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4 things the Howe Innovation Center team learned at TechCrunch

The Howe Innovation team brought accessibility and inclusion to tech's most cutting-edge conference. Here's what they learned.

Two people sit on a couch at a cocktail party, communicating via protactile ASL

The Howe Innovation Center’s recent presentation marked the first time, to our knowledge, that a disability-focused talk took the stage at TechCrunch Disrupt in San Francisco, one of the world’s largest startup conferences with an estimated 10,000 attendees.

To a standing room-only crowd, we unveiled our data-driven sector analysis and white paper “Defining DisabilityTech: The Rise of Inclusive Innovation,” which draws on analysis from McKinsey Research, defines DisabilityTech, and dives deep into the untapped social and economic potential of the DisabilityTech ecosystem.

That night, we hosted a packed networking event at Southside Spirit House to celebrate DisabilityTech and connect entrepreneurs, investors, and advocates.

Here’s what we learned from our time at TechCrunch:

There is demand for a DisabilityTech ecosystem

Our presentation drew 130+ attendees – a mix of entrepreneurs, investors, corporates and more, including many with diverse disabilities.

Several attendees remarked afterwards that this was exactly the kind of data they needed – but haven’t been able to find, because it didn’t exist or was only available in fragments across multiple sources.

Didn’t catch the presentation? Join the Howe Innovation Center community to get exclusive access to the white paper and other research, including future publications. Read the transcript and listen to the audio recording of the presentation, provided by Otter AI.

Startups are eager to co-create with people with disabilities

By far, the most common refrain we heard from startups is their interest in engaging people with disabilities for primary market research and user testing.

For startups across all industries, finding representative customers is incredibly important – for DisabilityTech startups, it remains incredibly important and yet full of friction, because there is no easy way for innovators and the disability community to connect.

We’re aiming to solve these pain points by centralizing how companies access and learn from people with disabilities, and by creating programming and mentorship opportunities for DisabilityTech startups.

Participation of people with disabilities is critical at every stage of innovation, from ideation through product-market fit, investment and beyond – that’s why we’re amplifying the lived experiences of people with disabilities, so that DisabilityTech startups understand, innovate, and co-create.

Interested in engaging the disability community for primary market research, user testing or more? Join our community for updates as we build out this capability.

We weren’t alone in representing DisabilityTech

Innovation ecosystems do not develop in a silo – and we were thrilled to connect with both DisabilityTech newcomers as well as experienced innovators.

A TechCrunch volunteer helping with audio during our talk shared that, because of what they learned, they’re shifting their toy company to provide accessible and inclusive toys.

Elsewhere at the conference, we met startups addressing the spectrum of disability experience:

Did we miss you at TechCrunch? We want to get to know you – tell us more about your DisabilityTech company.

You’ve already benefited from DisabilityTech – now, do your part to drive it further

Covering the DisabilityTech momentum, TechCrunch reporter Anna Heim noted, “[A] side effect is that these innovations often improve the quality of life for everyone.”

It’s true: The inclusive innovation underlying DisabilityTech improves life for us all – people with disabilities, people without disabilities, and people without disabilities yet.

For audiobooks and voice readers, we thank the blind and low vision communities.

For text messages and closed captioning, we thank the Deaf and Hard of Hearing communities.

For curb cuts, we thank the wheelchair user community – specifically World War II veterans.

An increasingly accessible world has already granted us more – options, agency, safety, independence, and human connection. You – as someone who uses technology borne from disability innovations on a daily basis – have a responsibility to drive it further.

Stay in the innovation conversation.

Innovation can’t happen without all of us. Together, we can solve real accessibility problems.

If you want more from-the-front-lines perspective on what’s happening across the DisabilityTech market, join the Howe Innovation Center community. You’ll get members-only access to resources and insight that’s not available anywhere else, including our white paper, Defining DisabilityTech: The Rise of Inclusive Innovation.

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Bridging Gaps in DisabilityTech: Insights from Howe Innovation Center