Wow. That was SO COOL!
I was lucky enough to get to the Abilities Expo in Chicago this weekend, and it was awesome. (Yes, I am a child of the ‘80s. I also lived on the west coast for awhile, so I get to use the word awesome. Deal with it.)
It will take awhile to sort out the blur of all that was, but I wanted to mention of few of the most interesting things that I saw.
FreeWheel. – This is a single wheel, about 10-12” high, that hooks easily to the front of a chair with a standard footplate. You know how those tiny front wheels won’t go over anything? Yeah, solved. The FreeWheel (which has a fender – why can’t I get fenders for our back wheels?! – Question for another day.) turns in a way that your front wheels come off the ground slightly. This makes it a lot easier to push. The beefier front wheel also means the chair can handle rougher terrain. The inventor has collected pictures of users taking their chairs into the woods, on the beach, etc.
It also has an attachment for a rack: the perfect size to hold a grocery basket, bungee on your textbooks or set a baby’s car seat.
The downsides: the Freewheel only works with a standard type of chair. This won’t work on Kate’s complex chair. Oh, and it costs about $500. But, it’s probably worth it if does everything it’s supposed to.
Frog Legs – These are SO COOL! (Once again, child of the ‘80s, etc.) These were probably my single favorite invention at the whole show. I have been lamenting for years that Katie has such a rough ride. We can’t even go down the sidewalk without her head bouncing all over the place. These little shock absorbers fit above the little front wheels, and they DO work on a complex chair (YAY!). It’s a simple matter of switching out that front caster, so it doesn’t matter if the chair tilts, if the footplate is fixed, etc.
The downsides: I didn’t see one. Perhaps I’ll find some feedback that will fill that in, but right now, I’m just impressed. Unfortunately, I think I’ll have to wait to order ours until after Katie’s surgery this fall, as we may wind up in a new chair.
Mobility-Usa’s Grillo – I don’t know about you, but I have kind of a hard time with Katie’s gait trainer. I have to take it in to be adjusted every time she grows. She’s nine – she grows a lot. And, I can’t fit her and the Bronco in my can at the same time, which means I need to drop the thing off and pick it up separately. What to do?
Oh hey, let’s make it push button adjustable! Yes, I am about to spout out another great ‘80s word.
The Grillo is an anterior gait trainer, meaning the bar that connects the sides is in front of the user. It has articulating vertical supports (think of knees bending or straightening). You can change the ride height with nothing more than your unprofessional hands. It also has a padded strap seat, padded chest strap, and a handlebar instead of a tray. Our tray mostly just gets in the way, and is one more thing for Kate to bruise her arms on. The handlebar is also adjustable and removeable.
Oh, and did I mention this? – It FOLDS. No seriously – one of the gigantic pieces of equipment for my kid, and it doesn’t require a permanent parking space? This sucker will fit into a trunk!
The downsides: there is still some hardware that is probably within reach of flailing arms. I would be looking for ways to pad that. For some kids, the tray is very useful, and it doesn’t have that. Also, if someone really needed head support, I’m not sure how you would add that.
Cost: I’m sure it varies, but adaptivemall.com has them for about $2500 – $2800. They also have a posterior version, which might solve some of the padding and head issues. This is also DME, and if your insurance covers equipment, you may be able to get it covered with a good letter from your PT.
There were a couple of things I was expecting to see, but was bummed (see 80s references) not to find.
First off, is there a sling out there anywhere that really works well for children with dystonia? I saw nothing new or innovative with transfers. One of these days, I will make something.
Also, I was expecting to see VPG there. The first vehicle purpose built for a wheelchair user, I wanted to see what they have coming up next. I also wanted to offer my suggestions about how they missed the mark the first time around. I know they would love me for that. No such luck.
Finally, some of the workshops were a little lackluster. The therapist from Shriners, who covered equipment and ways to make your own cheap versions, did a nice job. The guy who covered home modifications was basically a sales rep.
Overall, this was worth the trip. Admission is free, so if you can make it to one of the shows, it’s definitely worth the time.
You can check out their schedule at www.abilitiesexpo.com.