By disabled people for disabled people: the startup filling a health gap

Well Adapt is empowering those dealing with chronic pain and disabilities with the agency and acknowledgment health systems are often unable to provide.

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For most of us, if we suffer from an illness, we’ll go to the GP, get a prescription, and nurse ourselves back to health.

That’s not the case for everyone. According to The King’s Fund, about 15 million people in England suffer from a chronic illness. The equation is no longer as linear as illness to medication to cure.

Those dealing with neurodivergent and long-term conditions have to face continuous contact with the health system, often dealing with relentless cycles of waiting, disappointment and isolation.

Well Adapt wanted to change this reality. Founded by Georgia Bondy in 2022, the platform features mindfulness, physical exercises, and community knowledge shared by disabled people for disabled people.

Through these resources, Well Adapt seeks to teach users emotional resilience against symptom flare ups and techniques to deal with chronic illnesses on a day to day basis.

Adapting to the chronic illness health service gap

Disabled people account for 19% of the population yet most websites and apps for mental and physical health lack basic accessibility features such as closed captions or content specified to issue disability or chronic health conditions.

“Pain meds are a bit of medication that can take the edge off but something that I don’t think our healthcare system really handles very well,” explains Bondy, who is dealing with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome and chronic pain herself.

“They don’t teach a person to live with that health condition in a way that makes their life fulfilling and that they’re still enjoying their days,” she continues.

1 in 5 working adults have a working disability, which makes the lack of that advice even more pressing as it creates inequality across the workforce.

Chronic illness is not something novel. What is atemporal is the fact that those enduring long-term diseases have continued to battle against a health system that rarely offers specialised advice that gives users the resources they need to live a relatively normal life.

“The whole doctor-patient model tends to conclude that only specialists or those with five to ten years of training have anything useful to share with people with chronic disabilities,” explains Bondy.

She stresses that those that are sick have equally useful advice to share. That’s why Well Adapt’s community knowledge and advice is founded on lived experiences.

“There’s been lots of people trying to solve issues for chronically ill people but they tend to come from the outside rather than from within the community,” she reveals.

From social media to social impact

Bondy’s journey with Well Adapt started on Instagram. She started by posting videos on how she was dealing with her disability on a daily basis and showing her disappointment from not being able to socialise because venues weren’t accessible.

Sharing her personal journey became the foundation for a close-knitted online community of others facing a similar situation.

“On social media you usually focus on likes and comments but I got a lot of personal messages or people coming to me in person to say thank you and to talk about the fact that those issues are often the hardest part of a chronic health condition,” she reminisces.

Understanding that there was high demand for the relatability and the knowledge of how to deal with a long term condition pushed Bondy to found Well Adapt.

“What social media does nicely is that you can share that kind of vulnerability from the start and it’s those bits of bonding that I think really helped build a community,” she stresses.

Now that her main focus is Well Adapt, it’s been tricky balancing posting personal stories with pitching her services to the disabled community.

“There’s a bit of clash when it comes to business versus being open and honest and vulnerable and worrying that they don’t tend to merge together that well in people’s minds,” she reveals.

Despite the learning curve, Bondy has mastered the right balancing act. Now, she focuses on showcasing the rationale behind each product and being transparent about how each service is based on the lived experience of someone with chronic illness who found that technique useful.

Battling ableist stereotypes

Although the reception by the disabled community to Well Adapt has been undoubtedly positive, Bondy reveals that she’s often faced difficulties with investors’ biases.

“I’ve pitched to investors where they’ve said that disabled people don’t have any money, how are you going to sell that product?,” she recalls.

Statistics debunk this stereotype. The spending power of disabled people amounts to £274 billion and it’s estimated that the online spending power of disabled people is £16 billion. The 4.3 million disabled online shoppers who click away from an inaccessible power have a combined spending power of £17.1 billion.

As a result, businesses lose approximately £2 billion a month by ignoring the needs of disabled people.

“The charity model works quite well in terms of people’s mindset because they think disabled people are poor, people can’t work, and therefore they don’t have any money and therefore any resources you provide them must be free,” she explains.

Although there’s an extensive list of charities that do provide support, the issue is that the charity model is not scalable. Very specific resources are required for chronically ill people but the charity model relies on donations. This means there isn’t enough capital to sustainably build a comprehensive library of content.

Despite the challenges that fundraising is posing due to ableist stereotypes, Bondy has encountered investors who empathise with Well Adapt’s ethos and are willing to get onboard.

Reinstating agency and empathy: how can others help?

There’s currently 14.1 million disabled people in the UK, up from 11.9 million in 2014. It’s likely that everyone in the country knows someone dealing with a long term condition.

When asked what we can do to help others facing chronic conditions, Bondy stresses the importance of agency.

“As a society, we have this habit of infantilising ill people by taking over because you think that you can’t handle something,” she emphasises. “The idea is that when you’re better, you can have your agency back.”

“When you have a chronic condition, you lose a lot of agency, just because you can’t control the things that are happening to your body, so losing agency in your personal relationships at the same time is just not useful,” Bondy shares.

Instead of taking over without being asked to, Bondy recommends that those around people facing disabilities or chronic pain simply ask and actively listen to their needs.

Be proactive about accessibility needs. From offering to book a different venue or seeking a bar that accommodates accessibility, there’s lots of options available to help make socialising more inclusive.

What’s next?

Well Adapt has already reaped the successes of its efforts. They were Silver Prize winners in the AXA Startups Angel competition and Georgia Bondy won the Young Innovator Award in 2022.

Looking ahead, Well Adapt will soon be launching a new product that will help personalise the platform’s experience so those who aren’t sure about the help they need can find the right resources.

Well Adapt is also reaching out to local councils to launch pilot programs as proof of concept and is raising a Pre-Seed round.

Written by:
Fernanda is a Mexican-born Startups Writer. Specialising in the Marketing & Finding Customers pillar, she’s always on the lookout for how startups can leverage tools, software, and insights to help solidify their brand, retain clients, and find new areas for growth. Having grown up in Mexico City and Abu Dhabi, Fernanda is passionate about how businesses can adapt to new challenges in different economic environments to grow and find creative ways to engage with new and existing customers. With a background in journalism, politics, and international relations, Fernanda has written for a multitude of online magazines about topics ranging from Latin American politics to how businesses can retain staff during a recession. She is currently strengthening her journalistic muscle by studying for a part-time multimedia journalism degree from the National Council of Training for Journalists (NCTJ).

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