Decimating Barriers at Abilities Expo

By Marisa Boni

TThe silent determination, the intense focus, the steady climb, one foot in front of the other; slowly reaching the top. Then the hum of conversation is disrupted by the victorious ring of a bell. This moment is one of many triumphs an individual would have witnessed if they attended the Abilities Expo.

Boy on Adaptive Climbing Wall at Abilities Expo

Climbing wall one: A young boy is determined to make it to the top of the Abilities Expo adaptive rock climbing wall. He is one of many who will try their luck at the activity throughout the day’s events.

Celebrating Ability and Increasing Independence

The adaptive rock climbing wall was just one of a number of activities attendees were invited to take part in at Abilities Expo San Mateo; including but not limited to: adaptive yoga, face painting, a freestyle dance workshop, a mental health workshop, and even a presentation by actor Micah Fowler, just to name a few.

The Abilities Expo began 40 years ago, in 1979. Created by a man named Dick Wooten, a victim of polio, and his wife Pam, the intention was to search for resources to accommodate his needs. Fluctuating through a number of ownerships, it eventually landed in the hands of current owners and business partners David Korse and Lewis Shomer.

“We bought it 11 years ago,” Shomer explained, “and because it had gone through so many ownerships, it had started to go downhill.”

Attendees at San Mateo Abilities Expo

The public browses a booth called Socks 4 Balance trying out the various products offered to them. This company is advocated by husband and wife, Marc and Janet Bernstein, and provide socks that help improve “range of motion, endurance/ recovery, balance, stability, energy & performance.”

Over a decade later, it is now fully restored and thriving with a total of seven shows throughout the United States and one in Canada. Conducted annually for the community of people with disabilities, the series of expos celebrates inclusivity and equal opportunity for all, regardless of one’s limitations.

Inclusivity is Key for Disability Advocates

The expo also does its best to work toward addressing various issues in the community. One of the biggest challenges is general lack of knowledge, as well as underemployment.

“About 80 percent of people with disabilities who are capable of working, are not working,” Shomer said. “Employers don’t like to hire people with disabilities [because] they’d have to have accommodations, and they feel it’s too difficult for them [to provide].”

The Abilities Expo is here to prove them wrong. There are advocates all over the world looking to spark positive change in the special needs community, and the expo provides an outlet for their voices to be heard. The Ms. Wheelchair of America Leadership Institute is one such advocate.

Ms. Wheelchair California 2019

Ms Wheelchair America 2020, Hilary Muehlberger (left), and Ms Wheelchair California 2019, Angela Piazza, pose for a portrait next to their booth. This is Muehlberger’s second Abilities Expo and Piazza’s third with the hope of promoting their individual platforms of adaptive sports (Muehlberger) and Conversations around the Americans with Disabilities Act (Piazza), through the MWCA Leadership Institute.


“You get to meet so many other advocates,” said Hilary Muehlberger, winner of Miss Wheelchair America 2020, on the best part about the expo, “…these people who are inventing these new technologies for us to make our lives a little easier. We really are all working toward the same goal of independence. We all want to thrive in this community, and this is what disability is really doing—it’s helping us thrive and showing other people who maybe aren’t thriving right now, that you can.”

Shomer also reflected on his favorite part about doing what he does. “In every show we have what we call our ‘wow moments’ which are moments when people achieve things or do things that nobody ever thought they could.”

Ms. Wheelchair California 2019, Angela Piazza, wants people to understand one thing about the special needs community.

David and Lew of Abilities Expo, climbing the adaptive wall.

“I just want [the public] to know that those with disabilities, we can do things…I want everyone to be inclusive, is what I’m all about,” Piazza said.

The Abilities Expo allows the special needs community to bring that inclusivity to the forefront of conversation, climbing the wall a little higher, with the hope that one day we will all ring the victory bell.

About the Author:

I am is pursuing a BA in Communication Studies at California State Monterey Bay. My career path is still to be determined but I am hoping to be a writer of some sort. I don't really have a specific field pegged down yet as I am interested in many industries, music and fashion being big passions of mine; but as someone who lives with Cerebral Palsy, the disability community is also very close to my heart. I'm just waiting to see which direction the wind blows me after I graduate!


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