Editor’s Note: Brittany Dejean is the founder of AbleThrive – a webpage that collects, categorizes and makes available a wide variety of information that will help people worldwide with disabilities. “On the AbleThrive webpage we’re curating, writing and linking to articles and videos from a large network of organizations and companies,” Dejean explains. “We’re collecting information from all over the internet to give people with disabilities one place to go where they can learn how to live better lives from many different sources. We focus on topics impacting people with disabilities – sports, travel, relationships, care giving, parenting and basics – like living with emotional problems, getting your life on track when you’re first touched by a disability and learning basic skills like how to put on a shirt or a blouse. AbleThrive is on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and also sends out a newsletter every week.” The theme of AbleThrive is, “Together we all can redefine what it means to live well with a disability. We all deserve to thrive.”
Most of the articles and information that we gather come from other sources on the web for AbleThrive, but we do write some of the articles. I’m often asked, “Why did you decide to gather all this information and make it available for people with disabilities?”
My dad, Paul Martin, was paralyzed in a car accident when I was 12 years old. Our family was able to get our lives back on track after the accident. We had a lot of support, because we lived just outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and we were able to go to Magee Rehabilitation Hospital that had a great spinal cord injury program for people with spinal cord injuries. Even then making that transition from the moment my dad became paralyzed until we learned how to deal with our new normal took a long time for us.
Here’s a YouTube video that shares the story of my dad dancing for the first time in 17 years at my wedding:
My Big Reality Check About Disabilities Worldwide
When I was in college majoring in linguistics, I went to China in 2006 to further my study. While in China, I gravitated toward people with disabilities to see how they coped with and how they were able to recover from spinal cord injuries. I always felt connected to people with disabilities, because of family’s situation of having a loved one with a disability. In China, I met people who didn’t have the same financial resources that my family had, and I had a big reality check. Finally, I understood that the help and the support that my family received in the United States wasn’t the same way that people with disabilities were treated in other countries. I learned that people with disabilities in other countries rarely, if ever, had someone, some organization or some type of medical facility to help them rehabilitate their lives after they became disabled.
I was studying language and culture in China to earn my college degree. As part of my curriculum, I had a one month independent study project and could explore a topic of interest to me. My interest was a study to learn how people with disabilities lived in China. At that time, I really had no clue how blessed we were in the U. S. with the resources we had to help people with disabilities. I felt that the best way for me to get connected into a new culture was to choose people that I could emotionally connect to and relate to 8 years after my dad’s accident. I always had felt a certain closeness to people and families who had gone through the trauma that my family had experienced with my dad’s accident.
Giving People Options Other Than Life in Bed
I met a man at a rehab hospital in China who was paralyzed after he’d fallen out of a tree. He physically could move much more than my dad did, because my dad was paralyzed from his chest down and couldn’t move his fingers. This man was only paralyzed from his waist down. He could stand up, and he could use his hands and arms. Naively, I assumed that his life would get back on track like my dad’s life had. Since this man had more mobility than my dad, I thought when he went home, he should be in pretty good shape. But when the man left the hospital, he told me, “When I go home, I’ll spend the rest of my life in bed. That’s just what happens when you are paralyzed.”
When I realized the bleak future of this man with far more function than my dad had, that realization hit me really hard.
I began to think about what my life would have been like if my family had lived in a rural area in another country. My dad broke his neck at C6-7. He was able to re-establish his independence after the accident. He was an engineer, and he went back to the job that he had before he became injured. When I began to compare my dad’s life, the function that he had, and what he had been able to do – becoming independent, going to work and continuing to be able to work in a profession that he loved – to the life of the man in China who had much more function than my dad, yet would spend the rest of his life in a bed, I got really upset!
At that time, I really, really understood that not everyone had access to a great spinal cord hospital like our family did. Back then, my dad had received 5 months of rehab. Today most insurance only pays for 1 month of rehab. So today, even if a person can go to a rehab center, they won’t get as much rehabilitation as my dad received. I also realized that in this country some people were geographically isolated which made them face similar problems to what the man in China was experiencing. When I returned to this country, I continued to be impacted by the man in China.
