Editor's Note

I Attended the Virtual Abilities Expo. Here’s What It Was Like

I suspect some industries take naturally to virtual (online) events. For example, a friend who’s a registered dietitian has settled nicely into attending conferences from home during the pandemic.

But Complex Rehab Technology (CRT) doesn’t lend itself as readily to virtual events, at least from an exhibit hall perspective. In CRT booths, clinicians and ATP suppliers literally crawl over, under and around seating systems and wheelchairs. When optimal functionality is often determined by making adjustments just millimeters at a time, sitting back and passively watching isn’t the default setting of most CRT professionals.

So I was eager to tune into the second virtual Abilities Expo, dubbed Abilities VE2, to see how well the virtual formula worked for a notoriously hands-on industry.

Enjoying the Energy

A couple of disclaimers up front: I wasn’t able to attend the first virtual Abilities Expo, held in June. But the Abilities Expo team was excited about the improvements and advancements put forth for this second event.

And of course, the Abilities Expo series is primarily aimed at consumers, aka, people with disabilities and families living with disabilities. So I knew the educational sessions wouldn’t be on clinical par with what I’d see at the International Seating Symposium.

Attending VE2 was free, but required quick-and-easy registration. Shortly before the event started on Fri., Nov. 20, I received an e-mail with my unique log-in and password. Once I logged in, I got my own event dashboard and created a personal itinerary of sessions I wanted to attend.

The marquee Ability Expo sessions appeared on the “Live Host” video channel and included celebrity and personality interviews, as well as interviews with CRT executives, such as Permobil Americas President Chuck Witkowski and Quantum Rehab CEO Scott Meuser.

Paul Amadeus Lane was the Live Host channel’s emcee all weekend, and he chatted easily with his interviewees, making them feel welcome. Lane made me feel welcome, too. It’s not easy to shout into cyberspace while not getting a lot of real-time feedback from your audience. Lane was a great emcee choice: He’s at home in front of a microphone and brought a ton of positive, excited, but professional energy.

What I Learned in the Sessions

Hungry for human contact after eight months of working from home, I was excited for the CRT and accessibility manufacturer updates, for sure. But since this was a consumer show, I wasn’t expecting much real technology news.

Surprise, surprise!

During Abilities Expo VE2, Vantage Mobility International (VMI) launched ParkSmart, a sensor system that addresses the perennial problem of drivers who misuse parking spaces reserved for people with disability placards. Sunrise Medical gave a sneak peek at an upcoming launch. Scott Meuser said Quantum Rehab will be launching anterior tilt seating in the coming months. BraunAbility launched a wheelchair-accessible Chevy Traverse SUV and announced the upcoming launch of a hybrid version of the popular wheelchair-accessible Toyota Sienna conversion.

Exhibitors could stock their “booths” — i.e., VE2 homepages — with videos, product information, product literature, etc. And they could play announcements and live sessions — as Sunrise Medical did — on these pages.

My favorite feature: Chatting in real-time with booth representatives. Exhibitors answered my chats quickly and expertly.

And I got a few real-time “connection” requests via e-mail from people who wanted to talk. One was from an attendee who just wanted to tell me she once lived in the city that currently houses our corporate office. Another connection request was from a manufacturer who wanted to chat more about a product launch.

This felt a lot like running into colleagues on the show floor. And you know what? It was really nice. I felt like part of a larger community again.

How Many People Attended VE2?

Abilities Expo co-founders Lew Shomer and David Korse appeared on the Live Host channel to welcome attendees at the start of the day (9 a.m. Pacific) and to say good-bye at day’s end (5 p.m. Pacific). VE2 ran the weekend of Nov. 20, but archived sessions and experiences are accessible through Dec. 6.

In his closing remarks on Nov. 20, the first day of the show, Korse said 4,100 attendees had participated, which is more traffic than some of the smaller Abilities Expo live venues see on a single day. Korse added that visitors had logged in from “all over the world.”

On Sunday afternoon, Nov. 22, Korse said the three-day virtual event had logged nearly 7,700 unique visitors.

From an attendee perspective: I enjoyed the experience. Having a Personal Account page made it easy for me to prioritize and schedule the sessions I wanted to watch. I also kept track of my chats and took notes on following up. And it was fun to talk to colleagues, even if shaking hands and hugging are currently off the table.

The next Abilities Expo is scheduled for March 12-14, 2021, at the Los Angeles Convention Center.

This year’s Los Angeles Abilities Expo, held in February, was the last time the show series was held as an in-person event. Here’s hoping that we can all get together again safely and soon.


About the Author

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

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