Why are smart investors missing the opportunities available in disability innovation?

ian schneider - disability innovation

Why are smart investors missing the opportunities available in disability innovation?

Disability innovation should be a growth area of interest for startups. There’s plenty of opportunity, after all. It’s been interesting to see how many key companies and individual startups and innovators are taking notice of the wheelchair user space. We’ve of course talked about the tremendous efforts made by Google both in the Google Maps arena as well as further innovation through direct hiring. Creating stand out figures such as Sasha Blair-Goldensohn to champion disability from the platform of a tech company the size and scale of Google is a fantastic move forward.


ian schneider - disability innovation

Photo by Ian Schneider

The desire to innovate within disability has seen 3 d printing move into prosthetic creation. There are numerous apps on the market bridging the gap with people with disabilities to make greater opportunities. Across health, employment, mobility, transport and more, people are seizing technology to build, create and innovate in the disability space.


It’s great to see forward thinking translating into movement. But we still have a few challenges to face along the way.


Here are some of the issues we face with disability innovation and some potential remedies to overcome them and some strong benefits for doing so


Projects are often siloed and not connected


Have you ever seen those moments where one minute, there’s not a single taco to be seen and the next minute, every pub in town is serving them? These sorts of things don’t happen in isolation.


Some people call it the Zeitgeist. What if it’s more that the technology advances at the exact same time that people are exhausted by making do?


We’ve seen some amazing developments in wheelchair technology and disability innovation in the last year or so. From new chairs to Google Maps commitment to improve accessibility data quality, people are jumping on board. The Invictus Games, the Paralympics, autism friendly shopping times,  interior design for mental health – these are signs that disability is finally moving towards the world stage.


There are amazing blogs on travel with disability, parenting for kids with disability, disability advocacy and social media pages that support all manner of disability-centric conversation.


The issue is that disability is often in the not for profit sector with committed individuals doing a heck of a lot with very little. Or it’s brave and brilliant people bootstrapping their way into the headlines. We must change that by connecting each square of the patchwork and bringing the idea of innovation in disability and the needs of the disability community to the forefront.


One in 4 5 Australians have a disability. That’s critical mass. We need to grab the mic and raise the call for all of us. We see it as a disability community because we actively seek the connections. But this has ramifications for the wider world.


The able-bodied crowd aren’t getting it


It’s interesting that disability doesn’t receive the focus that other sectors attract. It isn’t sexy to work in disability, apparently. Disability innovation doesn’t have the right audience, allegedly.


It’s neatly tucked into not-for-profit or charity. But innovative thinkers struggle with the concept of disability.


What that ignores is that disability is a feature of society that doesn’t go away. In fact, disability grows and expands. And it’s a feature of society that impacts a lot of people through some incredibly mundane things. You aren’t immune to disabilities by having an OK birth experience or not having disability in your family line.


A few other ways that make disability a real possibility for able-bodied people are:

  • Getting old. We all face a loss of mobility and potential disability through old age
  • Car accidents. It’s not only the people that are killed on the roads that have life changing impacts
  • Workplace accidents and misadventure. You don’t have to be in a high-risk group working on a building sites or an oil rig to face potential issues
  • Contracting disease and disease latency
  • Lifestyle can also influence propensity for disability through obesity
  • The wonders of youthful misadventure. Or any kind of misadventure or accident, really


The list goes on.


We’re humans and we’re not immune from disability. As our population increases in age and as we continue to ignore disability generally, we fail to innovate.


If you improve health outcomes for people and/or mitigate the impact of social exclusion by increasing the opportunities to participate in the wider world, you create a happier society.


There’s talk of liveable cities in terms of greenspace. Why not a focus on allowing people to move more freely and make a life for themselves? Removing the constraints that are often found in the built environment isn’t about creating wider doors, adding lifts and flattening sidewalk. It’s about empowering people to make sounder choices to seek these things out for themselves.


