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By Chris Taylor
Despite his wheelchair, and often because of it, Dr. Glen House has always enjoyed doing what he isn't supposed to. Take the time he persuaded his neighbor in Colorado Springs, J.W. Roth, to join him on vacation in the ice fields of Taku, Alaska. The trip entailed flying to a remote lodge in a tiny ski plane that was ill-equipped for disabled passengers: Boarding was via a rope ladder. "They said no wheelchairs," Roth recalls. "So we signed up."
That 2006 trip was a turning point for House and Roth. The boarding process was dicey: Roth gave House a fireman's lift up the plane's ladder, which dangled over the ice. "If I go down, you're going with me," House snarled on the way up. But later the pair sat in the Taku lodge, wondering how they might bring such exhilarating experiences to other disabled people. "They're sick of doctors," House told Roth. "They want to know how to live forward with their conditions."
That chat led to this year's launch of Disaboom.com, a fast-growing social network aimed at the 50 million Americans with disabilities and their caregivers. In a time of social-network fatigue, as Facebook and MySpace have spawned hundreds of bland imitators, Denver-based Disaboom is unique. It focuses on a large, untapped audience eager to get answers and make connections, and one that advertisers had previously been unable to reach.
Like the entrepreneurs in the stories that follow, House demonstrates that disabilities are no obstacle in the brave new world of technology. If anything, the determination they engender provides a clear business advantage. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the percentage of self-employed Americans with disabilities has grown from 12% to 15% since the dawn of the Web. For the rest of us, the figure has stayed static at 8%. Your next competitor may just zoom past you in a wheelchair.