BIG EVENT: L.A. Abilities Expo lives up to expectations

NorCal SCI co-founder, Franklin Elieh, drove down to Los Angeles to attend the Abilities Expo this past weekend and was quite impressed by the size and number of exhibitors in attendance at the Los Angeles Convention Center as well as some old friends he met and new friendships he started.

We were at the San Mateo Abilities Expo last year as an exhibitor and the L.A. one was about three times the size which makes sense given the huge population center in Southern California.  It was a bit disappointing that the organizers had done a poor job of accommodating vehicles requiring disabled parking.  Once the regularly-marked stalls in the parking garage were used up, you were on your own and many people, including yours truly, had to create their own unblocked parking space.  In a sad way, I have a lot of experience in this area and was able to park far away and quickly set up a spot that won’t get blocked.

   Left to right:  Franklin and Andrew Skinner

Left to right:  Franklin and Andrew Skinner

Next, it was time to get into the convention center, only to find that I had to wheel over several hundred feet to get to the elevator.  I made my way out there but only found a cargo elevator and thought to myself “really, no way!”  This is the kind of stuff that pisses off the disabled community but before I knew it, one of the cargo elevators opened up and the attendant encouraged a couple of us to get in and took us to the level where the Expo was being held at. 

There were long lines to get in to the Expo hall and took about 20 ridiculous minutes to get in.  Finally, I made it in and started going through the exhibits.  One of my main goals was to meet Andrew Skinner, founder of the Triumph Foundation.  We proudly tell everyone that Andrew’s foundation was one of a few that we modeled NorCal SCI after, given his nearly 10-year history of success serving the SCI population in Southern California.  As I expected, he was not an easy person to track down.  I went to Triumph’s booth which had a couple of interns and a Triumph employee stationed, engaging with attendees.  I introduced myself and spoke for a few minutes with them, telling them about NorCal SCI and when asked them about where I can find Andrew, I got a chuckle and a “good luck finding him” response, reinforcing the fact that given Andrew’s wide recognition within the SCI Community, he’s somewhere out on the floor chatting away.

I figured I’d come back later and hope to see him and then made my way through the rest of the exhibits.  I met, briefly, Nick LiBassi, VP of Partnership Expansion at United Spinal Association.  He’s been a great supporter of ours and then, much to my delight and surprise, I saw Brittany Dejean, founder of AbleThrive.  We talked for about 30 minutes about ideas on further collaboration between our two organizations which we will pursue with her.

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Along the way, I also ran into Emily Flynn from Ability Tools, someone I met at the San Mateo Expo last October.  She told me that they get durable medical equipment donated to them that they try to find appropriate users and we discussed NorCal SCI’s recently-launched program that aims to accomplish the same thing.  We’ll work with them to receive more goods that we can help find a good home for throughout Northern California.

Another person I wanted to meet with was Heather Linde, Development Director, Western Region for the Reeve Foundation, a long-time supporter of ours.  The Reeve Foundation provides a lot of SCI-related information for our Care Packages that we work with individual rehab centers to provide to the newly-injured individuals.  Heather is based in Southern California and we had a nice conversation on various topics related to Reeve Foundation and their outreach efforts.  Right at that time, I ran into Andrew Skinner who happened to be checking out the Reeve Foundation booth.  Andrew suffered a C4-C6 injury back in 2004 and is married with a daughter.  We had a good chat and I let him know how much we admire his organization’s work and hope to replicate his success equally in the Northern California region.  Andrew’s foundation has some 50 Ambassadors who visit newly-injured individuals at various hospitals and rehab centers throughout Southern California, delivering Care Baskets to each person containing useful tips and information on how to better navigate the post-SCI journey, personal care products and toiletries and some sweet goodies (cookies and chocolate can never hurt) to pass along, too.  They are coming up on their 10th year later this fall.

As I went around the exhibits, I saw my old buddy, Antonio Quistian, founder of Endless Ability, creator of the Ability Jeans.  He had brought along his modified Screaming Red Harley Davidson which had a bunch of people hovering over, taking selfies. I also saw Tom Shankle, one of the leaders of the Everyday Abilities Foundation which has the San Francisco and Berkeley Spinal Network support groups, and had a great time catching up with him and his recent marriage and pending move to Italy.  And then, out of nowhere, Mike Remlinger saw me.  He lives up in Solano County and was down at the Expo doing networking in advance of the launch of his new company that I cannot disclose as of yet.  It was great seeing him making the long trip.

There were a number of interesting exhibits involving using Virtual Reality for neurotherapy, electrical stimulation for helping with inflammation, and more that I’ll need to flush out in the coming weeks and share with you.

By the way, the San Mateo Abilities Expo is coming back again on Oct. 26-28 at the San Mateo County Event Center.  You can register for free admission HERE.