Title: The Abilities Expo Toronto 2017

Headline: As new wheel technology develops, we get to go farther and faster.

The Abilities Expo made its Canadian debut in Mississauga January 20-22 and this country mouse made the two hour drive to the big city to attend. The weekend promised everything from wheelchair dance demos and nutrition workshops to new products for all types of disabilities and give-it-a-try sports demonstrations. From an SCI perspective I would have called it the “mobility” show - that was my focus. I had many opportunities to witness and even try for myself new ways of getting around, and not just on flat land.  

Living in rural Ontario provides many challenges but the biggest one for me so far has been how to get around on my farm and get back on the hiking & biking trails. My TiLITE chair only gets me so far before uneven surfaces bog me down. Attending the Abilities Expo helped shed some light on what else is out there.

Because I currently live in a two storey century old farmhouse, the first thing that caught my eye was what I would call a “human dolly”. It’s actual name is the Evacuscape Chair. The primary function of this device is to get a person with a physical disability down the stairs in case of an emergency. Just transfer from your chair to the seat and your able bodied companion will bump you down the stairs to safety. Every cruise ship, hospital and school with elevators should have these. Perhaps an increased institutional demand would bring the cost down - Evacuscape Chairs start at $1,295. evacuscape.com

The biggest buzz when I was there was generated by the only mobility device using Segway technology licenced for medical purposes in Canada. The Genny Mobility uses gyroscopic self-balancing technology, where leaning forward and backward and using the steering handle causes motion. I had the chance to use it on the showroom floor and found it quite easy to learn. I was curious to know how well it would handle on my farm and the salesperson showed me a video of woman who uses it on her farm to herd sheep! I can see this being a great way to get around my 10 acres, but starting at $29,000, it costs more than my Mazda5! www.gennymobility.com

Although they were not set up at the Expo, I ran into the guys from SoftWheel. These wheels were developed in Israel for use with wheelchairs, bikes and automobiles. They use an in-wheel suspension system that absorbs more impact than traditional wheels or in-frame shock systems. Because these wheels are compatible with any wheelchair system I easily swapped out my regular wheels for theirs with a quick tilt of my chair and I was able to use them  in the comfort of my own seat. There was no discernable difference until I got outside on uneven ground. I tried bumping down the curb a couple of times and the experience was amazing. I could barely feel the bump! I imagine that the reduction in impact and vibration over the course of the day would really help those (like me) who suffer from back pain. SoftWheel hopes to have their technology for sale in major mobility outlets in Canada soon. www.softwheel.technology

The final piece of mobility technology that really caught my eye was the chair that Jeff Adams (Canadian Paralympian) was sitting in. ICON Everyday Wheelchair is fully adjustable in seat position, back tilt and support, footrest height, dump, giving the user the ability to adjust their chair as they grow and become more comfortable as a user. They also had the ICON Explore on demonstration - it is an electric powered, three-wheeled, fat-tire mountain bike wheelchair of awesomeness! This is the set of wheels that will get you back outside, in the park on trails or in the backcountry. iconwheelchairs.com

Hats off to the Abilities Expo for bringing together a wide range of mobility devices under one roof. Dealers that we usually go to tend to carry only one brand or a certain large ticket device, so it was lovely to see such a large variety in one place and then be able to try them out. With so many ingenious ways to get around on wheels I would buy them all (if only I could afford to) but in the end I would need to build a new garage to house them all!