I was trying to think how many Abilities Expos I have attended over the past five years, and I think the tally is over 15. This past weekend, I attended the Abilities Expo at the Los Angeles Convention Center for the 4th year in a row. Over the years, this event has been held in Anaheim and Long Beach and received great attendance. This year the expo was moved to LA, and we were unsure as to what to expect for the turn out since it was in the heart of downtown.
For those of you who don’t know, the Abilities Expo is a three day event that is geared towards people with disabilities. At these expos, there are transportation solutions displayed and demonstrated including wheelchair lifts, wheelchair vans, hand controls, wheelchairs, etc. In addition to mobility solutions being displayed, there are many other booths showcasing various products like incontinence, health monitoring devices, wheelchair-accessible tents, disposable medical supplies and the fishing doc pole. Organizations like PVA, MDA, US EEOC, UCP and National Center on Physical Activity & Disability also have a strong presence with representatives available to answer any questions.
It’s always an eye opening experience to go to these shows, no matter how many I attend. I spent most of my time talking with customers in the Aero Mobility booth, and MobilityWorks booth who showcased VMI vans, including the Honda Odyssey with the VMI Northstar conversion. People that I meet at these shows, and all over really, are so amazing and inspiring. I met a lovely couple that was looking at some VMI vans, but they were not accompanied by anyone with a disability or anyone in a wheelchair. I asked them who they were shopping for and they told me “Our daughter”. I asked them what type of disability she had (I never mean to be obtrusive when I ask people this question, but I am always curious what injury or disease one may have). They told me that she has FOP, fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva, which is one of the most rare genetic diseases known, occurring in about one in two million people. FOP is a disease that turns muscles and ligaments into bone. The family didn’t yet own a wheelchair accessible van, because they were able to make do with what they had. Now that their daughter is 19 they want her to have more of a social life which means going out with her friends and without a wheelchair van, that won’t be easy. The family found a couple of vans that will suit their needs, but it was just inspiring to talk with them and hear of their struggles with such a debilitating disease.
Perhaps the greatest component of the show is that we are all there for the right reasons. I am there as a manufacture’s representative and of course to promote and educate people on VMI products. With that said, I would never recommend a VMI product that doesn’t fit someone’s needs and that goes the same with everyone in the mobility industry; we want people to be in the right products. I was at the show talking with a rep from Freedom Sciences and he asked if I could help out someone he was working with. None of the products they make fit this couples’ needs, so he asked me to see if a VMI van would be the best fit for them.
The attendance at the expo shattered last years attendance which is great. That means the word is getting out and people are finding out about this great event. I love going year after year because I get to see many friendly faces that I saw at previous year’s expos. Please make a note to come and see us next year at the Southern California expo or at one of the expos throughout 2010 in New Jersey, Chicago, Atlanta or Houston.