Ever bought anything mail order, or off the internet, with the hope that it’s just what you’ve always wanted? The colour, the shape, the weight, the fit are all bound to be exactly right aren’t they?!

It’s a nice thought isn’t it? Oddly enough, when your object of desire finally arrives the colour doesn’t really match the Hollywood lit photo on the website. It’s also made of iron and not carbon fibre as you expected and has the same weight ratio as an old style Skoda.

One of the huge plus points about a disability exhibition is the “try before you buy” facility. Not only can you get a good idea of the style but be shown how to get the best out of your potential purchase and, at times, even talk with the designer/inventor!

Ruth Amos is the designer of Stair Steady – a high-quality handrail with additional support bar – and is always keen to talk with people. “We try to keep demonstrations up constantly throughout the days we are showing,” she says, “so there is never really a time when the product is not in use. That’s what we find attracts people, seeing it being used — and ‘Ooh! What’s that?’ It’s something a bit different.”

The Self Sell
Exhibitions are generally great places to try out the latest kit. From the exhibitors’ point of view, customers can often sell products to themselves far more thoroughly than the company’s representative. It also means that other less assertive customers can see what it looks like on you, and might well feel the urge to part with cash too! Ever the inventor, Ruth also maintains that nobody has the monopoly on good ideas and that customer interaction is actually very valuable to her: “You are showing people that you are willing to be approached by them about products.” With this mantra it’s easy to see how exhibitions really help the development of service technology for disabled people.

Do you ever have to go into a high street shop and have no choice but to explain for the umpteenth time why the product the vendor is pushing just isn’t going to work out and, if their products were a bit more ‘this’ or ‘that’, how great they might be? The expertise of the exhibitor, particularly at specialist events such as Mobility Roadshow is priceless. These guys really know their products. The chances are they know loads of people that get the best out of their kit too and will tell you how to do likewise.

For the customer, this type of advice can be crucial: Can it cope with this? Will it do that? How long will it last? These are questions that they’ll have been asked and answered hundreds of times. They’ll also be in a position to guide you in to getting the very best out of the product. What better environment to invest in new kit than here, amongst people that understand their customers’ needs at a very precise level? They will understand disability. To them you really are an everyday customer, in the best possible way. Wouldn’t it be great if every high street store came with its own Ruth Amos?

Cherry Picking
As we all know, mainstream stores tend not to be stacked floor to ceiling with products that meet the needs of disabled people. This is especially so when it comes to specialist kit. It’s usually worth getting along to an exhibition simply to make sure that you’re making the best selection from the widest choice. The likelihood is that the exhibitor of choice will have what you need, in your size and even in your favourite colour – and hey, if they don’t, their next door neighbour just might. How rare is that?

When you’re looking for a specific gadget it may well be worth tracking down a specialist exhibition as the right product is infinitely better than the ‘best of the rest’. The list of exhibitions included in this feature all have website addresses that you can use to track down who’s going to be there and what there specialism is. This is great for cherry picking your ‘must see’ items and making sure that your trip isn’t wasted.

Exhibitors are the best places to find similar suppliers all together in one place. For disabled people, this is a rare event and does not occur frequently as a high street experience. This means that competitive pricing tends only to break out between retailers selling CDs or shoes. After all, shops don’t need to challenge each other if they’re the only supplier in town. Better choice and lower prices are often only available at places where competing brands are found side by side. For once the customer has the upper hand given that they can, at any time, be tempted by the odd discount, special offer, or freebie from the booth next door! This is when you know that you’re at an exhibition. This is when the shopkeeper really has to work for your business.

Seeing Tomorrow
So you want to know what’s new? Well get along to Naidex, Mobility Roadshow or Enable and find out. There’s every chance of seeing tomorrow’s innovations today. Retailers are falling over themselves to show off their news ideas. When you arrive, you’ll probably think that your kit is pretty cutting edge, don’t you? Sadly, in the space of a couple of hours, it’ll become heavy, clumsy and slow and you’ll only just realise that it has the turning circle of a cross-channel ferry. Trends and technology wait for nobody. Richard Kusierz of All Terrain Wheelchairs points out that he chooses to exhibit at Mobility Roadshow for this very reason: “People see what products are there; what new stuffs around,” he says. “It’s come on so much in the last ten years.” Oh well. Better see you next year then – or at least take a brochure or scribble down the website address for another look online when you get back home.

Exhibitions are events in their own right and will often be important milestones in the sales year of an organisation that chooses to get involved. Companies have to pay to attend, so it’s vital from the organisers’ viewpoint that exhibitors get the maximum return on their investment. This is especially true if the exhibition is to return to the same venue and become an established point on the calendar. To aid this, organisers will often encourage fringe events to take place on related subjects. These are often talks or sideshows where products are demonstrated, or presentations are given on relevant topics. Sometimes you’ll get to hear what a hero from the Paralympics or a disabled celebrity has to say. If you’re in need of a bit of inspiration check out the exhibition programme beforehand to see what’s happening. Of course, the whole point is to keep the customers in a good mood. Exhibitions are superb places to learn about new ideas regarding the latest gear, activities and all manner of other opportunities.


So, the high street is littered with stores with high steps and narrow doorways, kerbs and ill mannered drivers parked all over the pavement. Awkward aisles and not being able to reach the top shelf from your chair are all par for the course. Oh, and when you get back outside again, it’s raining. Retail therapy? Only if you mean ‘Primal Scream’! Give me accessible public transport links or large parking spaces. Give me long flat floors split into wide avenues between open sided shops. Give me air conditioning!

Suddenly it’s actually possible to concentrate on what I’m here to look at without the relentless battle to manoeuvre around an ill conceived shop layout. Perhaps I should be marking this down in my diary as an annual trip?

For the most part, specialist exhibitions provide the dream high street scenario to disabled
people. Suddenly, everything seems possible and choice seems to be endless. Often impulse-buying can emerge from the person who only popped in to take a look at a new pair of gel-palm gloves, who becomes interested in installing ‘the’ state of the art lifestyle gadget. While an exhibition isn’t a trap it can feel like the world is full of possibilities! The retailer gets the opportunity to make a short-term impulse buyer into a lifelong customer assuming that they can literally ‘come up with the goods’. This means that you get the initial benefit of a bargain and the security of getting to know a trusted brand.

It’s also great to be amongst a crowd of other disabled people. No awkward stares to deal with here. Naidex expects 50,000 people through its doors this year based on the figures it achieved in 2008 and they deserve to see that number again. Anyone involved in retail, manufacturing or service to disabled people will be there. If you want it, it’s likely to be in here somewhere. The only problem is that you’ve only got three days to find it amidst the distraction of a place that is absolutely buzzing.

Perhaps the best news is that whatever you’re considering, there’s an exhibition for you.