By Andrew Houghton
When I was 20 years old, I experienced a life altering motorcycle accident, which resulted in paraplegia and the need to use a wheelchair for mobility. In the years that followed, I struggled with my disability until being introduced to adaptive sports and recreation. Adaptive sports helped me to regain my self-confidence and created an opportunity to “pay it forward.”
Motivating others via public speaking engagements became a daily endeavor. My efforts were featured in numerous newspaper and magazine articles and, as a result, I was invited to help produce a series of short video segments on adaptive sports and lifestyle. This quickly blossomed into the start of a new venture, Disability Inclusion Solutions, for clients seeking high quality, accessible multimedia production.
Years later, in order to expand my opportunities and have access to greater resources, I became a certified Disability-Owned Business Enterprise (DOBE) through Disability:IN, the leading national third-party certifier of disability-owned business enterprises.
Being a DOBE has created opportunities for direct dialogue with corporations interested in forming diverse supply chains, resulting in some fantastic professional relationships.
But while DOBE certification may open the door to supplier diversity channels, having core capabilities, scalability and established relationships is what lands contracts. Being a small business, I quickly realized the importance of collaborating with other small businesses, both to enhance my capabilities and to develop innovative services and products that meet the demands of prospective global customers.
For example, in 2013, I recognized an opportunity to expand our offerings and began the development of an enterprise-wide e-learning software solution to ensure employers at every level have the knowledge required to effectively communicate, interview, hire, accommodate, and engage with people with disabilities. The goal was to create a series of 15-minute disability inclusion modules that we could license to customers,
But after nearly three years of research and development, I realized we needed to expand our capabilities in order to offer the highest quality product to the broadest possible audience. Our ideal partner would have a strong brand with extensive reach across the corporate landscape and expertise in digital accessibility so our product would meet prevailing accessibility standards.
Fortunately, I knew another certified DOBE—longtime friend and colleague, Joyce Bender, founder and CEO of Bender Consulting Services, Inc.—who became our partner. In 2016, Disability Inclusion Solutions joined together with Bender Consulting Services to develop iDisability™, an enterprise-wide e-learning solution. iDisability™ provides 15-minute fully accessible vignettes that can be viewed across multiple devices, including laptops, tablets and smartphones. It’s very gratifying to be able to say that our partnership has already benefitted nearly 2.5 million users across a variety of professional industries.
The business case for employing people with disabilities has never been stronger, thanks in part to recent research by Accenture, in partnership with Disability:IN and the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD), that reaffirms the fact that companies benefit when they prioritize strategies that embrace disability inclusion.
I never imagined during the fragile aftermath of my accident that I would one day embrace my disability, have a family and be a small business owner. Building Disability Inclusion Solutions and partnering with other DOBEs allows me to advance disability inclusion, equality and belonging—all while growing the bottom line in my business.