For all abilities

Houston entrepreneur launches software to support workers with disabilities

Betsy Furler founded For All Abilities to use technology to support employees with disabilities. Photo courtesy of For All Abilities

Only around 20 percent of persons with a disability were employed in 2018, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics. By contrast, the employment-population ratio for people without a disability was 65.9 percent. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that overall 26 percent of adults in the U.S. have a diagnosed and declared disability.

For All Abilities, a Houston-based software company aims to help businesses support employees with ADHD, Dyslexia, learning differences, and Autism. The company, which launched in April 2019, was founded by Betsy Furler, who specializes in workplace disability issues. Furler created a strengths, needs, and preferences assessment to uncover the needs and preferences of employees to prescribe specific, individualized, inexpensive, and easy-to-use support.

"I developed the assessment based on my 27 years of clinical experience as a speech pathologist and accommodations consultant, interviews with people with ADHD, Dyslexia, learning differences and Autism, HR professionals, and a corporate interior designer, as well as research on workplace accommodation and disability issues," says Furler.

Furler tells InnovationMap that the National Center for Education Statistics data point shows that 21 percent or one in five adults in the U.S. have low English literacy skills, meaning difficulty understanding, evaluating, using, or engaging with written texts. These individuals might struggle to compare and contrast, paraphrase, or make low-level inferences, and are often not diagnosed with a disability.

For All Abilities supplies every employee with a report summarizing their unique strengths and preferences.

"We now have a software solution that assesses all employees for their strengths, needs and preferences in the workplace," Furler tells InnovationMap. "If someone needs accommodations for a disability, we prescribe those. If they don't, they receive a written report of their strengths and preferences."

Following more than two decades of experience in the speech pathology field, Furler pivoted into consulting, helping organizations navigate the intersection between business and disabilities through workplace accommodations. Furler tells InnovationMap that she assists HR and managers to support employees with disabilities with the reasonable accommodations that the ADA requires.

"The consulting was very easy for me and I realized there had to be an easier and less expensive way to get more people the support they need at work, says Furler. "I came up with the idea to use software, automation and eventually machine learning to solve this problem."

Furler began launching pilots for the software this January, followed by a website launch in February. Furler tells InnovationMap that about 170 people have used the software so far with a 77 percent completion rate. For All Abilities is currently being tested by Career Gear Houston and Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas, among other companies during this pilot phase.

The assessment poses a number of questions, including: 'Do you use a tablet at work?,' 'Do you have trouble with your memory?,' and 'What is your biggest struggle at work?' The focus is on distractions, workspace preferences, physical difficulties, productivity, public speaking, memory, and technology use.

Recommendations following the assessment range from helpful applications that employees can use on their phone or computers or specialized software to larger monitors and the relocation of a desk or seating area.

Furler's goal for For All Abilities is that the software would be used nationwide and become a standard tool used by companies. Furler tells InnovationMap that she is currently working to build collaborations with corporations in Houston as results from the pilot come in over the next months.

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Auburn University's SwiftSku took first place in this year's virtually held Rice Business Plan Competition, but it was the second place company that went home with over half a million in cash and investment prizes. Photo via rice.edu

In its 21st year, the Rice Business Plan Competition hosted 54 student-founded startups from all over the world — its largest batch of companies to date — and doled out over $1.4 million in cash and investment prizes at the week-long virtual competition.

RBPC, which is put on by the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship, took place Tuesday, April 6, to Friday, April 9 this year. Just like 2020, RBPC was virtually held. The competition announced the 54 participating startups last month, and coordinated the annual elevator pitches, a semi-finals round, wildcard round and live final pitches. The contestants also received virtual networking and mentoring.

