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The Importance Of Disability Expos Post Pandemic, Featuring Sam Bloom

This week Peta speaks to Kathryn Carey the Events Director at Impact Institute and Sam Bloom who had a spinal cord injury 9 years ago.

The Impact Institute runs many of the major disability expos in Australia with over 900 exhibitors over their thirteen disability expos.

Sam offers her perspective on why the expos have been important to her as someone who acquired her disability. While Peta discusses the barriers to attending those expos while also looking at what the future might hold for the disability industry.

If you would like more information on the disability expos here is the 2022 brochure

Connect with Peta:

Instagram @petahooke


Episode Transcript:

Peta [00:00:03] Hello and welcome to the I Can't Stand podcast. The podcast answering your questions on what life is like when you have a disability. My name is Peter and I'm your host. I have cerebral palsy and I love to answer your questions. We've covered now becoming part of our lives, part of something we have to manage. And I know it's something that many people with disabilities, including myself, continue to worry about. I feel it is time to speak to the leaders in the event industry in regards to disability, because after all, events and expos serve a purpose that virtual events can't. Living with a disability can be super complicated, and sometimes the ease of just going to one place and finding the information, I think can't be undervalued in a very, very busy lives. So without any further ado, let's get into it.

Kathryn [00:01:19] Hello. My name is Kathryn Carey. I am the events director at Impact Institute.

Sam [00:01:24] Hi. My name's Sam Bloom, and I sustained a spinal cord injury about nine and a half years ago.

Peta [00:01:32] So Kathryn, can you tell me a little bit about why disability expos are so important?

Kathryn [00:01:40] I think with the rollout of the NDIS, what that's done is that it has given people more choice, more control. On the other side, though, it does put all of the emphasis on the person with a disability to make all of those choices, which is quite rightly the way it should be. What's missing, then is information. How do you know what services are available to you? How do you know which government organisation you should be talking to? How do you put that package of supports together in a machine? Shipping. Samuel will agree with me that it's a complex, ongoing process. It's not just a set and forget you don't do it once. Hit the button and then that's it for the rest of your life. It's a continuous process. We run a series of disability expos Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Gold Coast, Canberra. We also go to the Newcastle region, but then we also go out to Penrith for those people who know Sydney way out in the West. And we also go to Liverpool. The Expos really provide that, that place where everyone in the community can come together. All of the exhibitors there. Anyone with a disability, the families, the carers, anyone from the industry can all come along to the one place at one time. And we can have conversations. People can get information. And information is is the key really to power? When you have information, you have all the control and you can make the choices. So our role really is really to provide that marketplace where people can come together and share that information. And that's absolutely critical.

Peta [00:03:31] I'll only speak for myself as somebody with cerebral palsy. I find sometimes just general life to be quite overwhelming. Just to get out of bed can be quite an achievement on some days. So I do find that while yes, the NDIS, particularly for me, has been completely life changing, it is an overwhelming system that is really complicated, hard to get your head around and quite jargony. So I do really think, particularly for me when I think about how I get the best services for me going to an expo and hearing directly from experts where you can actually physically meet a person and they can get to know you is really, really important.

Kathryn [00:04:15] Yeah, I think it's just it's a format that can't be replicated. It's very hard to do that on the phone or by going online and searching for the information. Obviously, you can. But it is just so much more personable, more interactive in real life. All of our exhibitors work in really collaborative ways. When you talk to them afterwards and ask them what they enjoyed about it. So other than talking to people, was talking to the industry colleagues and and finding referral partners and other organisations that they can work with to provide services.

Peta [00:04:51] Not only that, like I've found from my personal experience, it really fosters innovation. So like when I speak to a service provider and they physically get to see me and I start to talk about barriers that I experience. For example, when I turned 18, I realised I couldn't get up and order my own drink because nobody could see me over over the bar. And that was, you know, not an important thing to my life. But as an 18 year old, it was a real sort of thing that I thought, oh, this is an area that my disability is really disadvantaging me. I spoke to my wheelchair manufacturer and they created the elevation system on my wheelchair. I was the first wheelchair to ever have it. So I think that's where we really can't undervalue the importance of meeting people in person. To foster that understanding.

