The SDI Approach Breathes Fresh Air into the 2021 Abilities Expo

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Jason, Brian and Scott sit behind the Starkloff event table. The table is covered in a green tablecloth and Starkloff swag is placed on top for attendees.

Individuals from across the Midwest flocked to Chicago this past weekend for the Abilities Expo, held June 25-27 at the Renaissance Schaumburg Convention Center. Brian Chao, Jason Hartsfield and Scott Thompson manned an SDI booth throughout the convention, where they handed out our swag and shared all the latest information on Starkloff programs and services.

The Abilities Expo is widely recognized as the premiere destination for the very best in assistive technology, adaptive sports and informative workshops on a variety of disability-related topics. But it felt like much more than just another outreach opportunity. For Brian, Jason and Scott, the expo represented their first in-person event since before the pandemic began well over a year ago.

“It all flew by so fast. That’s the most physically active I’ve been in like 15 months,” Jason remarks. “It was a good workout; I’m still a little beat. My throat hurts from talking so much, but overall, it was a great experience.”

After speaking with a number of enthusiastic expo attendees the very first day, it quickly became apparent to Scott that SDI’s approach to career development is truly a breath of fresh air within the disability community.

“We were definitely an unusual placement at this conference, but we also filled a big need based on the people we spoke with,” Scott observes. “A lot of the people were kind of entrenched in the state VR systems, and they have a different concept of employment services. Then they see us, and they’re like, ‘Oh, wow! That’s really cool!’ What we’re providing is unique, not just at the conference but more broadly.”

On Saturday, Jason stood before the packed expo hall and delivered an informative presentation, Disability Works: Integrating Your Disability into Your Personal Brand. Again, the workshop seemed to generate immediate interest in SDI programming.

For Brian, the positive responses they received during the expo further underscored the necessity of continuing to invest in SDI’s virtual offerings, even after the pandemic.

“More than anything, it truly emphasized the need for our programs and the fact that we have to continue our virtual capacity to maintain our reach because it is very much needed around the country and beyond,” Brian adds.

The Abilities Expo takes place at regular intervals throughout the year, with conventions happening all across North America in cities like Houston, Phoenix, New York, Los Angeles, Toronto, Dallas and Miami. According to Scott, SDI staff members may consider attending some of these other conferences in the future as interest in Starkloff programs continues to grow.

“It might be something we think about moving forward, hitting some different markets,” Scott acknowledges. “If we start bringing in candidates this way and increase our national reach, we may want to visit some of these other expos in different places.”

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