After last year's Mobility Expo and Conference in Villa Park, Cindy Shaw, owner of the Home for Life Advantage home modification company, spent another two hours talking with participants eager to know how to make their residences more accessible.
"The people who were there really wanted information," she said.
If you goWhat: Mobility Expo and Conference
When: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 4
Where: MobilityWorks, 155 E. North Ave., Villa Park
Info: (888) 378-9166 or mobilityworks.com/chicagomobilityexpo.php
Home for Life is one of 40 vendors and organizations serving people with physical disabilities that will be featured in this year's expo from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 4, at MobilityWorks of Chicago, 155 E. North Ave., Villa Park.
Roughly 300 people attended last year's event and nearly twice as many have registered for this year, said Nikki Weiland of MobilityWorks. Participants come from throughout the Chicago area, Indiana and Michigan.
People who register in advance receive a gift bag and two raffle tickets for the opportunity to win more than $6,000 in prizes, but preregistration is not necessary.
"They can absolutely show up at the door," Weiland said.
MobilityWorks does modifications to vehicles to make them wheelchair-accessible. Other vendors offer services that include durable medical equipment, driver education for people with disabilities, travel tips for those with physical limitations and information on funding sources.
Participants will be able to test drive a wheelchair-accessible motorcycle, ride a wheelchair-accessible bicycle, check out a wheelchair-accessible RV, meet Ms. Wheelchair Illinois 2012 and play a game of wheelchair-accessible basketball.
Many people with disabilities are looking for ways to remain independent, said Shaw, whose Sugar Grove-based home modification company is certified as an aging-in-place specialist and in universal design. Safety and privacy in the bathroom are major concerns for many people with disabilities, she said.
Working throughout the Chicago area, Home for Life does free home assessments and offers modifications that include ramps, chair lifts, widened doors, bathroom grab bars, wheelchair-accessible showers and comfort height toilets with assisted cleansing.
If the company does not have the product a customer needs, it will research what is available, Shaw said.
"Most of the time we can find a way people can stay independent," she said.
For some people, independence means having their own wheels. Marianjoy Rehabilitation Hospital in Wheaton offers a driving education program for those with disabilities whether they are first-time motorists or experienced drivers who need to learn how to use a modified vehicle.
"We offer the ability to try a lot of different hand controls," said Anne Hegberg, occupational therapist and certified driver rehabilitation specialist with Marianjoy.
Marianjoy offers a variety of modified vehicles, including the only high-tech van in Illinois, she said. The van's electronic gas, brake and steering system enables people with little muscle strength and range of motion to drive themselves.
"A person can drive from their wheelchair," Hegberg said.
Hegberg said the expo enables people to find basic information so they don't purchase the wrong kind of wheelchair or van if they want to drive a modified vehicle.
"By getting this information earlier, it's going to prevent them from buying something they don't need," she said.
World of opportunity
Michell Haase, the mother of a wheelchair athlete with spina bifida, knows how complicated travel can be for people with disabilities. Her website, www.travelinwheels.com, offers detailed information to travelers about popular destinations, tips on booking, and an opportunity to share their own stories.
Travelers can find everything from specifics on hotel rooms to wheelchair-friendly local transportation and attractions available in places that include San Diego, Washington, D.C., and London.
"They know exactly what they are getting," Haase said. "I have a worldwide network of people I work with in accessible tourism."
Haase said people can use the resources on her website to book their own travel or she can refer them to a variety of groups that organize trips for those with disabilities. She will lead a cruise for young adults with spina bifida in January, the first group tour she has organized since starting her business two years ago.
"I would love to grow that idea with different groups," she said. "A lot of people don't realize how many opportunities are out there for them."
A speaker at the expo, Haase said people with disabilities need to ask specifically for what they want -- down to the width of doorways, bed heights and the type of shower chair that works for them.
"Never use the word 'accessible.' Say this is what I need," she said.
Other speakers at the expo include an attorney discussing elder law, a staff member from the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, and two friends who discuss "Making Minds Handicap Accessible" so people with disabilities can live up to their potential.
For information on the expo and the schedule of events, see www.mobilityworks.com/chicagomobilityexpo.php.