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DEI Month: Meet Visitable

Produced by The Startup Team

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion are three pillars of value that the modern business needs to succeed. Throughout October, Startup Grind is hosting DEI Month presented with SVB and supported by Comcast NBCUniversal LIFT Labs; 31-days of virtual + in-person celebrations to highlight the importance of these values. During this time, we will be holding our DEI Summit, as well as publishing exclusive features centered around diverse and innovative startups within our community.

To kick off this exciting initiative, we are honored to feature an incredibly exceptional, trailblazing startup working to provide accessibility for those with disabilities. Visitable is a training certification program to foreground disability inclusion. Their mission to enable a better experience for customers and visitors with mobility challenges is a starting point for something far greater. Founder Joe Jamison has a vision of hope for a more inclusive and diversity-rich society, beneficial for everyone.

We were privileged to catch up with Joe and discuss the future of his company, what he hopes to achieve, as well as advice for fellow founders.

Visibility for those with disabilities is a massive problem, and sometimes it can feel too big to tackle. What do you wish more people, on a global scale, were more aware of when it comes to folks with disabilities?

Joe: I think of it as a loop of inaccessibility that I like to break up. Before the ADA, buildings were built without any clear, visible standards to provide for those with a disability. Folks with disabilities weren’t able to access these buildings so they weren’t seen in public, nor brought into the design process to ensure their concerns were involved in these conversations.

This means the inaccessibility continues, and disabled people are not being seen in spaces they can’t access. Business owners then question why they need accessibility because they’ve never received a complaint, nor seen anyone struggle to access their business. That’s because it’s not accessible, so disabled people end up going where they already know they can, rather than going out and trying somewhere new.

“To close this loop, it starts with being able to engage with feedback from people with disabilities. Bring them all to the table, a whole group of people from all different backgrounds, abilities, ages, races, sexual orientations, everything; engage with everyone’s perspective. That’s the root of it — involving everyone’s opinion, and making sure everyone has a voice.” — Joe Jamison, Visitable

It’s easy to feel powerless in a world where progress is met with so much pushback. What else can we be doing about this?

Joe: The first step is always education. Education, awareness, and training are absolutely crucial. I think that’s where we really segmented ourselves. People don’t necessarily know what they might need, so bringing diverse people to the table to have these conversations changes the outcome. This is also an opportunity to become more educated on what the needs are and why. This makes you more aware, implementing the correct changes and ensuring you can train your employees and customer-facing assets the first time.

The past two years have been a global roller coaster, and no one seems to know when we will return to a sense of “normalcy.” How have you been able to successfully maintain a business during such turbulence with the COVID-19 pandemic?

Joe: It’s been tough for sure, when COVID first hit, businesses were really risk-averse and weren’t necessarily able to implement anything new. We then shifted our focus directly to people with disabilities, getting more in touch with that side of our business model. To find our target market, I started looking at the product, market fit, and research stage to find different types of customers that really value disability inclusion and are willing to take those next steps.

We looked for those that weren’t impacted as much by the uncertainty of the pandemic — the public sector. Moving towards B2G instead of solely B2B, we began reaching out to local governments’ parks and recreation departments. Parks were doing so well during this time, so why not help them be as inclusive as possible? Since then, we’ve worked with three government agencies so far, then expanding to universities, as well as public school systems.

Growth is crucially important for any early startup to thrive. Where do you see yourself and your company going in this next life chapter?

Joe: Listening to the market is going to determine the future of this, as it should with any venture. This is creating an easy way for people to start championing disability inclusion, and showing organizations how to go about that in a proactive and scalable method. Currently, that doesn’t exist, but hopefully, Visitable can create

There are positive financial and economic benefits to being inclusive. I hope we can achieve positive motivation in the marketplace, nationwide. Maybe even working with the national government one day, but working with bigger corporations, and spreading a wider reach.

There is clearly a deep-rooted personal investment in the work Visitable is doing. What do you want to share about your personal experience starting this company and bringing it to where it is today?

Joe: After graduating from UVA in 2019, I took the capstone course that begged the question: “what are you passionate about?” I thought about my father, who has been in a wheelchair my entire life. That’s where my passion manifested. I grew up around my dad, experiencing the same barriers that he was experiencing on a daily, weekly, and yearly basis. I immediately knew I wanted to do something about it, so I honed in on two main problems. The first being the natural gap that exists between what is minimally ADA compliant and what is actually accessible for people with disabilities.

There are three shortcomings around legislation; the enforcement system is based mostly off complaints, which leads to a reactive and punitive approach to accessibility. This means businesses, both public and private, are really only thinking about accessibility when a new facility is being built, an old facility is being renovated, or an official complaint was filed. A lot of times, none of those three things happen, unless you’re a bigger organization. It may never happen if you’re a smaller county or smaller organization.

The second would be the language of the ADA. It’s almost exclusively built for lawyers and can be extremely confusing. The last shortcoming would be things that aren’t even in the ADA but are important for those with disabilities. On the human side of things, how to interact with someone who has a disability, what verbiage is out of date; there’s physical guidelines as well, and there’s not much transparency on how to create a good user experience.

I’ve heard my dad call ahead to different facilities, talking to 5–6 people every time, then ending up just going where we know we can. I knew there just has to be a better way, and it doesn’t need to be inaccurate, inefficient, tedious, and uncomfortable. In addition to all of this, there’s significant mistreatment of those with disabilities. Visitable hopes to improve and create a considerate, proactive, and positive approach to accessibility. We started with mobility and now are hoping to include all disabilities.

Change on a broader scale can seem ominous and daunting. Do you foresee yourself working to create change at the base level and submit updated legislation around ADA compliance?

Joe: I don’t know if that’s my calling per se, so I’m not necessarily in a position to have an impact on that. However, we are hoping to begin partnering with an agency working for advocacy on that. For example, we are having conversations with The National Patient Advocate Foundation, and they are working with Congress to advocate for patients. Maybe through that partnership, we can get something done. At its core, Visitable is working on using its current platform to spread a wider reach. I think it would have more of an indirect impact.

Getting started can feel impossible and is said to be the hardest part of opening a business.

Joe started out thinking of his father, and since then he’s had the opportunity to create something that could transform the lives of thousands of people. We all start somewhere, and the key to success is driving forward despite inevitable obstacles. Visitable is only continuing to grow, and in the future, could impact lives nationwide.

Did you enjoy this article? Don’t fret! There are many more to come. For DEI Month, we will be posting informative articles highlighting the incredible triumphs from startups working toward a more equitable and inclusive society. Don’t forget to join our DEI Summit, register today!

Want to be featured yourself? Reach out to us!

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