Sam [00:05:46] Yeah, not 100%. I mean I think what's amazing about the expo is it's such a learning curve. I mean, you know, having a disability. And I think what's amazing is that you got you guys show like there are so many options out there to choose from. You know, I know when I had my accident, I had no idea what I could and couldn't do. So, you know, just going to an exhibition and like I said, like meeting people and talking to them, it is really nice to meet other people with a disability because they know what it's like. Sure, they might have a decent different disability, but you know, it's kind of like same, same, but different. It's just nice to interact with other people and and find out what they've been doing and, you know, kind of get inspired. Like you said, you couldn't look for a bar. And now you have that. And it's just little things like that. I don't know. For me, the whole disability thing is such a learning curve.

Peta [00:06:40] And that's where I think somebody who's born with their disability, I have to continually remind myself that it's not an intrinsic thing for everyone. I can't fully understand, but I can appreciate the sort of learning curve that you've been on over the last nine years.

Sam [00:06:59] Yeah, no, it's true. I mean, yeah, everybody's different. And sure, maybe it is easier if you are born with a disability because that's, you know, or, you know, in your mom and dad who probably like, you know, being there for you from the start. But it's challenging regardless if you're born with it or if you have acquired a disability. It's incredibly challenging, but it's just nice to know there is a lot of support out there. I went to an expo about two years after my accident. So, yeah, no, I loved it. It was so unreal. I went with my kayak coach and yeah, we loved it. We just met like so many amazing people and it's just nice. It's just nice to see there are, you know, there are so many things you can try.

Peta [00:07:44] You know, we are one in five in the community. And I think it's a really these expos are really important opportunities for that community fostering.

Sam [00:07:55] No, I totally agree. 100% agree, actually, because that's how I feel with the the Paris surfing community. It's the same. Everybody has a different disability. You know, they visually impaired cerebral palsy, spinal cord injury site. And it's true. You do feel like you're part of a community and you just I know you feel like you belong somewhere. And it's it is it's it's so nice. It's so good for you. It's kind of good for you. Mental health is good for everything. So I 100% agree with you.

Peta [00:08:25] And Catherine, what have you learnt about the disabled customer since running the exploits?

Kathryn [00:08:31] Yeah, look, obviously I don't personally have a disability myself. So my role then really is, is to understand and to empathise and to get to know what the requirements of people with disability are and to and then to enable that. So over the years, we certainly have really ramped up our accessibility and I think the community is demanding much more accessibility now than it ever used to, which which is great. We're always trying to keep up. One of the biggest challenges we often have, and I know it sounds silly because a lot of these venues, you think you they should be up to code. A lot of a lot of facilities that we have exposing frustratingly were built, you know, 20, 30 years ago. If you take your child out, he's got a disability and you can't get them onto a toilet. You expect to be able to change your child. And most facilities in exhibition halls don't have those facilities. So we actually have to bring them in. We have to hire special facilities to come in. And and I feel that that shouldn't we shouldn't have to do that at this in this day and age. I'm just constantly learning from the community. My eyes are always open. We're always asking the question, How can we do it better? I don't know whether you're familiar with Bindi maps, the inside wayfinding service, which is sort of like Google Maps. But for indoors, for people with vision impairment, that's been an absolutely great collaboration. They come to all of our expos. You know, that's great for the two days that the event is on. But what about when people go to Westfield's or wherever it might be to buy their groceries? Those sorts of things should should really just now be standard. And it's certainly one of the big pushes that we're embarking on is to really improve venues.

Sam [00:10:26] Now. You know what I found really fun? Really had those trying to get into a bathroom.

Kathryn [00:10:30] Yes.

Sam [00:10:30] Sometimes it was so impossible to actually push open.

Kathryn [00:10:35] Incredible.

Peta [00:10:37] Well, and like, from my perspective, I can't use a normal disabled toilet. I have to use a changing places toilet, which, if you don't know for those who are listing have in them, because I can't stand or transfer independently. So that to me is a very big barrier. And there's been a lot of the reason to why that I don't go to events in the past. It really frustrates me when I go to events that are disability focussed and they themselves aren't even accessible. And I think, gosh, we've got a long way to go to get that equality if we don't feel equal as a disabled person at an event for us. What hope have we got?

Kathryn [00:11:22] Yeah, it's so true and we really struggle. There are a couple of moral issues around, so you'll be familiar with my values. There are portable version of the system that you're talking about, but they're very often not available. There are very, very few of them around the States. And as I said, most venues don't have voice that we say. Could we get a joystick in your bathroom? And they just look at us and say, What's a choice? What do you want to put a hoist in a bathroom? So, yeah.

