The Abilities Expo is the longest-running and largest showcase of disability-related products, services and events in the U.S., and soon you will be able to attend it from your living room. From June 19-21 Abilities Expo will be hosting its first-ever virtual experience, allowing anyone who has never had the chance to experience this “Disability Disneyland” an opportunity to do so without masks, travel, social distancing or any other pandemic-related worries.
In a normal year, there are seven Abilities Expos hosted at cities across the country that draw hundreds of vendors and tens of thousands of participants. Lew Shormer, chairman of Abilities Expo, says they had been kicking around the idea of a virtual version for years, and then the pandemic upped their motivation when they were forced to postpone some of their shows. “We said, ‘We really need to get to our community and we really need our vendors to have the opportunity to still be in front of our community,” says Shormer.
As with the live expos, product vendors will still be at the heart of the Abilities Virtual Experience. Each will have a landing spot to showcase their products and an integrated query system so participants can ask questions and get personalized information and recommendations. But Abilities Expos have become far more than product showcases; live performances and informative workshops create a high-energy community atmosphere wherever they’re hosted. The Abilities Virtual Experience is attempting to capture the same scope at its live expos by featuring performances from groups like the Rollettes, instructional adaptive yoga and fitness classes and even a wheelchair maintenance workshop.
Shormer says that one of the main objectives of the Virtual Experience is to reach a wider audience. Abilities Expos are run in major cities across the country, but even without a pandemic, travel costs and difficulties naturally limit who is able to experience them. “We get our attendance by way of those people who come primarily within an 80 miles radius,” says Shormer. Without the need for travel, Shormer says that people from as far as Germany and Australia have already preregistered for the Virtual Experience.
Whenever it’s safe to host mass gatherings again, the live expos will be back up and running, and Shormer hopes they can use what they learn here to widen their reach. “The virtual isn’t going to compete with the live, but it’s going to expand the live,” he says. “So that if we’re doing something in Los Angeles and we’ve got a hot new product, that product would effectively be seen by our entire community all over the world, as opposed to just in Los Angeles.”
As with all their live expos, the Abilities Virtual Experience is free. To pre-register please visit: abilities.com/virtual