Naidex is Europe’s largest event showcasing the latest technology, products and services for disabled people, helping them to live, work and travel with greater independence and comfort. The event is now in its 45th year and it’s absolutely massive, occupying a large hall in the NEC Birmingham for 2 days.
I first went to the show last year, having never heard of it before, and enjoyed having a good look around over both days. I took in as much as I could, even things that weren’t particularly relevant to me, to get a good sense of what was there. So this year, now that I knew what to expect, I was able to prepare more, and only went for 1 day. I knew that would be enough time to see everything that was of most relevance and interest to me, and I think it was a wise move. Other people may find going for both days very beneficial though, it just depends how much you want to look at.
Also for the second year running, I was proud to be an ambassador for the show. That simply means we plug each other on social media, so I give them shoutouts and they promote my blog in return. Beyond that, I’ve not been gifted in any way to promote or mention the show, I paid all of my own expenses to attend, and I’m not obliged to give any kind of review. Likewise, I’m not sponsored by or affiliated with any companies mentioned in this post. I just want to go through what I saw and picked up information about, and all opinions are my own as always.
So let’s get on with it, and I hope you enjoy my rundown of Naidex 2019!
- Warwick Davis
- Product & Service Highlights
- Other Exhibitors
- Other Links
Getting to the show was easy. I got a train from London Euston to Birmingham International station, and from there you simply walk a short way down the huge corridor towards the NEC, taking the lift or stairs down to the road and crossing over to the bus stop, so you can get the shuttle bus to the entrance. Staff in the station and the NEC can help you find your way if need be.
Once in the exhibition hall, I knew what I wanted to look for, as I’d extracted the map from the PDF of their show guide and marked all the stalls I wanted to visit. So by carrying that on my phone, I was able to find my way around the exhibition hall easily enough. Planning ahead before big shows like this is always sensible, and in this case I recommend checking out the Naidex Survival Guide by Disability Horizons, which has lots of good tips.
In terms of the products and services on display, there wasn’t a huge amount for the visually impaired specifically – after all, it’s a show for everybody, not just for us – but what they did have was very interesting and worth checking out. And there are other companies, services, magazines, etc that cater for all disabilities, so by definition they’re also of interest to people with sight loss.
So ultimately there’s a lot to explore there, whatever your disability. I got to see all sorts of products and spoke to lots of exhibitors, I saw a couple of interesting guest speakers, and I even got to meet a couple of my fellow bloggers too. Plus I came away with leaflets for a few other things that I hadn’t been looking for, but were bundled in with other stuff I picked up. So there are lots of things I can mention.
The highlight of the day was seeing a talk by actor Warwick Davis, well known for his roles in Star Wars, Harry Potter, Willow and Leprechaun, and current host of ITV quiz show Tenable. Most importantly, he was attending Naidex as the patron of Little People UK, the charity he co-founded with his wife Samantha to support people with dwarfism.
So perhaps it seems strange that someone over 6 foot tall like myself would want to see a talk by him, especially as there was another talk relating to visual impairment taking place nearby at exactly the same time. But I couldn’t turn down the opportunity to hear what he had to say, as I loved his performances in Harry Potter and Star Wars, and he always comes across as such a nice guy. Many other people clearly felt the same way, given that the huge crowd filled the aisle outside the theatre space, and Warwick had to work his way through us on his Segway to reach the front.
His talk, called Always Looking Up, was fantastic, giving a really interesting insight into his life. Although our disabilities are very different, I could still relate to many things, including how society reacts to people with disabilities. And he had a wonderfully positive attitude, having learnt to use his disability to his advantage. He was very keen to motivate all of us to pursue our dreams, telling us we should never be afraid to try things and take on challenges, and never believe you can’t do anything, regardless of whether you have a disability or not. And that message came across really well.
He was very open and honest throughout, answering quite a few questions from the audience along the way, and there was a lot of humour in there too. Topics included his birth and upbringing, school sports, dealing with bullying, coping on bad days, how the public respond to his dwarfism, how to engage with able-bodied people, his work with Little People UK, how he became an actor and ended up in Star Wars, and his adventures with Bear Grylls and Karl Pilkington. So it was a very interesting, entertaining and uplifting session.
Raw Ability Life have posted a video of Warwick’s speech on their Youtube channel if you’d like to watch it.
