Center for Leadership in Disability Transitions Annual Autism Conference Fully Online

July 6, 2020

As many organizations, families, and individuals discovered: COVID-19 changes plans fast. With just two months until the Center for Leadership in Disability's (CLD) 6th annual Autism Conference and Expo of Georgia (ACE), hosting the popular research and resource event in person was no longer possible. But the staff at CLD were faced with two choices: Cancel the conference, or forge ahead with one of the many online platforms adapting to a new normal.

The CLD decided that the resources and opportunities this event offered were too valuable to set aside for another year. It was time to adapt. Daniel Crimmins, Director of CLD, chose to plan "a sequence of larger presentation sessions, with opportunities on both days to meet in smaller group sessions for networking and discussion." The ACE planning team, led by Gereen Francis, jumped into high-gear to figure out how to implement these goals and transition a conference that last year welcomed nearly 300 attendees, with 30 exhibitors and 10 featured sponsors to a digital platform. CLD had never hosted an online event of this scale before, and there was a lot to learn. "When [Dan] came to my office and told me ACE was going virtual, I was very apprehensive," Gereen admitted at the beginning of this process, "but due to COVID-19, we had no choice."

This year's conference theme, "Making What Works Available to All," was a strong motivator for the CLD team to embody this in every way. The online platform significantly expanded the event's reach, with participants tuning in from all over the state. In the post-conference survey, attendees expressed gratitude to the CLD for hosting the conference online because registration and travel costs, location, and scheduling had been barriers in the past. Both real-time captioning services and simultaneous Spanish interpretation were accommodations provided for attendees as well.

CLD recorded all conference presentations, which is an added benefit of the online platform. Not only did CLD stream the entire conference on Facebook Live, but each presentation is now archived for anyone to re-watch or access months after the conference.

In the relative calm after ACE concluded, Gereen reflected that "planning and hosting a virtual conference has opened doors to opportunities for doing things differently." Opportunities for planning future meetings, and how current events are changing how we interact with each other daily. Dan determined that "in this time of social distancing, [we aim to provide a] new format that is interesting, informative, engaging, and fun!" Future conferences hosted by the CLD are already in the works. Check out their website for updates at