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Abilities Expo puts people on the move

20121119wheelchairsoccer7 We checked out the Abilities Expo at the McHenry Convention Center in San Jose over the weekend of Nov. 16-18. And, along with hundreds of other expo-goers, many in wheelchairs, we discovered a trove of machines, appliances, vehicles and gadgets created to make life a little easier for people living with disabilities.

Along with a number of important updates to wheelchairs and walkers, we spotted exercise machines that can help retrain muscles and watched while a group of boys played Power Soccer (seen at top). Power Soccer, played by four-member teams using a 13-inch ball, is "the first competitive team sport designed and developed specifically for power wheelchair users," according to literature from the United States Power Soccer Association. Unlike wheelchair basketball in which players maneuver their chairs and the ball with their hands, power soccer "combines the skill of the wheelchair user with the speed and power of the chair itself" and therefore can be played by people "with quadriplegia, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy, head trauma, stroke, spinal cord injury and other disabilities."

The sport is fairly new -- the USPSA was formed in 2006 -- and mainly played now by children in wheelchairs, but as the spokesperson told me, adult leagues will be formed as these children grow up.

Note: As reporters, we at AFriendlyHouse.com do not warrant any of the items we found at the Abilities Expo (or, for that matter, any others we report on in our reviews), but the following are products that caught our eye -- and whose qualities we thought others might want to explore further.

trackchair2 My favorite find: the Action Trackchair -- a wheelchair on tracks that, much like a bulldozer, can go "over the river and through the woods" and lets a wheelchair user get off the beaten path. (There are videos on the link above.)

The battery-powered Trackchair and Trackstander -- which allows a user to stand and move about -- have a zero turning radius and speeds of 3-5 miles per hour. They are operated by a joystick and available accessories include headlights, gun rack, utility box and rod holder. Sounds like just the ticket for those who love ATVs.

Exercise is important for people of all abilities and the Abilities Expo showed off a number of exercise machines. Many people have used such machines in physical therapy clinics, but some are available for a home gym -- and can even be equipped with Functional Electrical Stimulation devices that help control muscle spasms and may improve muscle function.

rtexerciser Such is Restorative Therapies' RT 300 cycling machine seen at right in which via electrodes attached to the muscles "FES creates patterned movement of the arms or legs, enabling your muscles to work and perform active cycling even though you may have lost voluntary control of those muscles."  The idea is to relax muscle spasms, prevent atrophy, increase blood circulation and maintain or increase range of motion.

Machines such as the RT 300 are only sold by prescription because the FES system must be programmed to meet the individual needs of the user. 

atgrehab2 Like the RT 300, the ATGrehab exercise machine records all the body measurements that similar machines in your local gym do, and the ATGrehab machine can be purchased as is or, by prescription, with the FES unit.

None of these machines are cheap, however. While most Nordic Track machines for the home cost less than $2,000, the ATGrehab machines run between $4995 and $8995 -- and a whopping $18,000 with FES. The good news is that medical insurance may help with payment.





lifejacket Swimming is a good exercise for people of all abilities, but for those with limited mobility, getting into and out of the pool can be impossible without help. And, once in the pool, some people need support to keep their heads out of the water and make aquatics enjoyable.

For the latter, Life Jacket Adapted International, a Canadian company, was showing life jackets adapted to keep your body upright and your face out of the water, called the Lj-A life jacket, as well as life jackets to be used as therapeutic aids that keep your body in a horizontal position -- the PFD-A life jackets shown.

poollift The portable pool lifts we've seen in the past have cost approximately $6,000, but Aquatic Access, which offers ADA-Compliant Lifts for In-Ground Pools/Spas, was showing a pool lift that doesn't need to be built in (you can take it with you when you move) that sells for $4,280 plus shipping in California.

This could be just the ticket for our friends Jon and Barbara Beckmann whose story we profiled earlier in the year.

Abilities Expos will be held in 2013 in Atlanta, Feb. 8-10; Los Angeles, Mar. 22-24; New York Metro, May 3-5; Chicago, June 28-30; Houston, Aug. 2-4, Boston, Sept. 20-22, and Singapore, Nov. 8-10, and in San Jose, Nov. 22-24.