Abilities Expo SoCal Celebrates the Possibilities

ANAHEIM, Calif. — The hopes and dreams at the heart of the Abilities Expo, the consumer show series that came to Southern California the final weekend of May, could be summed up by one little boy who, for a few minutes on Friday, literally stopped and charmed traffic in the busy convention center aisles.
Tucked into a demo chair and with a doll in his lap, the blond toddler used his right hand to tentatively maneuver out of the booth and into the aisle. Permobil Pediatric & Standing Product Specialist Amy Meyer and the child’s parents offered coaching at first, but in a few moments, they became superfluous. The boy’s smile said it all: I’m moving. All by myself.

The Abilities Expo, which combines an educational conference with an assistive technology exhibit hall, was full of such triumphant moments. During the weekend, wheelchair athletes demonstrated their skills. Dancers performed. Artists impressed with ceramics, painting and handmade jewelry.
Seating & mobility exhibitors did their part by demonstrating technologies designed to maximize safety and independence, whether via a power-assist system for a manual wheelchair, a portable bath/transfer chair or ramp-equipped minivans ready for boarding by scooters and power chairs. Another major show theme was home accessibility, both the ground-up, universal design type, and the type that can be accomplished via accessible showers and bathtubs, patient lifts and lift chairs.

An informal poll of exhibitors showed they were pleased by attendee traffic. The tour’s next stop is Minneapolis in September (www.abilitiesexpo.com).
The common theme for the weekend was overcoming limitations and redefining possibilities. Andrew “Drew” Shelley, a guest of exhibitor Innovation In Motion, was one such example. Diagnosed with muscular dystrophy as a child, Shelley began using a wheelchair two years ago — and decided soon after to use his X5 Frontier to backpack through Dubai, Australia, India, Thailand, Indonesia and other remote destinations. His journeys are recorded in a documentary (www.journeybeyondthechair.com). ”For me, the city is just too tame,” Shelley said in the documentary’s trailer. “Like any adventurer, I crave the adrenaline rush.”

A systems engineer in San Diego before he began traveling, Shelley, 28, was smiling and nonchalant when talking about the trip’s inherent risks at the Abilities Expo. He said he fell from the chair only once and “I had a flat tire in Cambodia,” he admitted. Such is the heart of the Abilities Expo and the assistive technology it showcases: to bring the impossible within reach.

This article originally appeared in the July 2008 issue of Mobility Management.

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