Recently while in Washington D.C. for the Roll on Capitol Hill, I met a remarkable woman named Brittany Dejean who out of tragedy started an innovative website called AbleThrive to help those living with disabilities including spinal cord injuries. Back in 1998 when Brittany was 12 years of age, her father and brother were in a car accident that took the life of her brother and paralyzed her father. Brittany shares that her family received wonderful support from Magee Rehab Hospital in Philadelphia and gave them hope that her dad had a future living with quadriplegia. Later when studying abroad in college, Brittany met a man with a spinal cord injury in a rehab unit that, while having more mobility than her father, responded that he believed he would spend the rest of his life in bed. This affected Brittany greatly as this was not something that crossed her mind regarding her father and in asking herself this question, came a realization that not everyone living with spinal cord injuries is allotted the same amount of support they had.
During her time overseas, Brittany reports that she had other experiences talking to people with disabilities that got her thinking of how people could connect and receive support no matter where they lived. And in a light bulb moment, decided that she could use the internet to reach out to people seeking such support. In 2007 when back in school, Brittany wrote her first business plan to use the internet to connect people with disabilities to resources. Several years later, Brittany quit her job and revisited the problem she had identified years before and with the continuation of people with disabilities struggling to identify resources for support and the changing structure of the internet, wanted people to benefit from great work being done in this sector to improve quality of life. Brittany created AbleThrive to use technology to make this more efficient and enhance collaboration between various stakeholders and persons with disabilities. AbleThrive’s first platform went up in August 2015, piloting for the paralysis community and moving forward ever since.
AbleThrive’s function begins with a dedicated team of people who work together to get their resource information out to its viewers. Kristen Sachs who is the content manager is responsible for every post and manages a small team of volunteers who write for them. Tim Shin, is in charge of all of their social media, newsletters and communications. AbleThrive’s website was built and is maintained by a small team in Washington, D.C. and they have a local team that reaches as far as Singapore with one director Marcus Quah who manages local outreach and events. Their content is curated from an ally network of more than 185 organizations, companies, hospitals and bloggers in 13 countries and they are looking to grow their team with staff and volunteers and invite anyone interested to reach out. Since launching their first website back in 2015, it’s important to note that they have reached over 120,000 unique visitors from around the world and get over 10,000 unique visitors each month. As their content is in English, they target networks in the U.S., U.K. Canada, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand and any other country with English speaking communities.
In addition to the countries that they reach, AbleThrive branches out to people living with various disabilities. A platform is currently being tested in which persons living with Spinal Cord Injuries, Muscular Dystrophy, MS and other conditions can register and share their interests and the mobility of their arms, fingers, trunk and legs. Individuals are then directed to My AbleThrive feed of customized resources for added support and will be expanded for new types of disabilities as they grow. AbleThrive is also committed to bringing visibility of the disabled community by running campaigns on social media channels such as #ThisIsHowI Challenge, where people are encouraged to share short video clips of themselves doing different things to show what’s possible and shatter stereotypes.
When it comes to funding, AbleThrive will always be free for persons with disabilities. At the beginning of their startup, they received a grant from a social enterprise organization called Echoing Green that gave them their first boost. Moving forward, they’ve done crowdfunding and secured donations, grants and corporate sponsorships to get to their current point. They are still fundraising and moving forward, aim to generate their own revenue through advertising and sponsorship content.
To highlight some of AbleThrive’s various charms, the site shares inspiring stories for members to read and viewers have responded by offering their own stories. One woman who has a six-year-old son with a disability wrote that AbleThrive gave her resources she needed as well as the understanding of a community that other sites may not provide. Brittany wrote that a video was posted with she and her father dancing at her wedding and one viewer in particular reached out that weddings always made him feel a sense of loss that he would never be able to dance with his future wife and that this video showed him what was possible. And a stroke survivor wrote that the posts gave her a realization that she could see the positive in her situation and move forward. In addition to the above insightful stories, AbleThrive includes various topics such as travel information that Brittany reports is a huge topic and has its own category.
When it comes to travel, many people with disabilities realize how important it is to do research ahead of time before making any last minute arrangements. And what better way to plan, then to read stories from other disabled travelers who have done their own homework, booked their trips and made it out on the other side. For people who want to explore specific places, there is a destinations page that shares everything found about those locations. In terms of accommodations, people can go to Accomable.com, the Airbnb for accessible properties. This details the accessibility of the rooms they offer around the world. Brittany reports that she used the above site for a family trip and was very pleased with the results. Searching with AbleThrive’s travel section is a great way to get a variety of perspectives from different sources and always invites users to share their own stories once they return.
As a newer resource, AbleThrive hopes to continue to register members and test out their site. They are currently shared at 7 spinal units around the world and are always looking to be added elsewhere. Please check out this innovative resource and all that it has to have offer.
See these sites and resources below for further information:
See contact page to share feedback about the site.
Members can share short video clips of what is possible.
Brittany’s video of she and her father dancing at her wedding
Resource for accessible Airbnb’s around the world.