The Abilities Expo: Connecting the Community, One Stop at a Time
Have you been to the Abilities Expo? Here’s where you should go, and why, to connect with friends who have similar interests nationwide! Abilities Expo CEO David Korse shares highlights from the roadshow below:
The Abilities Expo is a series of events held across the United States specifically for individuals with disabilities. Eighty percent of the attendees are consumers, and 40 percent of that 80 percent are people who define themselves as having some type of physical challenge. The other 40 percent generally are family members and/or caregivers. Twenty percent of the people at the show will be healthcare professionals with the largest group being physical therapists and occupational therapists, who discuss services they can recommend to their clients. The Expo also features manufacturers and dealers with some of the latest and most innovative products to show our consumers what’s available to help them be more mobile. The next stop for the Abilities Expo is May 1-3 in the NYC Metro area.
Here are just a few benefits that the Abilities Expo provides:
- You can’t beat the price, because admission is free.
Workshops are offered at the Expo on a variety of topics, which are also free of charge.
- An Events Arena features events such as service animal demonstrations and disabled dance demonstrations as well as other interactive experiences that people never may have seen previously.
The people attending the Expo share common interests.
This gathering is probably the largest one for people with a wide variety of disabilities and has hundreds of vendors with products and services.
Numerous non-profit organizations, including Wheel:Life, are also at the Expo to share information about subjects that can make life easier and better for attendees and improve their quality of life.
Six Expos will be held in 2015:
- Los Angeles (March 6th–8th),
- New York Metro (May 1st-3rd),
- Chicago (June 12th-14th),
- Houston (July 31st-August 2nd),
- Boston (September 18th-20th) and
- DC Metro (December 4th-6th).
- Each Expo lasts for 3 days, opening on Friday and closing on Sunday, from 11:00 am–5:00 pm (4:00 pm on Sunday).
The manufacturers come to these Expos because there’s no other type of event that will deliver as many individuals in the disabled community and home health care professionals, as the Abilities Expos do. The Expo gives manufacturers the opportunity to let the consumers see, touch and try out their services and products.
- All the shows have an artists’ market, where artists with disabilities can show and sell their artwork.
Each show has a wheelchair repair unit.
Every Expo has roller scooters for people to use who need help moving through the show.
Most shows have an assisted technology showcase where consumers can see the latest and the greatest assisted technology devices.
The Abilities Expos are fun places to be, and offer memories that last a lifetime.
One of my favorite memories occurred at our Los Angeles event several years ago. A single mother who was about 28 years old came to the show with her son, Alexander, who was about 5 years old and had cerebral Palsy.
Alexander’s mother was accompanied by her brother, because her husband had left her when he learned he had a son with cerebral palsy. They were walking by an exhibitor’s booth which displayed a standing chair that allowed people in wheelchairs to stand up. The man in the booth asked the mother if she would like to let her son try out the chair. The lady answered, “Sure,” and they put Alexander in the chair. He took off like a racehorse – the first time he’d ever been able to stand.
He was having such a good time, that everyone there started watching Alexander. They realized there was no way that this single mom could afford to pay for this $5,000 chair. The exhibitors in the next booth went over to the manufacturer of the chair and asked how much the chair would cost and if the company would take a credit card. The lady at the wheelchair booth had a big smile on her face and asked, “What do you mean?” The man holding the credit card said, “That youngster can’t go home without that chair.” The lady then told him, “If you’re going to buy that chair for Alexander, I’ll sell it to you for $3,500.”
So, while Alexander was riding around at the show, the chair already had been paid for by two of the Expo’s vendors, and it was gifted to Alexander and his mother. The mother broke out into tears, and Alexander, seeing his mother crying but not knowing why, cried also with gladness from this unexpected gift.
Fast forward 5 years later, and Alexander and his mom who had come to the show every year, called me over into a corner at the show last year. The mom said, “Alexander has something he wants to show you. Close your eyes for a second.” When I opened my eyes, Alexander was standing, and he took a couple of steps toward me. The Abilities Expos have lots of moments that are unforgettable due to the people who come to our show, but for me, Alexander and his chair was one of the most memorable.
Attend Workshops Free of Charge at the Abilities Expo
Our goal for our workshops is to connect the attendees who come to our shows to the practical and useful information they need. We try and give our attendees the newest information as it’s made available, including research being performed on stem cells and the latest information on research being done that may help people with spinal cord injuries walk again, and also hold workshops with their primary goals of having fun.
