I’m writing this after a wonderful and slightly exhausting full day adventure to the New Jersey Convention Center for the 2014 New York Metro Abilities Expo. The last time my family and I ventured to the Expo, I was only about five years old, so it was a whole new experience for me today. Let me tell you, it’s a can’t-miss event for anyone who’s part of the disability community, and the best part is that there are Abilities Expos around the United States so there are plenty of chances to check it out. From resources to networking opportunities, there’s something there for everyone.
While I explored the exhibits, there were a few that really stood out to me, so I’d love to pass on the information and resources to all of you. None of this is sponsored; I just wanted to spread the word about some of what I found to be particularly awesome throughout the Expo.
As it happens, I’m pretty cozy and comfortable while working on this post because I’m in my new 3ELove purple plaid pajama pants that I bought today. They say “Love Life” across my right leg and the letter “O” is the famous Wheelchair Heart symbol. Plus, they’re super cute. You might recall that I’ve mentioned 3ELove before in a post about disability acceptance over disability awareness in honor of the International Day of Acceptance. It’s an amazing movement that’s centered on the motto “Embrace. Educate. Empower.” All of 3ELove’s products are awesome, but it’s their message that I love most. And, I got to meet the founder, Stevie Hopkins. How cool is that?!
Right after visiting the 3ELove booth, I met Jordan Somer, the incredibly kind and lovely CEO of an organization called Miss Amazing. They host pageants for girls and women with all types of disabilities, and the central focus is on confidence and challenging the narrow view of beauty that so much of society holds. The pageants provide a platform for participants to grow as individuals and to embrace themselves for who they are. This work couldn’t possibly be more up my alley and I’m so happy that going to the Expo gave me a chance to learn about it, because I now have the exciting opportunity to collaborate with Miss Amazing and help share their message!
The photo on the left is me with Tiphany Adams from Push Girls. The photo on the right is me with Ali Stroker from Glee to my left and Chelsie Hill from Push Girls on my right.
I was also lucky enough to meet a few disability-community-celebrities throughout the day. First, I ran into Chelsie Hill, a cast member of the television show Push Girls, and Ali Stroker, who appeared on Glee. Later in the day, I met Tiphany Adams, also from Push Girls. These were particularly cool moments for me because I included these two shows in my senior honors thesis and wrote about all three of these women. My thesis was titled: “A Study of the Influence of Popular Television on Perceptions of Nondisabled People Regarding Physical Disability and Romantic Relationships.” I know, that’s quite a mouthful. Writing it was a true labor of love, and since I watched and analyzed scenes featuring Ali, Tiphany, and Chelsie at least a zillion times over the course of my senior year of college, I was thrilled to meet them about it and tell them that in person!
Switching gears a bit (and speaking of gears, actually), I have to say that my absolute favorite product I saw at the Expo was the Invacare Top End Excelerator Series Handcycle. I own a handcycle currently, but since I’m not able to attach it to my wheelchair by myself, I can’t use it as much as I’d like. The Excelerator handcycle is one complete unit, which would make it much easier for me to use. Unfortunately, things like this are so incredibly expensive (over $2,000) that I don’t know if I can get myself one anytime soon. Even so, I got to try it out right there in front of the exhibit, which is one of the things I love about the Abilities Expo. It’s so wonderful to be able to experience something for myself instead of taking someone else’s word. I have to say, I had so much fun riding it around that I’m definitely tempted to consider saving up for it.
Photos of me and my dad taking turns trying out the Invacare Top End Excelerator Series Handcycle. My dad doesn’t have a disability, but that just goes to show anyone can get in on the action.
Having a handcycle would be great not only for exercising, but maybe even for traveling. I do love taking trips and going to new places, but I don’t love discovering places that are inaccessible after I’ve already shown up. It happens, even though I’m usually pretty good about researching accessibility beforehand. Sometimes, even my most well thought out plans are foiled because I’m told a place is accessible only to discover it doesn’t quite meet my particular needs. Luckily, the Internet has been helping me avoid these issues more often thanks to sites like Trip-Ability. The site has reviews of various locations that are by and for members of the disability community. Their collection of reviews is always growing, and you can get in it on the excitement by making a free account and submitting reviews of your own. Currently, Trip-Ability is focused more on the United Kingdom because that’s where the founders live, but it’s expanding and it’s absolutely worth checking out. On top of that, my parents and I had the loveliest chat with the site’s founders, Michael Holden and Nigel Millen, and that alone had me wanting to support their work!
Phew! As you can tell, the Abilities Expo is a bit of a whirlwind of exhibits and events. You’ll also never encounter more mobility aids in one place, which can lead to rather amusing traffic jams. And because the event is so big, I would have had to write a book just to cover all the wonderful people I met and new products and organizations I learned about. I’ll try my best to share more about the Expo on my social media pages if you’re interested or want a preview of what to expect when it reaches a city near you. Whether you want to try something new, find just the adaptive equipment you’ve been looking for, or connect with really great people, the Abilities Expo really is a fantastic event.
Have you been to an Abilities Expo event before? Did you learn anything new? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!