There were loads of other talks and panel sessions taking place across both days, covering a wide variety of topics. So if you do go to the show, it helps to plan your time around any that you particularly want to see. I could have easily spent the whole day just listening to talks, but as I wanted to explore the exhibition as well, I held back. I did go to one other talk though, which I’ll briefly mention next.
Product & Service Highlights
The Sunu Band is a device for blind and visually impaired people that is worn on the wrist. It uses sonar to detect obstacles by echolocation, and alerts you to them by vibrating in certain ways (called haptic feedback). You can also use it to tell the time, set alarms, track your activity, and get directions to help you navigate.
I went to the talk about this, and it was very interesting, so I was hoping to go along to their stand and have a look at it out of curiosity. But when I went there in the early afternoon it was already empty, meaning they’d left earlier than most of the other exhibitors. So that was a shame. Granted, it’s probably not something I’d need to use with my current level of vision, but it would still have been nice to have a look and try it out, as it was a rare opportunity to do so.
However, if you want to see what other bloggers think of the Sunu Band, then I can recommend watching the videos by James Rath, The Blind Life and Fashioneyesta. and there are clips by the manufacturers on Sunu’s channel too.
The BAWA Cane is a small device that clips on to long canes used by visually impaired people, so they can be alerted to more of the obstacles around them. It uses ultrasonic sensors to detect obstacles from ground level up to head height, and beeps in certain ways to let you know. The faster the beeps, the closer the obstacle is, whereas it keeps quiet if there’s nothing to worry about.
I did have a go at using it in the exhibition, but as there were people and objects all over the place, it was beeping constantly. So it was doing its job well, but it wasn’t a real-world test either. It’s not something I have any use for, but for those who do use long canes, it seemed pretty good and might be worth looking into. Certainly head-height obstacles are a nuisance, including overhanging branches, signs, etc, so I can see how it would be really useful for that.
I also bumped into fellow blogger Chloe Tear at this stand. Like me, she was a show ambassador and visitor, and our paths just happened to cross here while we were both looking around. So it was lovely to meet her at last and have a short chat. Do be sure to read Chloe’s reviews of her Naidex experience and the talks and panels, and watch her vlog, to get her perspective on the event. And also check out as the rest of her blog where she writes about living with cerebral palsy and sight loss.
Cyber Eyez is designed to help you see and interact with the world around you more easily, and I was able to have a little play with it at the show. I wore the Cyber Eyez Gear VR headset, into which was placed a smartphone containing the software, but they also sell dedicated smart glasses as well. By swiping my fingers on the side of the headset, I could move between the different options and interact with each of the modes. For instance, the zoom mode allowed me to zoom in a very long way, which I was quite impressed by.
It also has OCR text-to-speech functionality, and the ability to identify things like colours and barcodes, and can apparently even give you a sense of someone’s mood, to tell you if they’re happy, sad, angry, etc. You can also watch streaming content like Netflix on it, and share it with a compatible TV so that others you’re with can watch it too. And it has Amazon Alexa functionality. I also tried out the Tap Strap, which has loops that go over all your fingers, allowing you to move your fingers to control the device, and that seemed to work well.
There’s a review of the smart glasses by Sam at The Blind Life, and he’s done quite a few other videos about the product. And the company themselves also have a Cyber Timez channel.
Computer Room Services
This business, who specialise in accessible technology and services, were sharing a stand with Cyber Eyez. So I got to have a nice chat with Steve from the organisation. In the goody bag they were handing out, there was a very useful leaflet about how to spot different types of scam phone calls, called Keep Calm And Hang Up. The leaflet was produced by TrueCall, who sell a product designed to block unwanted calls.
There were various other information sheets from Computer Room Services as well, about their training services and web site development and hosting. along with Braille displays and notetakers called BrailleMe, BrailleSense Polaris and Esys, and the Micro-Speak digital voice recorder.
The OrCam is a tiny camera that attaches to the arm of any pair of glasses, and can speak text, recognise products and faces, and more. Their latest iteration is the OrCam My Eye 2, which is basically a more refined version, which is now wireless and more compact, and can store more information, so it can recognise more faces for instance. I tried it out at the show and the text recognition was instant and accurate. You can watch a review of the My Eye 2 by Sam at The Blind Life and there is also an OrCam channel.
