GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP — Advanced, robotic technology and pure animal companionship mixed Wednesday at Stockton University.
More than 60 organizations, health providers, agencies and companies showed off their products and services aimed at improving the lives of those with physical or learning disabilities at Bacharach Institute for Rehabilitation’s third annual Ability Fair.
About 450 people arrived throughout the day, some in wheelchairs or using canes, walkers and prosthetic legs, to check out the booths, guest speakers and live demonstrations at the community fair.
“I think people don’t realize just how many services there are in our area,” said Mark Hills, communications coordinator for The Arc of Atlantic County. “We also get to stand here and talk about what we have and about working with some other groups here.”
Two kinds of vendors drew people over for closer looks, and one of them consisted of technology groups developing state-of-the-art rehabilitation devices.
Josh Vila, 26, of Tuckerton, got strapped into the ReWalk exoskeleton for a demonstration on how the device helps paralyzed people walk. As an active person always on the go, Vila said the ReWalk has improved his mobile capabilities.
“I’ve been training with the ReWalk for two years now at Bacharach,” he said. “I was pretty much the guinea pig when they first got it. I’m able to use it at therapy, but I’d really love to have my own someday.”
Vila became paralyzed about four years ago and had to adapt to the physical changes. He paddle boards, swims up to 5 miles per week and competes in other water sports. He was able to try out the newest version of the ReWalk at the Ability Fair.
At the opposite end of the room, David Babitsky demonstrated Bionik Inc.’s InMotion ARM. The robotic device helps occupational therapists treat patients with upper body paralysis from brain injuries or strokes with repetitious movements and computer programming.
“Our goal is to retrain the brain, or recreate pathways to repair damaged areas in the brain, and research has shown that this is the best way to do that,” Babitsky said. “In a regular rehab session, a patient can maybe do 50 to 70 repetitions. With the robot, they can do 400 to 600.”
Babitsky said technological advancements for rehabilitation in the last 10 years has grown by leaps and bounds, which will drive competition up and drive costs down in the future, he said.
Alongside the technology being displayed at the fair, some cuddly animals were available to show attendees the benefits of animal therapy.
Sue Adams and her granddaughter Tori Adams guided attendees to pet Danny, a therapy horse with Hearts Therapeutic Riding Center based in Egg Harbor Township. Others spent time with dogs from The Seeing Eye, an organization that pairs guide dogs with people who are blind.
“We have puppy trainers all over the state, including in Atlantic and Cape May counties,” said Peter Avagliano, a local trainer. “We foster the dogs and train them at home by socializing them and exposing them to sights and sounds they would encounter.”
Attendees were able to get free health screenings from Cigna’s mobile health tour stop and free hearing screenings provided by Bacharach Hearing Center experts.
Michael Braxton spoke to a crowd of people in a fireside chat about how he recovered from losing his lower leg in a motorcycle accident in 2013, became a para-athlete and continued to work as an Atlantic City Police Officer.
“I look back at the situation as it was a refresher on my life,” he said. “It gave me the opportunity to appreciate things that I didn’t before. Coming out to speak to people about my experience is part of my healing process.”