The Disability Expo 2023 brought together individuals from all walks of life, including those with disabilities, their families, and caregivers, to celebrate their unique experiences and perspectives.
Celebrating diversity and inclusion
One of the expo’s highlights was the sense of community fostered among attendees. People came together to share their stories, connect, and support one another in their journeys. It was a place where people with disabilities could feel seen and heard and where their experiences were celebrated and valued.
Getting to The Disability Expo
I attended the Disability Expo on the 6th of July, 2023. The event was held at The ExCel in London. I can see why The ExCel Centre was chosen as it is a massive space, with good transport links and mostly accessible.
I decided to drive from my home in Birmingham. The journey was a bit long for me to do in a day. Traffic into London was horrendous, and although there seemed to be plenty of information regarding getting to the event, where to park wasn’t clear, so that took up a lot of time. Ideally, I will stay in London for a few days so the travel won’t be so tiring in future.
Accessibility of the event
It was apparent the organisers had tried to think of everything, accessibility-wise. The venue was mostly level and had lifts everywhere, ramps were placed where needed, sign language interpreters were on hand to assist those who were deaf or hard of hearing, and audio descriptions were available for those with visual impairments. The signage of The Expo wasn’t great; there needed to be signs around to tell a visitor, simply and concisely, about where to go.
To get from where my car was parked to the hall where the event was held was an educated guess. The hunt for an accessible toilet also took up nearly an hour as the ones I was directed to were locked. This is no fault of the organisers and has more to do with the fact that it is such a big space. I do think that next year, ExCel should open all accessible toilets or update them to the RADAR scheme so that the disabled community can access them when needed.
The event itself was very accessible to me as a wheelchair user. Plenty of space was left between the different exhibits, and the areas for panel talks and demonstrations were spacious with removable folding chairs. This meant that chairs could be removed when required for wheelchair seating. I saw BSL interpreters at every talk. However, I did not see any hearing loop signs or audio descriptions. It’s possible that, as I didn’t need these adjustments, I didn’t see them, but it’s something to include next year.
Exhibitors and panels at The Disability Expo
There are only so many exhibitors to mention without this review becoming a list.
When I visited The Disability Expo in person, I talked to Phab, Bobath, the Accessible House, the Adaptive Clothing Company, Bluesky Card, Mr. Cookfulness, Purple Tuesday, MediMotion, Chronically Styled and Access Your Life. There were others as well. It was great to talk to so many like-minded and friendly people.
Access Your Life and Celtic Rehab ran an MOT clinic at the show. I got my PowerChair checked out. My chair had a clean bill of health. I also talked with Access Your Life about needing a replacement standing wheelchair. My twelve-year-old one no longer supports me correctly. Standing Wheelchairs cost £24000 upwards, so I wanted to talk to them about my options as they specialise in helping people access expensive equipment.
The accessible home had no equipment I didn’t know about, but they needed to be there for people just starting their disabled journey. I had an informative discussion with Phab, and I wanted to learn more about clubs for adults in my area as I haven’t been involved with them since I was a young child.
MediMotion was kind enough to try and let me demo one of their exercise bikes. Still, unfortunately, my chair was too high for the demo bikes they had at the show. That’s all I saw on the day as I arrived so late. However, I’m glad I went as the atmosphere was brilliant, and so were the people.
Attending The Disability Expo Virtually
I wasn’t sure I would have care support to attend The Disability Expo in person, so I signed up to participate in the show via a telepresence robot a few weeks before. The slot I was allocated was 3 p.m. on the 7th of July. This suited me perfectly after all the travelling the day before.
Connecting to the robot
At the allocated time, I clicked the link I’d been sent via email, which was supposed to log me into one of the robots at the Disability Expo. It took a while to connect. I had a map screen in front of me while I waited. I tried to screenshot this, but the process appeared to be taking up a lot of processing power on my MacBook Pro. After about seven minutes, I was greeted by Ben (pictured below,) who was manning the robot at the show.
Robotics for Good were the company that provided the robots. I thought this was such an inclusive way of including everyone who couldn’t attend that even if I had been sure of my attendance, I would’ve still wanted to take a Robot for a spin.
Using the robot
The phone gadget in the photo above was how Ben communicated with me. I had visions of whizzing around the show, seeing all the stalls I’d missed the day before. In reality, the robot lagged and disconnected every few minutes. I later learned from Richard Solly, the Co-founder and Director of Robotics for Good, that this was due to the poor speeds of the WIFI offered by the ExCel Centre. Imagine all the equipment at the event and the demands on the Wi-Fi system!
Regardless of this setback, I did manage to drive the robot. This was done using the arrow keys on my keyboard. I even managed to amaze some exhibitors. Amazon was particularly impressed. At one point, when I got disconnected, Ben picked the robot up so I could see a different hall area.
Coincidently, I managed to find someone I knew. Sheana Yu founded the company Aergo Health. I volunteered to test a new wheelchair cushion the company was developing. It was surreal to talk to her and others in this new medium, although it’s not dissimilar to a video call. Ben took a photo of us, so I found out what I looked like. Don’t I look great with my head on a stick?
I can’t wait to see what happens with this technology. Look out for my interview with Richard Solly coming soon!
Live-streaming at the Disability Expo
The Disability Expo was also live-streamed on the day I attended. The videos cover almost the entire day and are available here. I saw Eva Abley perform through these videos, and I attended the Mr. Cookfulness Masterclass and the fashion show. I enjoyed all three of these events. Adam Pearson and The Autistic Chef, Vanessa D’Souza, joined Mr Cookfulness in making fruit fools. This was great fun to watch.
The fashion show showcased some brilliant clothes that weren’t relevant to me. I’m still waiting for underwear that can be undone at the sides. It’s pointless moving trousers out of the way, as underwear still creates a barrier for me. I hope the talented designers from the Adaptive Clothing Company, Bealies and Porto & Bello will design something soon. There were cute and practical clothes for all ages, but the children stole the show.
The event was founded by Jade Godier and Alan Wallace, who have lived experience of disability themselves. This lived experience is, I think, the main reason the event was so inclusive; having experience themselves and contacts in the disability community, they have an awareness that able-bodied don’t, and it is that sense of community that made them want to create The Disability Expo, together with their partners and sponsors. They had a sponsor for each of the different sections of the event.
Amazon was the EmployAble sponsor, JD was the Have-A-Go sponsor, Medequip was the Manage At Home Sponsor, Celtic Therapy and Rehab Services was the Mobility and MOT sponsor, Mark Bates Ltd was the Finance Panel sponsor, Coca-Cola was the Disability sponsor, and Innovate UK was their Innovation Sponsor. They also had more sponsors, which you can read about here. They also had input from disability ambassadors.
Considering this was the first year of this event, it was organised well. However, there were apparent points throughout the talks, particularly during the fashion show, that people weren’t sure what to do. This was overcome quite spectacularly by the sense of community spirit and the willingness of everyone present to support one another.
Overall, the Disability Expo celebrated diversity, inclusion, and the power of community. It is exactly what I like to write about here at inclusivelivingconcepts. If you have any questions or comments, please get in touch. If you attended yourself, I’d love to know what you thought.
The Disability Expo successfully brought together people from all walks of life to share their experiences and celebrate their unique perspectives. It reminded us that we can achieve great things when we support one another. I’m excited to see what next year will bring and will be attending.