Sharing Our Abilities
June 12, 2012
I just returned from the Abilities Expo 2012 in New Jersey. Those of you who’ve been there will know the parade of families and caregivers I saw all weekend—families who are struggling against enormous odds. Strangely, though, I came home enormously uplifted, and I feel like telling you about some of the people I met.
First there was a young couple with their four-year-old son Tommy (not his real name) in a wheelchair, and they asked about our Pacer gait trainer. I showed them, and it turned out they had the wrong attachments on theirs at home, and Tommy cries each time he uses it. We had the ones he needed, and I quickly set them up. He took off! I cannot describe the look on his face and the faces of his parents. The next day they were back, this time with Tommy’s Pacer. We made the same adjustments to his and off he went, weaving through the throngs of attendees. Can there be greater reward for helping people with disabilities?
Then there was Marie. She and her mother wanted to try out our new chair. Go ahead, I told them. Soon I became aware of a whole family in attendance, all hoping for something just right for Marie, clearly the family favorite. What love and hope in their eyes as we fit Marie in our Rifton Activity Chair. She was so frail I was afraid to do her some damage, but she looked up at me with such warmth and trust it melted my heart. The chair suited her perfectly, and there were smiles all around.
Then Anna stopped by our booth. She was strapped into her chair, and looked as if it would be an ordeal to get her in or out. With her were several who could have been mother, aunt, sisters or caregivers, all there to support Anna. They asked about our new transfer device, the Rifton TRAM. Would it work for Anna? We thought yes. But would she try it? The look on her face said no. Her family coaxed and pleaded and finally persuaded her to dare it. She mustered courage. As we lifted her out of her chair and got her upright we witnessed that magical moment when Anna sensed new potential and possibility. She was radiant, excited, as the applause broke out around her.
On Sunday, the last day of the Abilities Expo, we were inundated. Parents and children, teenagers and adults, caregivers and professionals; whole families coming by. Some walking, unaided or with an arm or a stick, some being wheeled and some on their own. All of them hopeful. Looking for new opportunities, planning for their future. And I reflect once more how privileged I am to work in this industry. I’m reminded of the lines from Jean Vanier:
“My heart is transformed by the smile of trust given by some people who are terribly fragile and weak… Contact with people who are weak and who are crying out is one of the most important nourishments in our lives.” I’ve certainly received that nourishment.