An Unexpected Founder

Jessica Smith
Jun 22, 2016 · 3 min read

I didn’t set out on this journey to become a founder.

I had just completed my Master of Applied Linguistics and knew that disability advocacy was my future. At the time I thought this would take the form of a research degree combining Linguistics and Disability Studies. I was collecting a corpus, a few documents aimed at proving there was thesis potential, when I found a brief from Transport for New South Wales asking for apps that would improve the public transport experience for people with disability (PWDs). I printed the brief and filed it away with all the other documents in my potential corpus.

Over the next few days the brief sat at the edge of my conscience, gently nagging at my thoughts. I found myself wondering about the apps that would be put forward and if they would be helpful for someone like me — a person with an invisible disability — or if they would make a lot of assumptions based on stereotypes of disability. I wondered if any of the teams submitting apps would have a member with a disability. I started to think about what kind of app would help me start using public transport.

Ideas about what could be began making loose connections and then …


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I thought to myself, why don’t I submit something? It made sense. I knew disability, I had lived-experience and an academic background with a disability studies focus. I had years of experience in the start-up world, mostly helping others out by facilitating hack days and being a shoulder to cry on when great ideas met major roadblocks and businesses failed. Best of all, I had brilliant technical knowledge at my fingertips in the form of my soon to be technical co-founder, Steve.

I convinced Steve to give up a weekend to help me map out my ideas. I was the use-case: a PWD who could walk short distances, climb a few stairs, who didn’t use public transport because I could never really trust if an accessible station was actually accessible for me. I was afraid of public transport, I’d had such terrible experiences that the last time I took a train on my own I was 12. I wanted to use public transport. I wanted to know what it was like to spontaneously plan a trip and not have to worry about where to park the car. I wanted to be able to work in the city. I wanted to do all of the things so many people took for granted but I had never been able to do.

Steve and I hacked together a demo; walls covered in post-it notes spelling out our ideas and use cases. I undertook weeks of research to discover everything I could about existing accessible transport and ways to improve it. We submitted our idea. We didn’t expect to hear back.

We got through round 1. We got through round 2. We got through round 3.

We got seed funding.

And now we have abilio — a trip planner built on the understanding that disability is diverse. We have a brand and an amazing team of people who really care about what we’re doing.

It seems a little odd to say this about an app but abilio has made a significant change in my life. I take public transport — willingly. abilio knows I walk slowly, it knows how tiring hills can be and kindly routes me around as many as it can. For the first time in my life I know what spontaneity feels like. It’s incredible. abilio has proven to me that a good idea mixed with a lot of passion can become a reality. I believe Team abilio can change the world.

abilio Making the world accessible

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