Peta [00:11:52] I naturally go to the physically accessible when I talk about accessibility, but I don't want to forget that there are people with sensory pricing, processing disorders or intellectual disabilities. How do you help them engage in an environment that can be really difficult for them?

Kathryn [00:12:15] Yeah, that's that's a really good question. And, you know, to be fair and Expo is is often a very big cavernous hall with several thousand people in it. So you can imagine that it is very noisy from time to time. We do try to let people know at the time that those really super, super noisy things are going to be on. The other things that we can do is provide some quiet space so that you can get away, get yourself into a dark area with a nice couch or whatever it might be, and then certainly headphones. All of the venues have to have the little sets that have the headphones on. It is one of our probably biggest challenges is is the audio sensory thing because just by definition the spaces are incredibly noisy, they're often concrete floors and you know, you've got a very large building that is very cavernous. So yeah, that one is a real big challenge.

Peta [00:13:11] And Catherine, what do you think of the emerging areas in the disability support or the disability industry? What what are we looking towards for the 2020s?

Kathryn [00:13:23] Yeah. Look, I think once we once we get over the COVID issue, that certainly has has really rocked the industry, where I think the big improvements will come is just, you know, that push for equality in the community is really growing in it's voice now. It's got a long way to go. And again, I'll defer to Sam on that. But there is a real push on, I believe, and people like Dylan Alcott, Australian of the Year, disability, how fantastic is that? And I remember Dylan saying I think he lost he lost the Australian Open, didn't he. He lost in the final but he's failed or the fee for the person who won that event, that wheelchair event was half the amount that a first round picks it up in the in the general programme. So if you went along you would like 200 seated and you got knocked out in the first round, you got twice as much as someone like. For winning the whole thing. And, you know, I think there is a long way to go and I'll I'll hand over to Sam to come. It is. But I, I think there is the momentum is building.

Sam [00:14:41] You know, I agree. I think it's definitely getting like I think it's more people are more accepting these days. I mean, I don't know what it used to be like. I think it would have been a lot harder. You know, if you're in a wheelchair, if you have a disability, you sort of like shunned a little bit. But now I think people are a lot more accepting now and and inclusive. I mean, it's still challenging. But, you know, I think I think people are trying they're trying to definitely. Yeah, make life a bit easier for people with a disability.

Peta [00:15:11] Going back to the power of representation as far as Dylan Alcott and thought it would be remiss of me considering the person I have sitting on this podcast with me today to not speak to you, Sam, and ask you how sports helped you not only live with a disability more fully help you recover from your accident. How has that helped you? You know, get through and feel more like your again?

Kathryn [00:15:42] Hmm.

Sam [00:15:43] No, it definitely has, because I used to be sporty before my accident. And then when mostly when I had my accident was devastated because as far as I was concerned, like my whole like kind of, you know, being sporty or exercising was this window, which thankfully wasn't the case. So, yeah, when I got into kayaking, yeah, it was such a game changer for me. It just made me. I guess like you said, it feels more like my old self. I was on the water again. I like the challenge. I like the physical challenge of trying try and get faster or, you know, improve your technique. Sport is the one thing that definitely got me through sport and exercise is totally kind of flip, flip that whole negative headspace for me. And it still does. I mean, even now, I mean, I still have good days and bad days and, you know, go to the gym and my friend, who's my personal trainer, she was like, How are you? I'm not fine. And then seeing that you're not and then she's I know you make me box or make me laugh or just push me. And then I always feel so much better. It's a game changer. And Jesse, if I can, I don't like the word inspire, but if you can inspire other people to sort of give it a go. Yeah, it's it's brilliant.

Peta [00:17:00] Well, thank you so much, both Sam and Katherine, for being here today. I've thoroughly enjoyed talking to you both.

Kathryn [00:17:07] Thank you so much.

Sam [00:17:08] Thank you Peta

Peta [00:17:13] Thank you for listening to this week's episode. I hope you enjoyed it if you did. Can you please leave a writing review? If you listen on Apple Podcasts or better yet, share me on social media, it really does help make the podcasts viable going forward. If you have a question that you'd like me to cover on a future episode of the podcast, you can get in contact with me by my Instagram. My handle is at Peter Hook spelt Patey ah0ka find my email The I Can't Stand Podcast at or find my website And then tune next week. Have a good one, guys. Bye.


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