Friday, November 24, 2006

Rehability! store offers universal access to shopping

Posted by the Asbury Park Press on 11/24/06

It's as playful and inviting as a toy store and as serious as assistive equipment for accommodating disabilities.

The Rehability! store, billed as the first of its kind in the nation, opened this fall on the campus of Good Shepherd Rehabilitation hospital in Allentown, Pa., to give customers access to merchandise typically found only in specialty catalogs or small — and somber — surgical-supply shops.

A "winner's circle" of racing bikes for wheelchair athletes, bright red adaptive skis, canes of many colors and patterns, and an open 3,300-square-foot floor plan contribute to the store's mall-like atmosphere. Even Starbucks coffee breaks are available in the adjacent Shepherd's Cafe.

And since its official opening in October, the new concept store has been drawing attention across the country and all over the world, said Charles Marinello, vice president of Good Shepherd lifestyle, products and services division.

Marinello, a former resident of Howell and manager of the Hahnes department store previously at Monmouth Mall in Eatontown, said he has been fielding phone calls to Rehability! Organizations for people with disabilities have begun to send bus trips to the store, he added.

Rather than focusing on a specific age group or impairment, such as vision or mobility, Rehability! carries more than 3,500 items for people of all ages and all abilities, said Marinello. Inventory selection was based on input from medical personnel and patients at the hospital.

"We worked with our doctors, nurses and therapists who made recommendations for products and services to provide optimal life solutions in a positive environment," he said.

Besides an array of adaptive gear for people with significant disabilities, the store offers devices — ranging from pens and garden tools with large-grip handles to jumbo-size playing cards and assistive listening systems — to ease daily living for seniors or others experiencing difficulties.

Also, therapy clinicians staff the store along with people who have first-hand knowledge of a disability, Marinello said. "They have compassion. They understand and can help them through the process."

Linda Smith, an occupational therapist assistant at Rehability!, said customers also can assess which products fit their needs because "they can see, touch and feel it."

The merchandise is geared to accommodating people with physical, congnitive, hearing, auditory, tactile and mobility issues, and incorporates recreation, exercise and aquatics equipment to maximize independence.

Debbie Trucksess of nearby Bethlehem, Pa., came to the store recently to try out new canes.

"I think the Canadian crutches give you more support," said Trucksess, who also uses a wheelchair. Trucksess was accompanied by Karen Pysher. The two became friends 20 years ago while Trucksess was a patient at Good Shepherd, diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, and Pysher worked at the hospital as a registered nurse.

Pysher was interested in a hand-and-foot pedal exerciser for her mother-in-law because "she's not walking; she hasn't been getting exercise since falling. She's so afraid she's going to fall again. But she can do this while sitting."

The store's target audience is broad — disabled adults and children, their caregivers and friends — and its stock isn't limited to items on its shelves.

"If there are any products you can't find, we'll track it down for you," Marinello said. Rehability!'s services also include installation of home devices, such as temporary or permanent grab bars, and help designing adaptations for automobiles, for example a steering wheel that can be driven with one hand.

The store also has a gift registry — a wish list for people with disabilities. Among the fun items for holiday shoppers are a fishing pole holder, giant-dial clocks and watches and those that talk, slippers with tiny headlights, canes with built-in lights, music- and magnetic-therapy items, accessories for service animals and adaptive bowling rails and billiards cues.

But perhaps the flashiest toy in the store is a full-size pinball machine with large buttons for children with disabilities. "It also can be adapted for play by people who can only move their head," Marinello said. "Everything here relates to a positive lifestyle."

The store draws from a 75-mile radius. For those unable to make the trip, the Web site is A fully illustrated list of products will be available online on Dec. 11.

ON THE WEB: Visit our Web site,, for a list of other resources for special-needs shopping.