting it.
"A vital opportunity to bring practitioners, users, researchers, developers and government together has now been lost," Littler said. "I hope someone with deeper pockets can pick up this challenge."
"We deeply regret the cancellation of Transform 2004," continued Littler.
"It would have been a great opportunity to explore the achievements to date in the field of assistive technology and to share experiences of what hardware and software can achieve for those with special needs or disabilities."
Reeve, who has been a spokesperson for disabled people and a medical research campaigner after a riding accident left him a quadriplegic in 1995, had agreed to travel to Manchester to speak at the conference.
Littler said the assisted technology industry is constantly expanding and would have had a lifelong learning focus to reflect that.
More than 100 delegates had registered last year before the conference was cancelled. That interest demonstrated the need for a gathering to unite all the key players in the field to meet and exchange ideas, he said.
"Practitioners are not being informed by what researchers are finding and developers are not able to speak to the research community that easily.
There needs to be more of a dialogue."
However, Littler said there was "no chance" the event could go ahead as planned later this year.