The AccessAble website and app provides detailed access guides for venues all over the UK. I wrote about it in my TFL Access All Areas post, as they were there too, so I won’t repeat myself here. However, at Naidex I did have the pleasure of talking to fellow blogger Carrie-Ann Lightley, the Marketing Manager at AccessAble. I missed the presentation she gave about accessible travel unfortunately, but it was lovely to have a personal chat with her, to get her perspective on the work she does and find out about her blogging. She writes a great blog about accessible travel that I hadn’t heard of before, so do give her a follow.
Transreport Passenger Assist
This is an app that is currently being trialled in a few areas, and will hopefully be rolled out across the UK railway network later in the year. The idea is that you can set up a profile giving information about your access needs, then you can use the app to book assistance for your train journeys. Railway staff will also have the app and will get all the relevant details from your profile, to save you having to repeat yourself. The hope is that it will streamline the process of booking and receiving assistance. And I was told that the app is fully accessible with Voiceover, dynamic text sizing, etc. So it’ll be interesting to see if it all works as promised. For related information, see this video from 2018, and a BBC news report from 2017. It’ll be something to keep an eye on.
This special mouse is designed to reduce the risk of Repetitive Strain Injury and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome in computer users. With a traditional computer mouse, the lower part of your hand is resting on the desktop and you keep turning your wrist to move it around, and only a couple of your fingers are resting on it to use the buttons. So all that wrist movement, and the sliding of your skin in contact with the desk, can lead to problems over time.
But the HandShoe Mouse supports your entire hand, including all of your fingers. This means you don’t have to move your wrist at all. Instead, you just keep your hand still and use your whole forearm (which ideally is also resting flat on the desk) to move the mouse around. I was able to hold one and have a go at moving it around, and it does get a bit of getting used to initially, but it did feel comfortable as well. Their Youtube video explains it a bit more.
As always, there were various publications being promoted at the event, so I spoke to a few of them and picked up free copies of their latest issues.
Able Magazine is a disability lifestyle publication celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, and their May/June issue will be a special one to commemorate that. At the show they gave out their March/April edition, which has a variety of interesting articles including accessible Easter breaks, outdoor activities, thoughts on the term ‘inspiration’, sensory disabilities in the home and dating with disabilities, among lots of other things.
They also produce an annual travel magazine called TravelAble, so the 2019 issue of that was also being given out, including articles on preparing for a holiday, Eurostar journeys, Devon & Cornwall, East of England, Blackpool, Scarborough, Scotland, the Family Fund and a caravan buying guide. They also have their own motoring magazine called DriveAble, but as I can’t drive that’s not of interest to me.
As you can see, their articles are on their website as well, so it’s well worth digging through them. They’ve also posted their own Naidex highlights if you want to see what they thought of the show.
PosAbility is another disability lifestyle magazine, and I was impressed that the lady at this stand remembered me from last year! It was good to chat to her again this time around, and I know they had a long journey back to Scotland afterwards. The February/March issue I picked up had articles about talented people with Down’s Syndrome, home improvements to help you live independently, a scheme to help people with learning disabilities learn to cook, Valentine’s Day, Disabled Access Day, travel information and products, Easter holiday ideas for children, rollerblading, an interview with Paralympian Jonnie Peacock, and much more. Some of their articles are also available online.
Enable Magazine has a wide range of articles on lifestyle, care, travel, events, employment, sport, and lots more besides. At the show I picked up their March/April 2019 issue, and examples of the content includes interviews with disabled actors James Moore and Sarah Gordy, plus articles on support for domestic violence victims, disabled prisoners, a charity donating old prosthetics, support for disabled veterans, fashion accessibility, Disabled Access Day, supporting stress in the workplace, and an interview with the then Minister for Disabled People, Sarah Newton (who has since stepped down, to be replaced 3 weeks later by Justin Tomlinson).
Ability Needs looks at motoring and mobility, home adaptations, travel and other topics. There isn’t quite as much in this as the other magazines, but there are still some interesting articles, including proposals by the government to increase the number of Changing Places toilets, a policeman that ran 10 miles in full riot gear to raise money for the charity that helped his son, the inaccessibility of train travel experienced by Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson, and a Singapore travel review.
Disability Horizons is an online magazine covering all sorts of topics to help you live life to the full, with lots of articles and advice, and you can also get involved in their online community. So it was nice to talk to a lady called Zubee at their stand.
