KEEPING IT REAL: Melissa’s Story

Fri 08 Jul 2022

KEEPING IT REAL: Melissa's Story*

How A Disability Convention Showed Me What’s Possible

By Melissa Arnold

Growing up, I was one of those kids that didn’t have much exposure to the world of disability. Sure, I rode the “short bus” and had physical therapy in school, but that was about it. I was fully mainstreamed in school, so running across another disabled person was rare. It wasn’t until my mid-20s that I found a large group on Facebook for people with CP.

So when I saw an advertisement for a convention called Abilities Expo about an hour away from me, I knew I had to go.

Abilities Expo is an annual conference for all things disability, with several locations across the United States and Toronto, Canada. There are workshops, resources, adaptive sports, and a huge showroom of all kinds of equipment to make life easier.

The first thing I noticed upon arrival is that there were more people getting around on wheels than on foot. I got a chuckle out of this as a full-time walker user — for once, I was in the majority.

And there were a huge array of people represented there, too. I saw folks with walkers, wheelchairs, scooters, canes and crutches; blind people with guides or dogs; Deaf people signing; amputees with prosthetics, and more.

To be honest, I felt a little behind the curve! I am in my 30s, but still use the same pediatric walker I’ve had since the 8th grade, mostly because it still works and I’m very particular about my mobility aids. I had a blast trying out the latest models of walkers, with features I would have never considered before. Engineers are amazing.

I also got on an adapted tricycle for the first time since elementary school, and even got to experience rock climbing for the first time. I was shown the ropes by Mark Wellman, a Paralympian who was the first paraplegic to climb El Capitan. Luckily for me, I didn’t know that ahead of time. I probably would have been embarrassed at how long it took me to climb just a small portion of the wall! It was a thrill, though, and now I’m interested in checking out a climbing gym near me.

All told, the experience was an eye-opener for me. It expanded my perspective on what’s possible for me and for all kinds of people with disabilities. I left feeling encouraged and excited to live in a world where technology is constantly changing and events like this are possible. Can you imagine where we’ll be in just 10 years?

Oh, and it was free. That was a nice perk, too. To find an Abilities Expo near you and check out their resources, visit

Melissa Arnold is a freelance journalist and patient advocate for people with chronic illnesses. She lives in southern New Jersey with her husband, Brian, and their cat, Ginny.

Melissa's story is part of KEEPING IT REAL — a series of personal stories that will take you deeper into the lives of people with CP. Each person makes different choices based on what works for them, and we’ll showcase that — highlighting what life is like for them on a daily basis, what they care about, and the ways CP impacts them. 

The KEEPING IT REAL blog is intended solely to raise awareness about the varied human experience with cerebral palsy and shouldn't be read or construed to contain any medical advice or medical endorsement by Cerebral Palsy Alliance Research Foundation. Only you and your doctor know what's best for you. Please consult your doctor for medical advice.

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