Spotlight on: AbleThrive
By Guest Blogger Brittany Déjean, Founder and Executive Director,AbleThrive
It took me eight years to realize that luck had played a huge part in my family’s ability to adapt and live well after my dad broke his neck in a car accident. In a rehabilitation hospital in southwest China, I was talking to a man who had broken his back. He had full upper mobility and was even able to bear weight, as I saw when I met him. A quick assessment of his physical mobility led me to believe he’d be fine in his life after the hospital. At that point, my dad was already living independently, driving and working full-time as an engineer with much less mobility, paralyzed from the chest down and unable to move his fingers. To me, there was nothing keeping this man from getting his life back on track too.
But to him, his life as he knew it was over. “When I get home, I’ll spend the rest of my life in bed.” With his inaccessible environment and reduced mobility, he resigned himself to a bleak future without question. I was taken aback. It was the first time I was forced to look at my family’s situation from an objective perspective. Why didn’t we give up on an active and meaningful life for my dad and our family?
When my dad was injured, we happened to live an hour away from one of the top 12 spinal cord injury hospitals in the United States. We quickly met others in our situation who were years ahead of us, showing us what was possible by living their own lives and guiding us on our own journey. My dad learned how to hold a fork without adaptive equipment from another quadriplegic there. He learned he could drive because someone like him wheeled into the rehab gym with car keys around his neck.
We were very, very lucky.
What would’ve happened to us if we didn’t have access to a top hospital or mentors? I couldn’t shake the realization that there were families like mine who had no idea that a meaningful life was possible.
As I explored the lives of people with different disabilities, I realized this issue was not limited to spinal cord injury. Whether a disability is acquired or someone is born with it, families are left to figure everything out on their own. Some make it work, some pioneer past any and all barriers and some are lucky enough to know the right people. However, a significant number of families continue to assume they have no future and resign themselves to a sub-par existence.
How can you blame these assumptions when you have never been exposed to any alternative? Everyone needs access to resources like my family had. It can’t come down to luck of circumstance.
This is why I started AbleThrive, a one-stop platform where people are exposed to their potential rather than their limitations. We curate, organize and deliver resources about living well with a disability from a growing network of blogs, organizations, hospitals and companies around the world so families can find life-changing support without having to scour Google. We centralize and share the incredible work of our partners with new networks, maximizing the reach and impact of their resources, while simplifying access for families.
So many are isolated and forced to adapt their lives starting from zero, learning through trial and error. Imagine a place to go to be exposed to thousands of people in similar situations around the world with the click of a mouse. This is our vision.
We launched our pilot website featuring articles and videos about living well for families facing paralysis in August 2015, reaching over 40,000 people around the world. Our ally network has grown to include 109 blogs, organizations, hospitals and companies in nine countries and we continue to expand our outreach efforts. Now, we are carrying that momentum into developing a new platform this summer to improve on our pilot and build in the functionality to enable a user-friendly, customized experience. If Netflix can tell me what movie to watch next, there’s no reason why families facing a disability are still figuring everything out on their own.
On the ground, we launched in Singapore in February, where we tell stories of people with disabilities and host events to unite stakeholders and strengthen the local community. We also consult companies on including disability as a part of the diversity dialog and on how to engage with people with disabilities for a more inclusive society. We aim to grow city by city to spread AbleThrive around the world and strengthen our global platform.
Our goal is not only to empower individuals to live their lives on their own terms, but also to maximize collaboration in the sector and accelerate learning. We also humanize and normalize disability as a part of the human experience to foster a more inclusive society.
Luck is not enough. It’s time for there to be a reliable pathway to living well with a disability.
Whether you join us as an ally or bring AbleThrive to your city, together we can ensure that disability is acknowleged and included, and that people have access to the resources they need to thrive. Let’s make it happen!
Be sure to connect to AbleThrive to join us our journey.
About the Guest Blogger
Brittany Déjean is founder and executive director of AbleThrive, a social enterprise with a one-stop platform of curated resources for living well with a disability and an inclusion consultancy service. Brittany’s dad was paralyzed in a car accident when she was 12 years old and she saw first hand that it’s possible to live well with a disability and has dedicated her life to spreading that message. A 2008 Harvard University graduate, Brittany also worked with disability communities in 5 countries, giving her a sense of the common issues across geographic areas. Brittany specializes in removing the fear and discomfort that are barriers to inclusion and focuses on how to engage with people with disabilities as human beings.