Editor's Note

The Real Reason We’re Here

A quick mid-November trip to Silicon Valley was not initially in my 2011 travel plans. Yet, the week before Thanksgiving, there I was — in Southwest Airlines’ queue, on my way to San Jose for the final Abilities Expo show of the year.

The airport was already decked out in wreaths and tinsel, and I felt a pang; there is something poignant about traveling during the holidays, unless you’re with or going to see family. Still, there’s an undeniable appeal to Northern California in the fall, and I hadn’t caught an Abilities Expo show in a couple of years, due to conflicting industry events.

Laurie Watanabe and Mark E. Smith 

Hanging out with consumers, such as Wheelchairjunkie.com’s Mark E. Smith — seen here at Medtrade 2011 — is a good way to make sure we’re on the right track.

By the time I checked into the hotel and dashed to the convention center with my camera to take my usual mediocre photos, I was very happy I’d made the trip.

For one thing, though the Abilities Expo series targets consumers, there was a considerable professional presence there as well. ATG Rehab’s local ATPs staffed a booth and chatted with clients. I met Donald Jones, ATS, and Divya Kapadia, PT, ATP, CRTS, of American Medical & Equipment Supply at the Icon Wheelchairs booth. Icon had launched its first product, an ultralightweight chair called the Icon A1, the month before, so the Abilities Expo was one of its first public excursions. (See the Icon A1 in our New Products section starting on page 31.) I got to talk with Marty Ball (TiLite), Rick Hayden (Colours Wheelchair), W.B. Mick and John Swandal (Permobil), Rene Szalay and Jacki Lohse (Ki Mobility) and Brad Stern (Supracor), among others.

But it was also great to once again be among consumers and hear about their interests first hand. For instance, the service animal demonstration put on by Canine Angels drew a host of questions from consumers who had just seen these talented dogs fetch items, navigate sure-pawed in tight quarters, and focus so entirely on their respective humans that not even a pot roast could have turned their heads. One of the spectators asked, half jokingly, if a dog could be taught to make a child go to sleep, which brought sympathetic chuckles from the audience. But then the Canine Angels handler said recently, they’d placed a dog with a young boy whose autism kept his mind racing so constantly that he wandered his house at night, unable to calm down enough to sleep. Told that his new dog needed a certain amount of highquality sleep each night, the boy conscientiously helped to develop a bedtime schedule, invited the dog to sleep on his bed, and snuggled down next to his new best friend.

The boy was asleep within half an hour and began sleeping through the night. His ecstatic mother sent Canine Angels photo after photo, all showing the same thing: Her son, peacefully sleeping.

Moments like this help reconnect me to the real challenges, big and small, faced by people with disabilities every day. Sometimes, in writing about funding cuts and policy changes and new seat angle adjustability, I forget the center of this industry’s universe: consumers, their families, their caregivers.

San Jose was a perfect reminder of that. And this year, we’ll be paying more and special attention to how federal and regional policies, new reimbursement rules, new technology and new outcomes impact consumers. One of my new year’s resolutions is to be more aware of how they’re affected by what providers and clinicians (not to mention legislators and funding officials) do every day.

Tell me if you like what you see, or how I can improve.

Thanks for reading, and best wishes to you and your loved ones for the new year.

This article originally appeared in the January 2012 issue of Mobility Management.

About the Author

Laurie Watanabe is the editor of Mobility Management. She can be reached at lwatanabe@1105media.com.

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