Startups & Disability: Unlikely Bedfellows!
Every day I wake up, and it’s there. Every night before I go to sleep, it’s the last thing I see! My wheelchair. I am confined to a wheelchair, and this evolution of me brought with it not only mobility issues, but also an innumerable amount of other issues that affect life in ways unimaginable to anyone who is able-bodied. The thing is — while being disabled is difficult, to say the least, there are a huge amount of things that are positive about my now differently-abled life. There are issues imposed on me and others who are ably different that have helped me while starting my own startups or working with startups at HAX.
Being differently-abled does not just affect your ability to get around — there are other issues that affect your everyday life. Managing with a disability means that discipline is a must. You do not get away with it if you do not impose this discipline. You will pay the price. This is 24/7, and it never lets up as long as you are disabled. You are also aware of how your own lack of discipline can adversely affect others. Your brain goes through a rewiring phase and becomes constantly and acutely aware of the risks that come with lack of discipline.
The same rewiring helps you through the tough days as a startup. The days that you have sent a hundred emails and still have to send another, because you know that this one will leave you exposed if not done. You think about your customers and how you make sure they are happy on a daily basis even when things go wrong. You know if you don’t hold this discipline, you will face the consequences!
Planning and Execution.
Disability requires planning like nothing else. If you need to do anything that happens to be outside of regular routine, then it requires careful meticulous planning with one eye on an alternative plan if things go wrong. This helps to mitigate risk of problems further down the road and gives peace of mind when you know you have an alternative you can quickly change to. This again has been applicable to being involved with startups. Being able to plan and execute and then pivot if necessary to achieve a desired result does not come easy. Enforced planning has given me an opportunity to be able to do this on a number of occasions with my own startups and with others I help. Planning also helps sharpen the ability to predict and preempt issues that may occur as a result of unforeseen circumstances outside of your control. Because the world we live in is always changing, being able to have a degree of seeing into the future or understanding at least what might happen in the near future helps with planning.
In my own case, having acquired my disability there was an inflection point that got me past the idea that all was lost. That was the opportunity to do something about it. In every startup you have to take every opportunity that arises. While others have to use some method to make them memorable in people’s minds, I know very few people will forget the guy in the wheelchair when I send an email to follow up on a conversation. This alone has given me opportunities that would not normally arise. In the speed of a movement, I lost a career, a girlfriend, independence, and everything I knew as life ceased to exist. But I was given a second shot when it became apparent that my new conditions enabled me to think differently. I have seen life as an able-bodied person, and it’s hard too because at any given point it’s the relativity of the situation you are in that can be the reason that life is hard. I have also seen it through disability, and now I have a unique insight into how a decision on an idea or design will affect a larger group of people. At over a billion people, the disabled are the biggest minority group in the world, and anyone can end up in this group in an instant. The biggest part of that group is the elderly. We all end up there if we are lucky enough to live long enough. Being disabled has put me in a unique position of understanding how that ever-increasing group is affected by what we do today. That offers opportunities to have an impact on the world. It may sound ridiculous, but sometimes I view my current condition as being in the right place at the right time, to seize the opportunity to make an impact particularly because of how our world is changing. I have been given this rare opportunity because of my disability.
I also get to park in disabled parking spaces and go to the head of queues in airports.
The Same Rules Don’t Apply.
Being in a startup as a disabled person means the same rules do not apply in a lot of circumstances. With the capabilities we are offered today due to new technologies and the connected world we live in, being productive is not dictated by regular 9 to 5 workdays. While an individual may be limited by their disability to carry out regular employment, being in a startup means that you can work at your pace, and you can do the work in line with your abilities. This applies to not only disabled people, but also everyone involved in a startup. Sure there will always be difficulties and problems, but this applies to anyone. New advances in technology will continue to level this playing field further because it will enable many more people with disabilities to be able to contribute. The insight of people in these unique positions will benefit everyone regardless of ability.
Until next time, don’t park in my spot!
Originally published at sosv.com on July 26, 2016.