Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Boston’s 2016 Abilities Expo — A Feel-Good Name if There Ever Was One

Screw it. I use the word disability. In fact, I just did a quick search of my book manuscript, and I found it 73 times. When I employ grammar checking software, called Grammarly, and it encounters the word disabled, it highlights it as “politically incorrect language,” and suggests physically challenged as a replacement. No thank you. I’m sticking with disabled.

On Saturday, Kim and I trudged down to Boston to check out the 2016 Abilities Expo, a tradeshow for those businesses and organizations, for-profit and charitable, dedicated to making our lives better. I’m in the market for my next power wheelchair, and all the wheelchair manufacturers were exhibiting (except the next-generation iBOT people). The photo on the right shows me in one standing wheelchair beside a picture of another standing wheelchair. I need to make my final purchase decision in the next few weeks, and this trip helped.

I had no other specific booths I wanted to visit, so I just wandered. Of course, I wandered in balance mode in my iBOT, and I attracted a lot of attention. More than once, I had to excuse myself or I could’ve stood there for hours and answered questions. But you know me; I am an iBOT exhibitionist, and I love the attention.

My friend and the best occupational therapist in the world, Maren, who now works for Invacare, led me to a booth with a remarkable product. As I’ve written here before, I’m losing my ability to feed myself. My arms and hands can’t get food from plate to mouth. Here, I met obi, a robotic eating assistant. I tried him (her?) out and gave the developers an honest critique of where their product came up short.

“Oh, we thought of that. See…”

I stood corrected. Of course, obi costs $4500. Maybe I can convince insurance to pay for it or come up with some other manner to acquire one for less than $4500. You can be assured I’ll let you know if that happens.

I’d never been in a place with so many wheelchairs before. There were traffic jams in the aisles. Two individuals would be parked and speaking with one another, and that’s all it took to cause a backup. But everyone was polite. I didn’t see any road rage or even eye rolls for that matter. Maybe it’s because patience is a necessary virtue, or at least a learned skill, for all disabled people. We are well practiced.

A strange thing happened at one of the booths I dropped in on. In front of a small group of wheelchair users, an impressive, disabled gentleman was endorsing a product that had changed his life dramatically for the better. When he spoke about how the device had improved his ability to interact with his children, he choked up so much that he could barely continue. A normal listener, a normal human being for that matter, would have been touched by this show of vulnerability. But I’m not a normal human being. I wondered if his emotion was genuine or contrived.

I doubted that it was genuine because he was obviously a polished speaker and must have given the same talk many times before. It seemed likely that he would have hammered out those feelings from sheer practice. On the other hand, I doubted that his choking-up was contrived, because only a manipulative person could pull that off, and I had no evidence that he was anything of the sort. I mean, he was disabled after all.

This leads to another question. What kind of asshole doubts the sincerity of a father talking about how much he loves his children?

Which leads to my final question. How would you like to live with a brain like mine? Before you answer that, I must say, of all the brains I’ve lived with, this one has been my favorite.


  1. A1=Refer to PT Barnum

    A2=People that have interacted with PT Barnum types

    A3=It would stink to have your brain, mine's not any better though :)

  2. Got so caught up in answering the questions that the rest of your post got short shrift. Guess that's due to all the years training to take tests.

    Opportune that you got a chance to visit that event. Hope it was informative for your upcoming decision.

    That obi device looks futuristic and would be just the thing to make a useful contribution to quality of life with technology. Like the iBot!

    Lastly this bit had me chuckling/nodding my head... "patience is a necessary virtue, or at least a learned skill, for all disabled people. We are well practiced."

  3. Darren, thanks for responding. Wise man, that Mr. Barnum! If you don't think you want my brain, then you really, really don't want my spinal cord!