You don’t have to have a disability to benefit. Disability innovation frees the community and creates a larger impact by including the segment as consumers of everyday items and experiences.


Small businesses, educational institutions, apartment complexes, gyms, car manufacturers and car sales people, property developers, amusement parks, venues, restaurants, hotels, tourism operators, transport operators, ride-share services, occupational therapists and more all gain direct benefit from working with people in wheelchairs as a central focus. Any business that thinks about how a person with a disability might be able to get there, be there to use the goods or service and get home again benefits.


Here’s a group that wants to spend money that is being excluded by a lack of a map or a safe way to train.


How hard does it have to be to see how that would change the game?


Any kind of innovation takes money


One-third of Australians in unpaid caring roles have been classified as having ‘severe’ or ‘extremely severe’ depression. 45% of people with disability in Australia are at risk of poverty. Yet the headlines rage on how much disability costs to support.


Why aren’t we investing in disability innovation to help improve circumstances?


Doesn’t any kind of innovation take money? And doesn’t spending money to improve these sorts of outcomes become financially sound decisions in the longer term?


If you reduce how difficult it is for a person with a disability to navigate the world on their own terms, you reduce carer burn out. You also increase their opportunity for education and employment, which in turn reduces their risk of poverty.


Improving health outcomes means lower overall spend in health and a much lower burden on taxation. If you help someone remain injury-free and healthy, you reduce the possibility of complications, extra health impacts and increase their ability to do without medical support. It also means that staying healthier for longer isn’t out of reach of people with disabilities. This in turn means they can reduce their need for care, hold a job for longer and create their own wealth through employment.


Something like Briometrix costs maybe $250K off the ground. Then you must factor in staff and marketing and paying testers. It sounds like a lot until you consider the returns.


The wheelchair community is ripe for innovation and disruption


Briometrix can be sold to every health organisation in the world that deals with spinal cord injury rehabilitation. Or occupational therapists, physiotherapists and surgeons working on SCI, cerebral palsy and other wheelchair related issues. Any Paralympic associated body, coach or training facility will also want a slice of the action. Aged care facilities, rehab centres, wheelchair sports events, gyms- you name it, we can be there as a wearable.


We can also be there for every single wheelchair user as a fitness app. You don’t have to be in recovery or an elite sports person to want to be able to track your fitness. You simply need to have a wheelchair and want to read things like strokes, exertion, camber and effort.


The mapping technology could be used by every council, town planner, campus builder, property developer, tourism park, sporting arena and more. In fact, anywhere you know wheelchair users go or anywhere that wants wheelchair users to be going in the future could use our technology.


This is a disability innovation that improves health and mobility and therefore has boundless application across the individual, health and government sectors. Not to mention town planning, for elite athletes and more.


Imagine if you as an angel got the worldwide licensing rights to map every university or college campus. Or if you were able to partner with a state government to provide Brio to health centres. What if you brokered the deal that turned the 11% of Australian tourism that was to do with accessibility travel and doubled it from $8 billion to $16 billion? What could come from increasing the $12.4 6billion UK disability accessible tourism market if properly supported?


Wouldn’t it be nice to back something that not only disrupts the industry and creates amazing new technology but literally changes lives? Here is a product like Briometrix with an appreciative, ready to activate market that is global


If you are a forward-thinking angel or startup investor that wants to have their work create history with disability innovation, get in touch now. We promise you won’t be disappointed.

Rebekah Lambert

Rebekah Lambert is content marketing freelancer, Unashamedly Creative. Born with mild cerebral palsy and quite out about her anxiety and OCD, Rebekah has made it her mission to use her writing ability to call for an inclusive society. She spends time reminding Australian businesses & professionals that stress has a productivity cost. And she runs The Freelance Jungle, an online and offline social club designed to support Australian freelancers. When she’s not talking business, inclusion, mental health and stress reduction, she’s exploring the wonders of Wollongong and the Illawarra. You can connected with her via her Twitter handle @noshamecreative

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