I always think that "Abilities Expo" isn't quite the right name for the event. Strictly speaking, "abilities expo" sounds to me like it should be a bunch of people saying, "and I can do this! Ta da!" Showing off their abilities, as it were.
An "Abilities Expo" is more like a Boat Show or a Car Show -- booth after booth of people selling stuff for the enthusiast. Only in this case, the enthusiasts are crips looking for the latest and greatest equipment, and crip friendly products.
Who Will Buy My, uh, Snake Oil?
I went to the Abilities Expo in Anaheim in June 2005, so going to the one in Santa Clara this past weekend was a little soon for me. But, I had a particular mission this time -- more about that in a minute.
I think the show in Anaheim was bigger, from both the perspective of the number of vendors and from how many workshops there were. (I'll be doing a separate column about the workshop I attended.)
What I noticed more in Santa Clara was the "snake oil" sales booths seemed more numerous. The "snake oil" came in four categories: wonder drinks, wonder vitamins, wonder lotions, and wonder appliances that free you from pain by accupressure. I wonder who buys that stuff.
I actually think I know who buys it: people who are desperate. They are often in pain and aren't receiving adequate conventional treatment for that pain, whether physical or psychic. I like to think that they can afford to drop a couple of hundred bucks on this stuff, but I'm sure some of them can't.
Now How Much Would you Pay?
Me with my genetically caused skin condition was probably not the ideal recipient of the hard sell pitch I got at the "wonder lotion/cream" booth. They had a "special show price" on an 8 ounce jar of the stuff for $40; the next smaller size, around 6 ounces, was $30. With the purchase of either of these, you got a "travel size" (.5 ounces) for free. But you couldn't buy the travel size.
I tried to talk the hard-sell girl into giving or selling me the small size to try. Her hard-sales objection was that the small size wouldn't be enough product to "cure me". I told her I was only wanting to see if it was a good moisturizer -- that was the most I was hoping for.
She stood her ground -- much to her discredit in my opinion. I was hardly the average customer for skin cream.
"You're just too shrewd for me!"
So, my mission was to scope out lightweight power chairs, for travel purposes only. The scooter I bought last year -- I just don't like it.
I'm looking at the At'm by Invacare. I had spotted it online, and wanted to get a gander at it in person, and see if there was anything better -- and affordable -- out there.
At the Wheelchairs and Wingnuts booth (see http://teriadams.blogspot.com/2005_08_01_teriadams_archive.html), I saw my pal Cedric, the owner. He gave me a free t-shirt, which seemed only right considering I've probably (including insured purchases) spent nearly $20,000 at his shop over the years.
He had an At'm sitting right there. After assuring him that a) I only wanted it for travel, as it really isn't built to take steady, daily use; and b) that I would be buying it with my own money, after Jan. 1st, he said he thought it was a good chair for travel purposes.
I asked him how much, knowing that I had seen it online for $1,395, including shipping, no sales tax. He thought about it and said, $2,500. At least he didn't say, "Because you're such a good customer, I'll only rip you for $1,100."
So I said, "2,500? Really. I've seen it online for $1,400."
"Are you sure it wasn't a Chinese knockoff?"
"No, it was an Invacare."
He looked somewhat dismayed. Finally he said, "Well, call me and we'll talk."
I said, "If you want to talk about $1,400, out the door. Otherwise..."
"You're too shrewd for me."
Take Home Message
Don't buy anything pricy at an Abilities Expo-type event unless you've already priced the item and know real numbers about what the equipment costs. Dispel any lingering naivete about, "they wouldn't rip off disabled people" thoughts. Just forget that. In fact, because people are desperate in many cases, and not up to speed with things, the vendors are more likely to rip you off because you might never figure out that they ripped you.