Education in Motion / EIM Blog / May 2023 / Lessons Learned from ISS 2023

Lessons Learned from ISS 2023

The 38th International Seating Symposium (ISS) was held April 13-15, 2023, with a 2-day pre-conference beforehand. ISS began at Sunny Hill Hospital in Vancouver, Canada and began partnering with the United States in 1987. The last Canadian ISS was held in 2020, and 2021's event was skipped due to the pandemic. In 2022, a virtual conference was held and the University of Pittsburgh welcomed everyone back in person for the 38th ISS. Co-Directors Mark Schmeler and Rachel Hibbs did not disappoint and brought together professionals from across the globe for an exciting five days!

Sunrise Medical was involved in each day of the conference. Dan Critchfield taught in both the manual and power wheelchair training courses with assistance from Jessica Presperin Pedersen, Sarah Leonard, and Anthony Lang. For the second day of the pre-conference, Jessica Presperin Pedersen and Sarah Leonard presented with three other manufacturers focusing on configuration of a rigid wheelchair.

Here are reflections from some of the Sunrise Medical Clinical Educators who attended ISS 2023.

Sarah Leonard, Clinical Education Manager US Northeast

The 38th International Seating Symposium (ISS), held in Pittsburgh, PA, was my first time attending ISS as either a presenter or an attendee. As I reflect on my experience, I would say that my greatest takeaway is the value of collaboration and the importance of mentorship within the industry.

As a presenter, I was fortunate to have been asked to participate in a pre-symposium workshop that served as a collaboration among manufacturers. The workshop, "Ultralight Manual Wheelchair Prescription: The Importance of Getting It Right," was developed by clinical educators from across the industry, including Jessica Pedersen, OTD, MBA, OTR/L, ATP/SMS; Tricia Garven, MPT, ATP; Christie Hamstra, PT, MSPT, DPT, ATP; Erin Maniaci, PT, DTP; Curt Prewitt, MS, PT, ATP; Deborah Pucci, PT, MPT, ATP; and myself. Collectively, the group acknowledged the challenges of prescribing an ultralightweight manual wheelchair, aimed to inform decision-making, and provided participants with a deeper understanding of manual wheelchair configuration. The experience for me as a clinician was invaluable, and it is my hope that collaboration among clinical educators continues to support clients and clinicians across the industry.

As an attendee, I also had the pleasure of meeting and attending the courses of professionals who have inspired my career. To begin my ISS experience, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to meet and speak with Teresa Skinner, OTR/L, a professional who I would consider to be a pioneer in the world of adaptive sports at both the community and Paralympic levels. Unbeknown to Teresa, her passion and expertise in that arena has empowered me in my career to pursue my own passion along a path less traveled as a clinician. I also had the pleasure of hearing Kendra Betz, MSPT, ATP present on "Adverse Events in Wheeled Mobility: Actions to Mitigate Harm & Manage Mistakes." Kendra is another clinician who has invested her time and effort in the world of adaptive sports, and is someone I hoped I would have the opportunity to see present.

Ultimately, my experience as both a presenter and an attendee was beyond what I could have expected, and I credit that experience to each of the aforementioned individuals who have served to influence and mentor the next generation of seating and mobility professionals.

Amy Bjornson, Clinical & Marketing Director Asia-Pacific

ISS 2023! Wow, such a great experience. Fantastic clinical content, engaging speakers, reuniting with colleagues, and reinvigorating our passion for providing appropriate assistive technology. It was so powerful to be back together.

Amy Bjornson with colleagues at ISS

The three days of ISS were packed with evidence-based practice and applicable concepts, but a couple of things in particular stood out to me.

On-Time Mobility

There were many excellent presentations related to this topic. We now have an understanding of how infants and young children with disabilities will present as they get older and what equipment they will require at very early ages. Evidence supports the early introduction of assistive technology and providing a multi-factorial approach to mobility. This approach will optimize functional potential and maximize participation and inclusion.


As always, I truly enjoyed Karen Kangas's session on Dystonia. She is such a powerful speaker, motiving us to listen more, understand more, and do better for our clients.

Management of Anterior Tilt Postures

I was also impressed by Daniella Giles's "Please May I Have My Lap Back?" presentation. I find this clinical presentation to be one of the more difficult to manage, and I currently have several clients where I can implement my newly learned management principles. I'm also a firm believer of promoting functional, attainable, and sustainable postures in wheelchairs, so her phrase, "Good posture is the posture that gets the job done," rang true for me.

Thank you to the entire ISS team - I feel energized to continue to empower clients with mobility impairments to live their best lives.

Karla Sonderland, Clinical Education Manager US Midwest

What an incredible week it was at ISS. Not only did I have the privilege of attending my first ISS and exploring the beautiful city of Pittsburgh, I also attended many courses from leaders in the industry. I was able to interact with some amazing people and share information about our products at the Sunrise Medical booth throughout the week.

I have had the honor of spending my last 20 years as an OT and specializing in working with adults with intellectual and physical disabilities. 24-hour positioning has been an interest of mine, but what I didn't realize is how in-depth it truly is. I am all ears wanting to learn more and share what I find with others, and Sunrise Medical has given me a platform to do just that.

Part of my inspiration at ISS came from Pam Cummings, PT, University of Vermont and Sarah Clayton, CEO Simple Stuff Works and Director of Goldsmith and Goldsmith. Anna Goldsmith was also present. These amazing ladies offered a pre-conference course on "Integrating 24-Hour Postural Care Into Your Therapeutic Positioning Practice."

This course focused on one of the three basic postures we typically discuss when talking about 24-hour positioning: lying. Throughout the four hours, we worked on analyzing body shapes, predicting patterns of body distortion, objective measurements, and using appropriate therapeutic forces for effective intervention, all while focusing on the individual and family outcomes.

A few key terminology takeaways that I appreciated throughout their messaging:

"Supported Lying" versus "Sleep System": It is more than positioning at night. Maybe the therapeutic interventions need to be implemented for short bouts during the daytime hours in a therapeutic or supervised setting before implementing for a longer duration at night. We as therapists often want to go all-in; more is better, right? Not if it's not tolerated, and therefore not used.

Stop saying "Prevention" and start focusing on saying "Body Protection." Sarah Clayton was open and expressed her difficulty when talking about the future of her daughter, whose future is unknown, as is the case for many parents and caregivers of loved ones who require additional supports. She expressed she wants to talk about "Now," since "Knowing where you are going is the first step to getting there."

Another was "Strive for progress, not perfection." I recently used this concept when assisting with a Seating and Mobility Physical Therapy student lab, stating, "Pretty and perfect isn't always functional when dealing with positioning."

The biggest takeaway from ISS is what a blessing it is to have the number of resources we do at our fingertips. There was not one speaker who I didn't feel like I could reach out to if I wanted more information or guidance, and this was international. Use your resources; they are plentiful! I encourage you to take part in future International Seating Symposiums, so you too can be inspired to be a better provider.

Published: 2023-05-10

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