FORT WAYNE – Dwayne Szot grew up in a foster home.
Why his mother placed him in someone else's care, he can't answer. But the Wisconsin artist and inventor values his experiences and the bond forged with a foster brother and sister.
Each suffered from cerebral palsy.
“Kids just accept things and roll with it,” Szot said, explaining how he and his siblings dealt with disability.
“You just accept things,” he said.
What the 50-year-old won't accept is the notion people with disabilities have to be limited when it comes to expressing creativity.
Szot was one of more than 80 exhibitors at the fifth annual Disabilities Expo at Memorial Coliseum on Saturday.
Organizers said some 1,400 people who attended saw products and services for people dealing with various impairments.
Szot has set up programs and sold products in Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Canada and many cities throughout the United States.
One of his inventions, Chalk, Walk and Roll, allows children in wheelchairs to draw sidewalk art. The push-mower-looking gadget latches to the front of a wheelchair and is controlled using a joystick.
“It's making ways for people to make a mark,” said Szot, who received undergraduate and graduate art scholarships.
“I learned empathy at an early age,” he said, “so that is what helps drive me.”
Lynne Gilmore is executive director of the AWS Foundation, which organized the exhibition.
The event is billed as an opportunity for those with disabilities, their loved ones and others to explore and discover offerings in the field.
“It puts everything under one roof,” said Gilmore, walking hurriedly through one of the exhibition halls at the Coliseum. “It's kind of one-stop shopping.”
The expo is important because Gilmore says everyone can't Google information.
“A lot of disabled persons can't use or don't have a computer or Internet because it's too expensive,” she said. “That's why the expo is so important. It's also a social outing.”
Stephanie Shank, CEO of Positive Pathways Counseling of Carmel, offers musical therapy to people with disabilities.
She attended Saturday's expo for the first time.
“We offer instruments that they can learn to play,” Shank said. “Because it's music, it doesn't feel like therapy because it's fun.”