Digital Disruption is driving real world outcomes for people with disabilities.
There is a view from beyond the world of disability services that appliances to assist with daily living is a static space;
a wheelchair is a wheelchair after all. The NDIS New World Disability in the 21st Century conference in Brisbane showed that this thinking is out-of-date. As we have seen in other areas of service delivery such as hotels, taxis and graphic design, consumers and service providers are now connecting directly. Wth 22 billion dollars of funding for the National Disability Insurance Scheme on offer, a market opportunity has been created which simply did not exist previously. As the scheme moves forward the potential for innovation is vast and has already been realised by some entrepreneurs who we were lucky enough to sit with at the conference. The first was Johan from AbilityMate
Johan Du Plessis has had a diverse career, both leading start-ups and working as a carer in the disability sector. Johan has partnered with Mel Fuller who spent four years working as a designer with a strong interest in the potential of 3D printing. Working together Johan and Mel have developed a new way to deliver disability appliances. AbilityMate provides an online service which facilitates connection between consumers, designers/makers and producers. Ability Mate’s online environment allows consumers to raise a challenge, which a maker then takes on. Once the design is finished it can be printed locally by a producer on a 3D printer. At its core, AbilityMate’s entire approach is taking the open source paradigm and applying it to the challenge of assistive devices for people with disabilities. For instance the traditional cost of a switch controller is over $490, while one created through the open source approach can cost as little as $90.
What separates AbilityMate from a majority of shared economy operators is the use of multiple models in a single approach. By connecting consumers and makers, AbilityMate removes the traditional middleman and increases design flexibility. Through linking makers to producers, AbilityMate disrupts the traditional manufacturing and logistics chains. These paired disruptions offer real benefits to a person with a disability by:
- customising solutions to the individual need of the consumer,
- delivering a solution at a competitive price,
- reducing the time taken to a quarter of usual development time, and
- empowering makers and producers from within the disability community.
Ultimately like all good sharing economies the consumer is placed at the centre of the experience.
As with any innovation there are significant challenges. The disability appliance ecosystem is large and is comprised of existing makers, producers and consumers. So how are the new and the old approaches to be integrated? Johan and Mel are keen to ensure that their approach is seen as complimentary to the existing ecosystem. The deep expertise in the existing ecosystem is a major potential resource for AbilityMate. In return, AbilityMate offers a new way of connecting to consumers and providing individual solutions.
Aviva Beecher Kirk has a background in social work and actively teaches in the space. Her co-founder Jenna Moffat has been working in the social service delivery space for several years. Both were deeply moved by the NDIS’s underpinning commitment to choice and control. They have translated this thinking into a focus on the consumer. Their service rating site Clickability aims to drive a better consumer experience through awareness and engagement. The Clickabiltiy website allows consumers to search for services, rate the experience and provide feedback. Service provider’s information is available free of charge to consumers and the information is sourced from NDIS provider listings. Providers receive free advertising of their services on the website. The value add service available to providers who pay a registration fee includes:
- access to customer insights,
- ability to provide responses to feedback, and
- access to customer query information allowing the identification of emerging business opportunities.
Evidence from similar rating sites show that capturing consumer feedback can significantly improve service delivery. Trip Advisor is perhaps the most well-known of these services and like Clickability, focuses on the needs of the consumer.
Similar to rating services in other industries, Clickability will raise complexities for existing service providers. Providers may find the exposure of their services confronting, however, many providers will embrace the new model, recognising the potential value of connecting with consumers. A small number of providers may reject the service exposure out of fear. A very small number will be tempted to influence the rating system in their favour. The trust that consumers have in a site such as Clickability will depend on the adoption by providers of the new shared economy model.
How government responds to sharing economy models is critical to the success or failure of the new economy. Like Uber and AirBnB before it, services like AbilityMate and Clickability offer a regulatory challenge to government. Many disability appliances are regulated by organisations like the Therapeutic Goods Administration. Regulatory organisations will struggle to keep up with the change in the market if they continue to use existing models. The NDIA shows that by embracing change and supporting the work of innovators, solutions to this challenge can be found. Uber and AirBnB have been successful by shifting the power from the producers to the consumers – from hotels and taxis to the traveller. For the disability sector, services like AbilityMate and Clickability will have the same impact in an industry that has never experienced this before. The new paradigm for service and appliance delivery is already here. It is those who embrace the change both within government and in the broader service delivery network who will thrive.