According to the Australian Network on Disability, over two million Australians of working age have a disability. While access to adequate and affordable care and services is crucial, studies show social exclusion is also a key issue for those with a disability.
A 2013 poll of over 700 Australians with a disability conducted by service provider Scope and Deakin University found 94 percent did not feel they had enough meaningful participation in their community.
Ninety percent added they didn’t have their need to feel valued and to belong met, with 91 percent of respondents stating they didn’t have their need for social contact and support met.
Looking to help bridge this gap is Victorian social enterprise startup Assisted Outing, founded by Winnie Wong.
As Wong explained it, Assisted Outing connects those with needs to assistants in their local community who can take them out on outings.
“Our aim is to address the issues of social inclusion and wellbeing of people with disability or chronic illness. There are about 2.7 million Australians that need help getting out of the house, and this is the group of customers that we would like to serve, because social isolation is a real issue,” she explained.
The idea is one close to Wong’s heart, having been her mother’s carer for more than a decade.
“Growing up, I remember my mum as someone who loved going out, travelling and trying new things, but now she has Parkinson’s Disease so she needs help going out. There was this one time when my mum paid a lot of money to hire a professional carer to take her to the museum, but the outing didn’t turn out so well because that carer just wasn’t into arts, and she was more focused on getting my mum back home safely and on time,” Wong said.
“What I think my mum really needed was an activity partner who could assist her, not a professional support worker. And that’s how it all began.”
Like many a founder, Wong’s vision is to scale her platform internationally – but in that, she has a specific goal in mind.
“My vision for Assisted Outing is to grow it globally so that one day my mum would be able to connect to a local artist in Paris who can pick her up from the airport and take her to the Louvre museum,” she said.
The service works by having verified assistants take customers out for activities, with these outings priced by activity rather than by the hour.
“Think of them as mini trips or tours for people with needs. Customers and assistants can customise any outings they like as long as it involves getting out of the house and have fun,” Wong said.
Customers are able to pick from a range of activities offered through the platform – among those currently listed is a hike and lunch at the Yarra Valley, for $308 – or request a customised outing.
They are then asked to detail their specific need before booking their assistant, while assistants signing up must complete a number of checks and take part in online training before they can create a profile listing their availability and price range.
Like other platforms, assistants are rated at the end of an outing.
Assisted Outing, meanwhile, takes a 15 percent cut on the price of an outing to cover admin such as insurance, vetting, and training.
“One of the biggest challenges for us was to secure appropriate insurance…insurance for startups looking to disrupt the disability sector is a relatively new concept for insurers, and we spent a lot of time talking to many contacts in the industry in order to tailor a policy that is suitable for the business,” Wong said.
Having recently received funding from Grameen Bank Australia and Monash University’s Sustainable Development Institute through the Leave No One Behind accelerator program, Wong said Assisted Outing is also working to further develop its platform to best suit its needs; beyond connecting assistants to customers, the startup also provides its online training on the Assisted Outing platform.
With this in mind, Wong said Assisted Outing’s focus will always be squarely on outings rather than home care, grocery shopping, or medical appointments and the like.
“We only want to focus on fun outings because our main mission is social inclusion,” Wong explained.
“Also, we want to match people who share similar interest and passion so that they can go and do the things that they love. Our vision is to enable people with needs to go on local, interstate and overseas outings by connecting them with a local assistant at the destination.”
Wong will be looking to leverage the expertise and networks of Monash University and Grameen Australia to help bring this vision to life.
Image: Winnie Wong. Source: Supplied.