NEW HAVEN, Conn. — Something as basic as taking a child with a disability for a haircut can be complicated and challenging.

But a mom-founded company looking to make life better for those with disabilities and their families has begun a pilot program in an online marketplace that highlights businesses who go the extra mile to accommodate those with special needs, whether it’s a physical or other type of disability.

The initiative is led by Sarah Spear, founder & CEO of Empowered Together and mother of a 10-year-old who because of a rare genetic disorder has multiple disabilities.

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Spear said Empowered Together began as a support group and among the most popular topics was recommendations for products, services and providers.

The pilot program was launched recently in New Haven and funded through a grant from The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven.

Businesses register at no charge and marketplace users can read and leave reviews at no charge.

Spear said she’s found a dentist for her daughter on the site.

“We’re using a process we humans use every day,” Spear said of the recommendation steps.

For those with a mobility disability, listings may describe accessibility, answering questions such as, “Is there a ramp? How wide is the walkway?” she said.

“Empowered Together is excited about building inclusion in our community,” she said.

People with disabilities have $200 billion in purchasing power in the United States, Spear said, making them a “powerful economic driver.”

Greg Ledovsky, who along with John Brehon owns The Devil’s Gear Bike Shop in New Haven said although their business is a bicycle and skateboarding shop, they also fix and maintain wheelchairs, walkers, scooters and other mobility devices.

He said the marketplace allows people with disabilities to find businesses and services more easily putting them in one virtual location.

“As a business, this also gives us a great opportunity for exposure to people who may not have thought of coming to us before,” Ledovsky said. “We have the ability to help and support our community, and are grateful to do so.”

Laurie Cantwell, who has a son, 18, with multiple disabilities, experimented on the site while it was in the design phase and said it’s user-friendly and useful, especially for parents of young children starting to negotiate the special needs world.

Cantwell said it can be a challenge even finding a hair stylist for a child with a disability, in part because of sensory issues.

“It’s a good tool,” she said.

All types of businesses are reviewed on the marketplace, including retail, restaurants, entertainment and health care providers.

The way the company makes money is through special sponsorships from businesses, businesses obtaining an accessibility report from Empowered Together and through businesses making accessibility upgrades through the company.

Spear said they chose New Haven for the pilot because there are some 99,000 in Greater New Haven with a disability and the city has a strong base of disability rights groups.

Spear said 85% of people with a disability say their customer experiences are failures and “we’re out to change that by identifying businesses where people with disabilities will have an excellent customer experience.”

© 2024 Hartford Courant
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

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