GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP — On Wednesday morning, there was a large horse on the front lawn of Stockton University’s Campus Center.
Young children and their parents gathered around to pet Danny, a bay gelding, and listen to how his job as a therapeutic horse at Hearts Therapeutic Riding Center in Egg Harbor Township helps children and adults with cognitive, physical and emotional disabilities.
Danny was one of several additions to Bacharach Institute for Rehabilitation's second annual Ability Fair, an expo that featured more than 70 vendors and services to help and educate people with disabilities. Close to 500 people attended this year’s event.
“In this world, if disability is not directly affecting you or someone in your family, you may have no idea what it’s like,” said Michael Braxton, an Atlantic City police officer and lower limb amputee. “People may need assistance in the future, and what better way to come and see what’s out there than at the fair.”
Braxton, 30, was the event’s master of ceremonies this year and spoke to a crowd of people in a fireside chat on his career as a police officer, how he lost his leg below the knee in a 2013 motorcycle accident, becoming an amputee and deciding to train and compete in the recent Paralympics track trials.
Some vendors, local and state organizations returned to the event from last year, but newcomers added to the amount of technology displayed in the ballroom.
Several people tried out the ReWalk, a wearable robotic exoskeleton that enables people with spinal cord injuries and paralysis to walk upright. Nearby, Abigail Trujillo, 7, of Mays Landing, played games on a touchscreen device called Myro.
David Ram, Tyromotion CEO, said Myro was designed to help people improve motor and cognitive abilities with occupational therapy applications. The giant tablet tracks motions and picks up on the weight of someone’s finger and hand applications.
Luis Carbajal said his stepdaughter has cerebral palsy, which affects the left side of her body. Abigail connected numbered dots on the screen with her left hand to form pictures and slide a blue bar up and down to play a ping-pong game.
“The advantages of the screen are in its versatility,” Ram said. “It’s aimed for different patient populations and helps people relearn some skills that they need for daily activities. The device really meets the needs of the modern occupational therapist.”
Faces for Autism, an organization that supports children, teens and adults on the autism spectrum, sponsored two fireside chats at the fair. Jerry Turning, author of “Bacon and Juice Boxes: Our Life with Autism,” and Eileen Camody Shaklee, author of “Autism with a Side of Fries,” talked about coping with the daily challenges of raising autistic children.
“I hope to paint a picture of what it’s like to live an autism life,” Shaklee said. “Things here, these things are important and people need to know. It can be very overwhelming for parents if they’ve never experienced disability growing up. There are many things here that could help families with autism.”
TJ and Beth Van Langen, both 56 and from Mays Landing, toured the vendors and services Wednesday morning. TJ was in a motorized chair and Beth in a motorized scooter that she uses during her recovery from hip replacement surgery.
TJ had an accident at age 16 and has used mobility devices ever since. Both said the fair was an opportunity for them to learn about new devices and services, make connections and see how far disability awareness has developed in South Jersey over the years.
“It gives you ideas, especially when you see the new products out,” TJ said. “There used to not be a lot of things around for me. I used to go out of the area to do sports the way I could do them. But that’s changed a lot. It’s much better now for people like me.”