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Abilities Expo recap: Where do the manual wheelchairs fit in?


Harp teacher, able-bodied, spend my life opening doors for my fiance and pretending to like baseball.

Last weekend, Dan and Derin went to the Abilities Expo held in Schaumburg, Illinois. We were most excited to check out the fully-accessible Honda Element (with an accessible ramp), since that's the car we drive now.

We were immediately caught by a salesman, who was very helpful, explaining and demonstrating each accessible car, answering our questions and giving us actual prices instead of dancing around it. At the end of our discussion, we asked about the height of the accessible Element, since they lower the floors to put in the ramps and Dan is pretty darn short. We were concerned about how he would see over the steering wheel. Imagine our surprise when the salesman casually told us, "Oh well he would have to use a power chair."

Now obviously we have nothing against power chair users, we wouldn't be Chris's friends if we did! But there is a difference between manual and power chair users, and it usually has to do with their ability level. Besides that, insurance is very careful about giving you new wheelchairs in general, so what are the chances that they would pay for a new power wheelchair for a man who a) already has a functional chair and b) doesn't need a power chair? It very much offended us that the salesman assumed it would be the solution for us, and it lost him a future sale because he wasn't taking into consideration who his customer was. A salesman at a Honda dealership not knowing that? Perfectly acceptable. A salesman at an Abilities Expo selling cars specially made for wheelchair users? He should know better.

The entire Expo, while a great idea, seemed to cater to either power chair users or elderly/partially disabled people, who could stand up with difficulty but used a wheelchair for more ease. Where were the helpful products for manual wheelchair users? How would a bathtub that opens with a door help someone who has to crawl to get in that small space? What's the point of a ramp in your car if you need a power chair to use it? Is Dan, in a way, too able-bodied for the Abilities Expo, even though he's clearly disabled?

We are in no way criticizing what the Abilities Expo does, it's a great resource for the disabled community and for families. But we left feeling disappointed and excluded from an event that should have felt more exciting. We looked at every single booth, and the only ones that remotely applied to manual users were sports teams and hand-cycles.  Maybe three of the 50 or so booths could be considered helpful to a manual wheelchair user.

We understand that Dan is one of the more agile in the wheelchair-using community. But just because right now he can get in his car by hoisting himself up on his hands and can transfer to the bed from the floor, doesn't mean that he will be able to do that when he's 50 years old. Or when he has children with him. It was really disappointing to see the Expo leave him to his "able-bodiedness" and focus on other disabilities, instead of including him and trying to add easier methods to his lifestyle.



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1 Comment

David Korse said:

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Hey folks, it seems like you had a "not so great" experience at the recent Abilities Expo in Schaumburg. We're sorry that the event didn't meet your needs. To be honest, we've never gotten a, "it's mostly for people in power chairs" kind of comment before and it got us to wondering... if you didn't see the kinds of products and services you were hoping for, please let us know what was missing. what kinds of products? any particular companies? Give us some suggestions and I promise our team will do our best to incorporate improvements into next year's event. And although we're sorry you were dissappointed, we're really happy that you came to the show. Next year, if you come back, please ask one of our team members to find me when you arrive so that I can come over and say hello in person. Best to all, David Korse (co-owner of Abilities Expo).

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