While I was living in China, my host dad lost his leg. Every time my dad called from the United States, he was interested in talking to my host dad about his disability. Even though these two men didn’t have the same disability, they had an immediate understanding of each other’s lives. They had a connection, although I had to translate for both of them. From that experience, I gained a deeper understanding that no matter where you live, people from various countries and speaking different languages can learn a great deal from communicating with one another. I realized that the challenges that people with disabilities faced extended far across borders and geographic locations.
The Conception of AbleThrive
When I was in China, I thought that one day I would be able to use the internet to connect people with disabilities to each other around the world. Regardless of where they lived, people with disabilities faced the same problems and could learn from each other how to resolve those challenges. So, I knew that I wanted to try to use the internet not only to connect more people with disabilities to one another, but also to provide information that would be helpful and useful to people with disabilities around the globe. However, I had to finish school, and I had to get a job first.
Back then, there weren’t as many resources on the internet for people with disabilities as there are today.
Although a tremendous amount of information on the internet is in different places that can be beneficial to the disability community, there seems to be no one source where people can go to get directed to the information they want. So, 5 months ago, we started AbleThrive and began compiling information and resources on our webpage. Initially, our webpage was for people with disabilities in English speaking countries. We do have content from other countries in different languages. However, in our initial startup, we are only providing the information and resources in English. In the future, we would like to make all these resources available in many different languages.
We incorporated in June, 2014. On AbleThrive, we’re not saying that any form of disability is easy, and we’re not trying to tell anybody how they’re supposed to deal with their own personal disability. However, we want to make sure everyone is seen as a human being and has access to the resources to enable them to live the type of life they want to live. In the first 4 months, we’ve picked up 14,000 followers who have visited our site. On Facebook, we have 1,500 likes. So, we can see that we are having positive growth as more and more people learn what our website is, what we provide, and how they can use the information that’s available.
AbleThrive’s Vision to Become the Research Arm for Our Community
Our vision is that AbleThrive will provide a starting place for people with disabilities to find out about all the new innovations, breakthroughs and products that are being developed to help make their lives better. We’re trying to provide a site where people can learn more and find out about new research and development. Five years from now, we want to be the website for people with disabilities to use to find that specific information they’re looking for that will help them have better lives. We want to be the research arm of the community that’s disabled to find specific information quickly and easily.
We want to customize searches to enable people with disabilities to have an easier time finding the information they need.
My husband Roman built AbleThrive’s website. He’s an engineer and understands technology more than I do. I realized that using the internet and working with search engine technology could help us find more information for people with disabilities and make their searches much quicker and easier to reach that information. Now, we have a content manager, and I’ve been researching and building our team. We’ve partnered with people in different countries to help gather the information that we share. For instance, when you look at the partnering section of our webpage, you’ll see content from people from four different countries. Like our partners in Singapore, people in these other countries speak and write in English. Even though the information is being generated in a different country, you’ll still be able to read it and benefit from it.
I’ve lived in several different countries, and we try to build relationships in those foreign countries to be able to contribute and use the information, stories, research and product development that we’re posting on our webpage. We’re focusing on paralysis now, but our goal is to expand into other areas of people with disabilities – first through the physical spectrum and then the intellectual spectrum.
At the moment of this interview, I’m in France, which is my husband’s home country. We’ll be in France for the holidays. Then, I return to Singapore to transition with the team that’s helping us there. I’ll be back in the States in February. The good news about the internet is that regardless of what country I happen to be living in, we still can gather information and connect people through our website. So, check us out a www.ablethrive.com, and watch us as we grow.
Right now, we have more than 60 internet sites that we source for information, and we hope to grow the number of organizations and websites that we search to make more information available to more people with disabilities around the world.
About the Author:
John E. Phillips For the last 12 years, John E. Phillips of Vestavia, Alabama, has been a professional blogger for major companies, corporations and tourism associations throughout the nation. During his 24 years as Outdoor Editor for “The Birmingham Post-Herald” newspaper, he published more than 7,000 newspaper columns and sold more than 100,000 of his photos to newspapers, magazines and internet sites. He also hosted a radio show that was syndicated at 27 radio stations; created, wrote and sold a syndicated newspaper column that ran in 38 newspapers for more than a decade; and wrote and sold more than 30 books. Learn more at www.johninthewild.com.