Emma from Rock For Disability was also among the team representing them. However, unbeknownst to me, she was nearby when I was at the stall, but wasn’t able to get over to say hello. So we just missed each other! Never mind, I’m sure our paths will cross at some point. Do be sure to check out her blog, where she writes about disability, assistive technology and her love of music, among other things.
Here are a couple of disability community organisations that I met at the event.
It was nice to chat to the lovely people from Scope at the show, as they give a lot of valuable advice and support to people of all disabilities. I got a free bag from them as well, which is always useful, in which were leaflets about how they support families and people seeking work, as well as details of their research panel. I’ve also written guest posts for them in the past about bullying and making new friends.
Yoocan is an online community where people share their stories, experiences, tips and advice, raising awareness of all sorts of conditions. And as one of the many people who have written for them, I wanted to say hello in person, so it was lovely to do so at last. If you want to check it out, I wrote a story post called From Shyness To Success: Living With Aniridia & Nystagmus, which they later published a second time as a blog post. And I also joined in one of their campaigns by posting a motivational quote that I’d created, which I later extended to become a short poem.
Sport & Fitness
This is another area that’s popular at the show, and they had a sports area where you could try things out, although I didn’t get involved with that. I probably should one year. But here are a couple of the exhibitors I enjoyed speaking to at the show:
- British Blind Sport – I think most visually impaired people in the UK have heard of this charity. They help people with sight loss and blindness to get active and involved with sports, and organise lots of events. They also provide sight classifications to their members, so they’re eligible to enter competitions fairly and equally.
- Adaptive Martial Arts – As the name suggests, this organisation provides an accessible way to practice martial arts. They mainly do classes in Bristol and Bath, but do have an Outreach service for people living elsewhere too.
Here are a few providers of home technology that I picked up leaflets about:
- TED Alert – This company have produced a smart watch that enables you to monitor your loved ones to ensure their safety, with GPS that can track the user and trigger an alert when they leave a certain area. It can also be used to make calls, includes health sensors, and has an SOS button to make an emergency call.
- Med Page – Assistive technology to help the disabled and elderly live independently, including living aids, seizure movement detectors, observation cameras, alarms, aids for deaf people, and more.
- Thomas Sanderson – Smart window blinds, meaning you can just press a button to adjust the light entering your room using their Powerview system.
Here are some of the companies offering accessible travel experiences that I became aware of at the show, either from exhibitors I spoke to or leaflets I picked up
- Accessible Indonesia – Tours for disabled people in Indonesia.
- Bask For All – Tours and accommodation in the Basque Country.
- Cadamà – A wheelchair accessible sailing boat in Italy.
- Church Farm Barns – Disabled-friendly holiday cottages in North Norfolk.
- Destination Everywhere – Online resource to help you find accessible accommodation, services and experiences.
- Accessible Romania – Holidays by Sano Touring.
- Tourism For All – Holidays in Portugal.
Wheelchairs & Scooters
A lot of the show is dedicated to wheelchairs and scooters, and vehicles that can accommodate them. It’s not of relevance or interest to me in my situation, but here are a few of the companies that I became aware of:
- Quantum Rehab – Power chairs, scooters and lift chairs, deserving of a mention because fellow blogger Shona Louise was at Naidex representing them, though I didn’t get a chance to say hello unfortunately.
- KYMCO Healthcare – Mobility scooters.
- Mountain Trike – All-terrain outdoor wheelchairs.
- SMOOV – Creators of the Smoov One wheelchair with electric drive.
To see more about this year’s event, check out these links
- Chloe Tear – What Naidex Is Like / Talks & Panels / Video Footage
- Simply Emma
- The World In My Words
- When Tania Talks (Vlog)
- Able Magazine
- Disability Horizons – Survival Guide
I really enjoyed looking around Naidex again this year, and I’m glad I planned ahead carefully, given how much there was to take in. The talk by Warwick Davis was very special, it was wonderful to meet a couple of other bloggers, and I learnt a lot from the many exhibitors I interacted with.
So I can definitely recommend going along, because there’s a huge amount to discover and a lot of great people to meet, and it’s free to attend.
Naidex will return to the NEC Birmingham on 17 & 18 March 2020 if you want to put the date in your diary. But in the meantime, thank you for reading about my visit to this year’s event. Thank you also to Naidex for inviting me to be an ambassador for the second year running, and for a great show overall!
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