Travel Is Our Number One Workshop:
The first thing we teach in this workshop is that you can travel, even if you have a disability. Many people don’t realize how accommodating travel can be, like cruise ships, airlines and other means of transportation. Many people come to these workshops to learn how they can travel. We explain that people with disabilities can travel just like able-bodied folks can.
We have experts who come to these workshops and explain where you can go, how you can travel, and what type of advanced preparations you need to plan on to take a trip. We want to motivate people to travel and show them ways to travel that are affordable to go to places they’d like to go.
Although having an assist animal is practical, assisted animals can be fun too. Many people know about service dogs, but we also show service puppies and miniature horses, which now have been approved as service animals. Miniature horses can perform a variety of assisted tasks to help people be more independent.
For people who are quadriplegic or significantly disabled, monkeys can be trained to help perform many of the tasks in the home. They can help people get dressed, turn lights on and off, operate the remote control for the television, help people eat and drink and perform many other tasks. The fun side of the monkeys and all these service animals, is that they are great companions. They can be funny and provide love.
Service animals have been proven to increase social interaction for people with disabilities also. Many people don’t realize how much fun and help animals can be.
Occasionally, we’ll have workshops for caregivers. Intimacy and relationships are other topics that many of our attendees are interested in, and parenting is another popular topic. In the financial planning topic, individuals learn about money management or putting a financial plan in place for a loved one with a disability. We’ve also found that our caregivers are just as interested in our workshops as our other attendees are. For caregivers, we have a workshop topic on “How to Take Care of Yourself.” We also work with partners who come to our shows and offer educational workshops too.
The Abilities Expo – More Fun than a Three Ring Circus
Our events take place all three days of the Abilities Expo. Many of our events are demonstrations that the attendees can try while they’re at the shows, including adaptive dancing, adaptive gardening, makeovers and all kinds of adaptive sports, including rowing, rock climbing, quad rugby, wheelchair basketball and tennis. Also we have other events not focused just on people who use wheelchairs like yoga and archery. Last year we had one of the nation’s top blind archers at our show.
In the events arena, we often talk about and demonstrate how service dogs can help you and frequently bring in horses and demonstrate all the ways you can work with them. Sometimes we have miniature horses, and other times we have full sized horses. Besides specific events like the ones I’ve described, we offer events too that last all day, including rowing sessions and a hand cycle station. We even have a makeup area and face painting sites for kids and for adults.
When the Abilities Expo comes to town, everyone knows they’ll have fun there. We’re convinced that having fun, while seeing new products, learning new activities, testing new technology and talking to medical professionals is very important. We want everyone who comes to have fun, plus their siblings, children and grandparents too. The Abilities Expo isn‘t just for people with disabilities, it’s for their families and caregivers too.
One of the events we have is up/down tennis, where we teach both the person who can stand and the other who is in a wheelchair to play together. We also have radio controlled model cars, adaptive video games and radio controlled helicopters that you can fly. All these activities have adaptive control devices. So, even if you don’t have the ability to participate in very active sports, the Abilities Expo still offers plenty of fun things to do, regardless of your ability level.
With our adaptive video games, you can play with other gamers all over the world. We strongly recommend that you bring your video cameras, digital cameras and Smartphones that are capable of taking pictures and videos at the Expo. Another reason that people come to the Abilities Expo and return year after year is because the Expo enables people to make more friends and meet more people who are like them.
Thirty-eight percent of the attendees have some type of disability. At the Expo, if you have a disability, you’re the normal person there, and you don’t feel out of place, because you’re surrounded by other people just like you. The same is true of caregivers. Caregivers can meet other caregivers just like them, share their experiences and get to know each other.
How You Can Attend the Expo
For more information about the Abilities Expo and when they’re coming to your area, go to www.abilitiesexpo.com, and click on the name of the show that’s closest to where you live. Once you select a show, you can register whether or not you’re sure you’ll attend, which signs you up for all the notifications to let you know what will be happening at the shows. You can sign up for “The Ability Buzz,” which is our monthly newsletter with many great stories about what’s happening on in the community.
Abilities Expo and Wheel:Life are proud to announce that they have joined together in a national organizational partnership for 2015.
As part of the organizational partnership arrangement, Wheel:Life will be providing educational content and informative articles to the Abilities Expo community website as a free resource for Abilities Expo attendees. Abilities Expo participants will also be able to obtain any of the Wheel:Life e-books on fundraising and relationships for free by filling out a simple request form on the Abilities Expo website.
Additionally, Wheel:Life will be participating in three of the six Abilities Expo events throughout 2015, with staff reporting from the Los Angeles, New York City and Washington, DC metro area shows. Learn more.