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.
The Ion's accelerator program has pivoted to more prominately feature startups with resiliency solutions. Photo courtesy of The Ion

The Ion's accelerator program has taken the current COVID-19 outbreak as an opportunity to focus on resiliency. The Ion Smart and Resilient Cities Accelerator, as it's now known, will launch it's second cohort virtually at the end of the month.

"Resiliency has always been a core pillar of our accelerator — in my opinion, you really can't have a smart city unless you're a resilient city," Galib tells InnovationMap. "Language is so important to our culture, and we had not had that word in the accelerator, and so now we do."

The change is effective immediately and comes just ahead of the accelerator's second cohort, which will focus on air quality, water purification, and clean tech. Just like the first cohort, the selected startups will participate in a few months of programming — this time, all online — before entering into pilot programs with the city of Houston.

Later in this spring, the accelerator plans to call for remote education and online technologies. With schools closed, Galib says she's seen a need for tech optimization for both students and teachers.

"By harnessing smart technologies, cities become more resilient in the face of crises," says Gabriella Rowe, executive director of The Ion, in a news release. "The innovation of the Ion Smart & Resilient Cities Accelerator will empower and create the smart technology we need to keep our city's operations moving and our residents safe as we inevitably face sociological challenges and natural disasters. We are excited to play a role in improving our city's fabric and quality of life."

The first cohort resulted in a collective fifteen projects across nine startups. The program is backed by the city of Houston, Microsoft, Intel, and TXRX. The third cohort is expected to launch toward the end of 2020, and Galib says she's not sure what the focus will be yet.

"As we look toward the Ion's opening in January 2021, I look at the accelerator program and its capacity to accelerate entrepreneurship spirit," Galib says. "I truly see the next few months as a chance for us to double down on our efforts to find entrepreneurship everywhere in Houston so that we see every entrepreneur from all walks of life."