Abilities Expo offers a ‘wealth of knowledge’ for people with disabilities

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The Ebele Uzamere kids hadn’t planned on tackling a 25ft rock climbing wall on Saturday. But when they arrived at Expo Abilities 2022 at the NRG Center and saw other kids in wheelchairs waiting to get on, they suddenly wanted to give it a try.

Uzamere helped strap each child into a safety harness. She sealed off their portable fans. Then they suddenly became mountaineers when a system of ropes and pulleys lifted them into the air. Spectators cheered as they victoriously rang a bell near the top of the wall.

Long after their climbs were over, the kids were still smiling.

“Every time I come here I have received something that has been useful to me,” said Uzamere, whose son and two daughters suffer from spinal muscular atrophy, a disease that attacks the nerve cells that control movement. muscle.

The wall is one of the highlights of an event that has brought a wealth of new experiences and knowledge to people with disabilities for over 40 years.

The Abilities Expo, which is free and runs through Sunday in Houston, offers workshops on topics including accessible travel destinations and service dog lessons. Attendees can watch wheelchair fencing, rugby and lacrosse. About 120 exhibitors present products and new technologies.

“It’s a cool sight,” said Houston professor Lex Frieden, a longtime advocate who helped draft the Americans with Disabilities Act and attended the exhibit on Saturday. There is no shortage of challenges for people with disabilities, he said, but the exhibition helps to raise awareness and open up possibilities for people.

“They definitely do a lot for the community,” Frieden said.

The Abilities Expo was started in 1979 by Richard Wooten, a polio survivor in California who struggled to find products designed specifically for people with disabilities.

“I thought to myself, ‘If I have problems, there are definitely other problems too,'” Wooten told the Los Angeles Times in a 1993 article.

Wooten then sold the rights to the show and it changed hands over the years until it was acquired in 2008 by 5Net4 Productions, a company owned by Lewis Shomer and David Korse. With a long history in the events industry, the duo expanded Abilities Expo from two to seven cities.

“People are finding products here that they didn’t even know existed, and it’s life-changing,” Shomer said. About 1,300 people attended the exhibit on Friday, Shomer said, and he expected more than 2,000 to arrive on Saturday.

Mountaineer Mark Wellman, who designed the pulley system that lifted the Uzamere children into the air at the climbing wall, said he wanted to give everyone a chance to experience the freedom of climbing and to open our eyes to what is possible.

“There is life after a spinal cord injury,” Wellman said. “There is life after amputation. There is life after a head injury. It’s about having a good life.”

After a rock climbing accident crippled him in 1982, Wellman said he never lost his love for the outdoors. In 1989, he made history as the first paraplegic to scale the 3,000 foot face of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park.

“This wall is their El Capitan,” Wellman said as a line of children waited their turn to scale it. “Twenty-five feet is a big deal for them. We take them out of their comfort zone.”

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