Saturday, September 24, 2011

Change Peoples Lives - Successful Expo in Boston

I-Zip scooter user  minimizes use of
wheelchair and even gets out on some trails!

The Rodman Ride has been postponed this weekend due to wet weather but yesterday's rain didn't prevent people with disabilities of all kinds from attending the Change People's Lives Conference and Expo at the Hynes Convention Center in Boston. Kudos to the Institute for Human Centered Design for masterfully convening an event hosted by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts that showcased assistive technology and attracted an enthusiastic crowd!

It has been a few years since I attended an assistive technology expo. It was a treat to talk shop with other professionals and meet people already active in sports and others seeking recreation opportunities. There were panels on four conference themes of Home, Work, Education and Fitness/Sport/Recreation, an exhibit hall of related products and services, a juried design competition and a plenary session that featured a host of inspiring speakers including Governor Deval Patrick, Cheri Blauwet (MD at Spaulding Rehab Hospital and Paralympian), Gianfranco Zacchai (designer), and Gururaj Deshpande (entrepreneur and philanthropist). Assistive technology has high promise as an emerging new market with ideals transcending the "special products for special needs" orientation that has brought us this far. My mind and eyes were opened wider quite a few times during the day - by products, ideas, and people's stories.
Talking with a telepresent person via a robotic device.

A few highlights: learning about Fred Fay - an amazing disability rights activist who interfaced with the world from his bed, a robotic telepresence device called VGo that allows you to experience locations you might not physically be able to get to, a woman with an incomplete spinal cord injury that uses an I-Zip scooter as her wheelchair, and a bike called Glide Cycle that allows users to have an unweighted exercise experience. I even found something for myself there - Wrist Assured Gloves - innovative fitness gloves that minimize wrist stress.

It was fantastic to see that fitness for people with disabilities was a major area of dialogue in the conference. Paralympian athletes like Anjali Forber-Pratt are paving the way, but there is still great need for more welcoming and universally designed gyms that work for people with a wide array of variable function. We joined that conversation in panel discussions and handed out loads of information about park accessibility. I have high hopes that more people with disabilities will be improving their health indoors and out!

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