Earlier this week, Rice Alliance announced the seven student-led startups that then competed in the finals. From this pack, the judges awarded the top prizes. Here's how the finalists placed and what won:

  • SwiftSku from Auburn University, point of sales technology for convenience stores that allows for real time analytics, won first place and claimed the $350,000 grand prize from Goose Capital. The company also won the $50,000 Business Angel Minority Association Prize, the $500 Best Digital Elevator Pitch Prize from Mercury Fund, and the $500 Third Place Anbarci Family People's Choice prize, bringing the company's grand total in cash and investment prizes to $401,000. The company also won the CFO Consulting Prize, a $25,000 in-kind award.
  • AgZen from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a pesticide alternative spray and formulation technology company, won the second place $100,000 investment prize (awarded by Finger Interests, Anderson Family Fund, Greg Novak, and Tracy Druce). The startup also won a $300,000 Owl Investment Prize, the $100,000 Houston Angel Network Prize, the $500 Best Energy Elevator Pitch Prize from Mercury Fund, and the $1,500 Third Place Anbarci Family People's Choice prize, bringing the company's grand total in cash and investment prizes to $502,000. The company also won the $30,000 in-kind Polsinelli Energy Prize.
  • FibreCoat GmbH from RWTH Aachen University, a startup with patented spinning technology for the production of inexpensive high-performance composite fibers, won the third place $50,000 investment prize (also awarded by Finger Interests, Anderson Family Fund, Greg Novak, and Tracy Druce). The company also won the $100,000 TiE Houston Angels Prize and the $500 Best Hard Tech Elevator Pitch Prize from Mercury Fund, bringing the company's grand total in cash and investment prizes to $150,500.
  • Candelytics from Harvard University, a startup building the digital infrastructure for 3-D data, won the fourth place $5,000 prize.
  • OYA FEMTECH Apparel from UCLA, an athletic wear company that designs feminine health-focused clothing, won the fifth place $5,000 prize. The company also won the $5,000 Eagle Investors Prize, the $25,000 Urban Capital Network Prize, and the $1,000 Second Place Anbarci Family People's Choice prize, bringing the company's grand total in cash and investment prizes to $36,000.
  • LFAnt Medical from McGill University , an innovative and tech-backed STI testing company, won the sixth place $5,000 prize and the $20,000 Johnson and Johnson Innovation Prize, bringing the company's grand total in cash and investment prizes to $25,000.
  • SimpL from the University of Pittsburgh, an AI-backed fitness software company, won the seventh place $5,000 prize. The company also won the $25,000 Spirit of Entrepreneurship Prize from the Pearland Economic Development Corp., bringing the company's grand total in cash and investment prizes to $30,000.

Some of the competition's participating startups outside of the seven finalists won monetary and in-kind prizes. Here's a list of those.

  • Mercury Fund's Elevator Pitch Prizes also included:
    • Best Life Science $500 Prize to Blue Comet Medical Solutions from Northwestern University
    • Best Consumer $500 Prize to EasyFlo from the University of New Mexico
    • Best Overall $1,000 prize to Anthro Energy from Stanford University
  • The Palo Alto Software Outstanding LivePlan Pitch $3,000 Prize went to LiRA Inc. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • The OFW Law FDA Regulatory Strategy Prize, a $20,000 in-kind award went to Paldara Inc. from Oklahoma State University.
  • The Silver Fox Mentoring Prize, which included $20,000 in kind prizes to three winners selected Ai-Ris from Texas A&M University, BruxAway from the University of Texas, and Karkinex from Rice University as recipients.
  • The first, second, and third place winners also each received the legal service prize from Baker Botts for a total of $20,000 in-kind award.
  • The Courageous Women Entrepreneurship Prize from nCourage — a $50,000 investment prize — went to Shelly Xu Design from Harvard University.
  • The SWPDC Pediatric Device Prize — usually a $50,000 investment divided its prize to two winners to receive $25,000 each
    • Blue Comet Medical Solutions from Northwestern University
    • Neurava from Purdue University
  • TMC Innovation Healthcare Prize awarded a $100,000 investment prize and admission into its accelerator to ArchGuard from Duke University
  • The Artemis Fund awarded its $100,000 investment prize to Kit Switch from Stanford University
The awards program concluded with a plan to host the 22nd annual awards in 2022 in person.

If you missed the virtual programming, each event was hosted live on YouTube and the videos are now available on the Rice Alliance's page.

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