Yesterday I attended the Second Workshop on Speech and Language Processing for Assistive Technologies (SLPAT) in the Informatics Forum at the University of Edinburgh. It was held in conjunction with ACL’s annual conference on Empirical Methods in Natural Language Processing. Last Thursday I had presented a paper on our work on AAC language modelling work at EMNLP. Therefore, even though I did not have anything new to present at the workshop, the SLPAT workshop was of high interest to me.
I have attended quite a few workshops before and my impressions so far have been mixed. Sometimes workshops fail to attract high-quality papers. Other times the organisation is in chaos. Very rarely do the workshop organisers manage to get everything right. Therefore I was very pleased to note that SLPAT 2011 managed to both attract high-quality workshop papers and deliver on an ambitious workshop schedule that packed the day with talks interwoven with user panels, posters and demonstrations.
Besides the talks, two other features stood out. First, the workshop had two ambitious poster & demo sessions. Demonstrations included a Lightwriter, a popular text-to-speech AAC device. I had never used one before and it was instructional to learn how it was designed. I also think it was a brilliant move to invite the AAC vendors Toby Churchill and Tobii to the workshop. I think researchers in AAC have a duty to try to interface with industry and government so that our research results can translate into actual benefits for end-users.
Related to this point, another feature that stood out was the AAC user panel. The organisers had invited AAC users to deliver prepared speeches about their reflections and ideas of AAC based on their own first-hand experiences with AAC devices. Thereafter the audience had an opportunity to ask questions. It was a very instructional session and also a reminder to me about just how much AAC devices can still be improved. I was also amazed by the eloquence of some of the talks delivered.
In summary, SLPAT 2011 was a highly ambitious and well-organised workshop. It was run just as well as a full conference, albeit for a smaller and perhaps more dedicated audience. I had a great time, I met lots of interesting people and I learned a lot. I will definitely try to attend the next workshop.