The Journal Gazette
Sunday, May 15, 2022 1:00 am

'Different way ... of doing things'

disAbilities Expo returns after 2-year pandemic break

PAUL WYCHE | The Journal Gazette

Magician Cody Clark hopes myths and misunderstandings about disabilities disappear.

The trick, he says, is showing how special-needs individuals are just like everyone else – but with a “different way of thinking and doing things.”

“That's what I try to get across in my shows,” said Clark, an autistic entertainer from Louisville, Kentucky, who blends humor, education, stories and magic into his performances.

“People think autism makes you either super good at something or super bad at something.”

In reality, it's probably somewhere in the middle, Clark said of the condition that impairs the ability to communicate and interact but can also result in exceptional math, computer or artistic skills.

Clark was among 116 exhibitors at the 11th annual disAbilities Expo, hosted by the AWS Foundation on Saturday at Memorial Coliseum.

The event is billed as a one-stop resource for disability services and products. More than 1,000 people were expected to attend the expo following a two-year absence due to the pandemic.

Andie Mosley is the grants and outreach coordinator for AWS. In addition to offering assistance, the expo tries to teach the public, she said.

“We tell companies that if they design for disabilities, they're designing for everybody,” Mosley said. “Automatic doors aren't just (handy) for people in wheelchairs, but also for moms with baby strollers.”

Meijer human resources representative Germarcus King can agree with that. He said the Michigan retailer is on the lookout for prospective employees regardless of potential limitations.

“If you're for the community, then you have to be for everybody,” said King, an expo vendor. “We want to practice what we preach.”

And that means not pigeonholing special-needs individuals as door greeters at their stores.

“No, we have people throughout the store,” King said. “We just tell applicants to tell us what their needs are, and we try to match them with the best job.”

Wheelchair user Jacqueline Smith has volunteered at various organizations in Fort Wayne. The 28-year-old city native says one of the biggest misconceptions about people with disabilities is the value they bring.

“Volunteer jobs give back to the community,” said Smith, who was searching for opportunities Saturday.

“People sometimes think they're not contributing, but they are.”

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