How the Abilities Expo Breaks Barriers for Attendees With Disabilities

Author: Casey Gale       

Illustration by Carmen Segovia

Instead of focusing on the challenges that come with having a disability, the Abilities Expo is all about the possibilities. The event, founded 40 years ago by late disability activist and post-polio survivor Richard Wooten, attracts hundreds of people with disabilities, seniors, veterans, health-care professionals, and special needs professionals such as special education teachers and accessibility experts, who attend for free, as well as several hundred exhibitors in cities across the United States, eight times each year.

This year, the expo, which offers participants education, fosters a sense of empowerment, and showcases the latest accessibility products, has traveled to Los Angeles and the metro New York area. It will land Aug. 2-4 at the NRG Center in Houston, before visiting Boston in September and Dallas in December.

Getting in the Game

The variety of activities and demonstrations taking place at Abilities Expo inspires individuals with disabilities “to push their boundaries,” said Lewis Shomer, chairman of the Abilities Expo, “and concentrate on what they can do.” These inclusive opportunities include adaptive sports like fencing, sitting volleyball, and power hockey, in which players use electric wheelchairs, as well as dance and yoga. There also will be a ride-along race experience at the Houston event, where attendees, who participate via special racing chairs called “chariots,” are paired with experienced runners to compete in endurance events and road races together.

A standard feature at every Abilities Expo is the adaptive climbing wall. Using adaptive sports gear created by Paralympian Mark Wellman — the first paraplegic person to summit El Capitan and Half Dome in Yosemite National Park — participants are given the chance to build their skills and their confidence while scaling a rock wall.

Exhibitors at the Houston expo will include Zappos Adaptive, Paralyzed Veterans of America, H.E.L.P. Amputee Support Group, and Accessible Vans of America.

Real-World Application

The Abilities Expo’s workshop series homes in on topics relevant to everyone in the disability community, from those with visual impairments to people with autism. Topics span from emergency preparedness to assistive technology and more. The upcoming Houston expo will feature workshops on home modification, accessible travel, adapted fashion, and more, according to Shomer. “We provide tips and information,” he said, “that attendees can put into practice immediately.”

Casey Gale is a Convene associate editor.