#Fun4the Disabled’s Vanessa Harris highlights the Abilities Expo, which is held in cities around the country and brings together people with a wide variety of disabilities. It also showcases helpful technology and engaging activities that are designed with accessibility in mind.

This week’s video is about the Abilities Expo which is held throughout the United States and Canada.  It is a superb exposition designed specifically for people of all ages with all kinds of ability challenges.  The Expo introduces all kinds of products and services to people with disabilities, their families, care givers, seniors and healthcare professionals.  The products include leading edge technology such as augmented reality and robotics; activities like wheelchair dancing, rock climbing, wheelchair tennis, and petting miniature therapy horses and service animals.  Free workshops include topics like getting around the city using public transportation, and tips for traveling around the world with a disability.

Lew Shomer and David Korse are the current owners of the Abilities Expo.  Lew Shomer is the Chairman and David Korse is the President.  The Abilities Expo has actually been in existence for 40 years, but it wasn’t until David and Lew took it over, that it flourished.  They have owned the Expo for 10 years and have expanded it so that it is now in eight cities annually.

Here’s the 2019 schedule:

  • Los Angeles, California  February 22-24, 2019
  • Toronto, Ontario, Canada, April 5-7, 2019
  • New York City Metro, May 3-5, 2019
  • Chicago, Illinois, Jun 21-23, 2019
  • Houston, Texas August 2-4, 2019
  • Boston, Massachusetts September 13-15, 2019
  • San Mateo, California October 25-27, 2019
  • Dallas, Texas December 13-15, 2019

The New York and Los Angeles Expos are the largest and have almost three times the number of exhibitors as the other cities.  Dallas, Texas has been added as the 8th city this year!

I spent some time talking to Lew about the Expo, and he had some cool stories to tell about the people he’s met and worked with since they bought the Expo ten years ago.

Lew:   So I said this, this is this is a show that we can take, and we can take it from venue to venue to expand the community, and then give all of these products and services to people who have disabilities. Okay, so it took us it was a very early marriage. We met in April (2008) with the show, and we bought the show in August. So in three and a half months, we did our due diligence.  The company that sold it to us was happy, we were happy.

LEW:  We have nine people associated with the show in sales, marketing, web design, operations, and then of course, finance and …everybody works from home, so they are all over the country.   Yes, as a matter of fact, the lady who’s now doing our events and workshops lives in Canada.

“…We had a young boy who might have been five or six years old, non verbal, … And he came by the horses. Then he turns through his mother. And he says “Mama!  Horsey!   Horsey!”   Never spoke before.

“We’ve had wow moments at many of our shows.”

Fun:  Wheelchair Dancing is one of the most exhilarating activities that takes place at the Expo.  The Dancers Include :  Vince Tufano  is based in Chicago.  Not only is he a dancer, he’s also an athlete and a musician.

Marguet Elizondo, is based in San Diego, but comes to the Expos all over the country.  Margarita is a motivational speaker and model.  She has a website called margaritaelizondo.com.  Margarita will be featured in an interview here at fun4thedisabled next year.

The Rollettes are a wheelchair dance troupe based in Los Angeles

and finally, Auti Angel is a wheelchair dancer who inspires people at the EXPO all over the country. .  Lew spoke at length about Auti Angel.

Lew:   Auti Angel is the Pied Pier or Peter Pan of dance, who started as a young dancer actress.  She would dance on tour with LL Cool J, some of the other hip hoppers and then she had an auto accident 26 years ago.  Auti broke her spinal cord and she’s been in a wheelchair ever since.   But Auti, when she does her routines, she shows people how they can dance, and she’s always changing her dancing routines. And then she brings the audience in the dance with her. And she teaches them basic steps of basic movements with their hands with their shoulders with their head so that they are dancing.

And what’s exciting about that part of the show is that we’ll have about 100-150 people parents and kids, and she’ll bring in kids who look like they’re four years old, three or four years old, and she’ll bring in adults up to 80-90 years old. We have a lady who comes and sees us in Chicago, she’s 81 years old. She’s got two sons, both are in wheelchairs, one is, 60 something, and the other is, I think, late 50s, and she comes in and every dance she comes in, and she dances with the kids with her kids, her sons, who are obviously not kids anymore but it shows you the diversity of people who never expected that they’d be able to have so much fun. And that’s exactly what it’s for.   Auti makes them have fun.

Lew:  There’s this young girl, Kirsten from Houston, Texas.   And four years ago, when she was 12 her parents brought her to the Abilities Expo for the first time, and her father had constructed what looks like a spaceship around her power chair.   And I don’t know if you remember the Doctor Who series but there’s a thing called the TARDIS.  And its like this spaceship.

Fun:  It’s like a telephone booth. Yeah, yeah. Yeah.

Lew:  But but it’s, it’s black. And it’s got lights in it. Very cool. So Kirsten, and her parents came four years ago. And I saw her, and I said, Boy if she likes doing something like this, Everybody must like doing this. So we talked to Kirsten and she says, Well you know, I can sort of get a few people together. And in the next show, she had about five people who came in costume.  And I being the thinker, boy, if it works here. It’s going to work everywhere. We tried to do it in Boston and Los Angeles, and nobody came, nobody.  But this year (in Houston), we had over 30 participants who came for the cosplay. And Kirsten, who’s now 16 years old runs it. I think she’s just brilliant.

Fun:  Lew got to know Kirsten and her parents over the past four years and Kirsten’s father told Lew that he had changed Kirsten’s life.

Lew:  2nd Obviously, I had tears rolling down my cheeks, but that’s not unusual. And Houston now just as involved with this cosplay and she gets people to come in. And if you go on our website, actually, in the Houston you’ll see all of the characters. We had five or six people from Star Wars. We had that big, gigantic guy who I sent you a picture of. Yeah, and he was fantastic. He must look like it was eight feet. And he was getting around. I mean, pretty good. And we had Superman. We had somebody dressed up as a witch.  It was wonderful.

Fun:  We talked about the use of Exoskeletons which can be used in industry by the able bodied and also for people with disabilities.  Exoskeletons are Augmented Reality below the neck Body-worn apparatus..

Lew:  So there’s there are three manufacturers in the states that we know about: Rewalk,  Exoskeleton (EKSO), and Parker Hannifin.  The products are similar, they obviously each have their own benefit but specifically for paraplegics, what it allows them to do is they put a a harness around their back their lower back and then they put various pods on their thighs, knee and then down to their ankles.  All of these are very flexible and they’re able to be moved.  Once all of the equipment is on which takes about seven to 10 minutes and the person is in a seated position so they have to transfer out of their chair into into a basically a hardback chair.  They’ve got everything; they have a computer on on a wristwatch.  So, they can activate everything from their wristwatch. And then the activation says I want to stand up and they’re able to with this device is literally to stand up just like anybody else would stand up.

Fun:  If you are looking for an incredible and entertaining learning experience over one free weekend, and you are ability challenged or know someone who is, you should definitely come to the Abilities Expo! The people you meet there are the friendliest, nicest in the world and beyond a doubt you will have the best time.  This is a can’t miss event.  Here are some more of the sensational people and products at the EXPO:

To register for this free EXPO, go to abilities.com and scroll to the bottom of the page where you can register for the city where you want to attend.  You can find out more about the EXPO on their site.

Thanks for watching this video and I’ll see you at the Expo!  Don’t forget to share my website with everyone you know, and if you haven’t already, sign up for my newsletter at fun4thedisabled.com.  Bye Bye!

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