Empowered Together: Offering Tech-Enabled Support For Families Affected By Disability In A $500+ Billion Market

By Amit Chowdhry • Updated June 3, 2024

Empowered Together is a company that has been pioneering tech-enabled support for families affected by disability. The company’s marketplace enables disability self-advocates and their families to discover, review, and recommend accessible businesses. Pulse 2.0 interviewed Empowered Together’s Founder and CEO Sarah Spear to learn more about the company.

Sarah Spear

Ms. Spear shared:

“My professional background is broadly in general management. I studied Chemistry in college and promptly entered the business world right after graduation. I’ve worked bi-coastally, beginning in Connecticut, where I grew up, relocating to California, and eventually making my way to St. Louis, MO. I really cut my teeth in leadership at the helm of a mobile health startup in India that I co-founded and served as CEO.”

“All of this was great experience for building Empowered Together. What really set the wheels in motion for my second startup, though, was becoming a parent. My business background did little to prepare me to navigate the educational, medical, and therapeutic systems that serve my daughter who has a disability. And I’m not alone in finding myself at the foot of a seemingly sheer cliff face of caregiving responsibilities that accompany diagnoses related to disability.”

Formation Of Empowered Together

Ms. Spear reflected:

“When I started talking with other parents whose children have disabilities, I realized that we’d benefit from supporting each other. We had each learned, usually the hard way, of resources and approaches that worked well for our kids. Why not share that information with one another? Empowered Together began as a virtual community for parents. It has since transitioned into an online marketplace where caregivers and adults living with disabilities can discover, connect with, and recommend accessible businesses. We’re still answering the pressing questions parents brought to the virtual community, questions like, ‘where can I find inclusive recreational opportunities for my child who has a disability?’”

Favorite Memory

Ms. Spear reminisced:

“Recently, we’ve been building out our database of New Haven-based businesses for a pilot program in Connecticut. I got to do an accessibility walkthrough with the owner of a bike shop. He was intentional about understanding what accessibility standards exist and how his business could meet those.”

“More impressive was the desire he and his co-owner had to welcome people with disabilities as customers. The weekend after the walkthrough, the owner shared, ‘a customer with a wheelchair came in for a simple fix… the timing makes me think that you’ve already helped to expand our presence and let more people know that we are a resource that they can use.’ Being both a resource for people living with disabilities and an amplifier of businesses that care is what Empowered Together is all about.”

Core Products

Ms. Spear explained:

“Empowered Together has an online marketplace where people can discover, connect with, and recommend accessible businesses. We conduct walkthroughs of businesses and include accessibility overviews in the business’ listings. Businesses can 1) purchase a report of the walkthrough, 2) hire Empowered Together to make their accessibility upgrades, and 3) sponsor Empowered Together and receive premium listing in the marketplace.”

Challenges Faced

Ms. Spear acknowledged:

“Like most startups, perseverance and pivots have been the way we’ve overcome most of our challenges. Building an online marketplace takes time, strategic collaborations, and a bit of magic so that both sides of the marketplace see value in participating. By committing myself to the vision of a world that’s inclusive of everyone, I’m obsessed with the problem but hold loosely the solution. This was particularly helpful when I had a hard time monetizing the virtual community for parents and pivoted to the marketplace model.”

Significant Milestones

Ms. Spear cited:

“We piloted our virtual parent community with a large organization which enabled us to gain invaluable insights into what led people to participate. We learned that parents came to the community seeking recommendations for specific businesses rather than emotional support. This informed our focus on building out the marketplace. Around the same time, we participated in Visible Hands’ Visionaries accelerator which surrounded me with many founders walking similar journeys. I still meet regularly with some of those founders.”

“We recently launched our pilot program in New Haven, another significant milestone in testing the critical mass for success of each side of the marketplace. In other words, we’re learning the density of users and businesses necessary for the marketplace to become invaluable to both users and businesses.”


Ms. Spear shared:

“Our current pilot is testing the hypothesis that businesses will pay for Empowered Together’s services and pay to advertise on the marketplace. Funding received from Visible Hands and The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven have made this pilot program possible.”

Total Addressable Market

Ms. Spear assessed:

“We’re addressing a $548 billion US market comprising the purchasing power of People with Disabilities and digital ad spend of businesses.”

Differentiation From The Competition

Ms. Spear affirmed:

“In our pilot program, Empowered Together is going onsite to measure the accessibility of businesses. None of our competitors are doing this. Currently, they’re crowdsourcing data and looking at high-level accessibility like, ‘does this business have a ramp, does it have an automatic door?’

“In the US, the Americans with Disabilities Act describes when a business needs a ramp; it describes the amount of pressure required to open a door. There are precise standards that small business owners usually are unaware of. Empowered Together fills this knowledge gap, keeping the business compliant and helping the business owner get in front of new customers on the marketplace.”

Future Company Goals

Ms. Spear revealed:

“We’ve got our sight set on running a successful pilot in New Haven that determines critical mass for the marketplace to gain traction and proves the business model. After that, we’ll be looking for the next geographies to launch our marketplace. We’re also conceptualizing a solution that makes it easier to scale our accessibility walkthroughs.”

Additional Thoughts

Ms. Spear concluded:

“I wouldn’t be doing this work without a personal connection to Empowered Together’s mission. That’s often what draws people to our work — one business owner was eager to schedule a walkthrough because she lives with a disability; one funder was excited to get involved because he has a cousin who has a disability. Systemic change starts by finding those with a vested interest in the change. Then the groundswell grows when other people recognize the potential benefit of the change.”

“In the case of Empowered Together, we reflect on what it will look like for most small business owners to recognize that people living with disabilities are economic drivers in their communities. I perceive change will come when businesses recognize that being accessible is good for their business. Then the businesses that inculcate both accessible structure and culture, that truly desire inclusion of all people as customers, will rise to the top through community reviews. This transformation means the disability community finds belonging as invaluable members of their local communities.”