Savvy Lifestyle Site for the Disabled Is Off to Running Start

Nothing Niche About It: A New Reality That Happens to Be a Huge Market

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So you just broke your spine. Now what?

If you're lucky, someone at the hospital will come into your room, the way Dr. Glen House does with his rehab patients, and start talking to you about the life ahead of you. And if, like Dr. House, that someone wheels himself in because he broke his neck in a skiing accident at age 20, you'll probably listen to what he has to say about things like pain meds and how to hold a pen -- and dating. (Dr. House is married with two kids.)
Disaboom.com is the first comprehensive website for people with disabilities and 'functional limitations.'
Disaboom.com is the first comprehensive website for people with disabilities and 'functional limitations.'

Your family will want to listen too, since that messenger will be bringing everything you're desperate for: medical info, real-world suggestions and a chance to chat with someone who's been there.

Those happen to be just the things Dr. House is bringing to the web.

Disaboom.com is the first comprehensive website for people with disabilities and "functional limitations" (such as difficulty walking when the rheumatoid arthritis kicks in). I know -- it sounds unbelievable that there isn't another website already doing this, but there isn't. Maybe that's why, after launching in early fall, the site got 500,000 hits in November. In December, it got nearly 1 million.

While certainly every disease from autism to Parkinson's has several web pages devoted to it, Disaboom brings all the conditions together. "We're a one-stop resource," Dr. House said over drinks in New York last week. He was in town from Colorado Springs for an investors meeting. His marketing guys had come along, and they met with Estée Lauder, Saatchi & Saatchi Health, Johnson & Johnson and other heavy hitters such as ESPN.

It's easy to see why advertisers are interested in the site. If you're selling a device that retrofits a van to accommodate wheelchairs, for instance, it would be nice to be able to reach the people with multiple sclerosis and the people with spinal-cord injuries and the stroke folks. Here they are, together at last.

But the site would be pretty grim -- and boring -- if it was about only hardware and medicine. So in addition to basic info and news about 20 different disabilities (and more each month), the site is full of the fun stuff you'd find in any lifestyle magazine: travel stories -- about accessible resorts; fashion tips -- for hip chicks in wheelchairs; a job board -- for both caregivers and the disabled. There's a matchmaking section, too.

What most people will come to it for, I suspect, is the connection it provides.

"I got an e-mail from someone saying, 'I have a son who was born without legs. He's 2 years old and on his third set of prostheses, and he's not walking. We've been told he shouldn't get physical therapy,'" Dr. House said. "Well, that's absolutely wrong! He should be walking by 10 months like any other kid!" He contacted Disaboom's pediatric expert, who found the mom a better clinic for her son. He also directed her to up-to-date information on her son's condition since it sounded like she wasn't getting that from her doctor.

Best of all, though, now that she's on the site, she'll be able to find other moms with kids like hers. Moms of kids dealing with other disabilities can chime in. And as the kids grow up, they'll be chatting with each other on Disaboom too.

"There are 54 million people with disabilities and functional limitations in America," said Howard Lieber, Disaboom's VP-marketing, "and another 75 million are caregivers." That's one out of every three Americans. A new niche market?

Nope. A new reality -- that happens to be a huge market.
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