Dislo CEO and co-founder Hannah Olson was diagnosed with Lyme disease when she was in college. At the time, she didn’t really see herself as disabled, even if that meant spending hours every day on an IV.
Entering the workforce, she was soon faced with the difficulties of navigating, disclosing and asking for support around her condition. “I had no idea about this process, but I saw firsthand how uncomfortable it was.” That lack of knowledge would kickstart her entire entrepreneurial journey — from spending time as a disability counselor to setting up her first business, Chronically ablewith a former boss, Kai Kean.
Chronically Capable helps people with disabilities and chronic illnesses find flexible jobs, and now, after nearly five years of scaling, the founding duo has built another company that takes an earlier step into a similar world. Revealan Atlanta-based startup, builds software that helps employees request accommodation requests at work, and it enables employers to collect, verify and manage employee health clearances and accommodation requests in a HIPAA and SOC 2 compliant manner.
Investors believe it fills a real need in the market, with General Catalyst leading a $5 million seed round in Disclo, joined by Y Combinator, Bain Capital Ventures and Lerer Hippeau. With a total of $6.5 million in known funding to date, Disclo has also put Chronically Capable under its umbrella, given the synergies between the two. While Chronically Capable is all about recruiting talent with diverse needs, Disclo helps startups make sure they have a good adaptation process in place to support their hiring first.
It’s not about startups being thoughtful, says Keane, who is the chief product officer (Olson is CEO). It’s about following established rules.
“We don’t see this as an extra step — it’s a matter of compliance,” he says. “You’re following the law, and a lot of companies don’t know how to do that right now, or they just don’t know,” he says.
At the same time, Disclo’s very existence hopes to raise awareness about these regulations, to the benefit of all concerned. “There is a stigma and silence about asking for things at work, and [employers] do not advertise how to ask for accommodation at work. From Keane’s perspective, Disclo’s job is to help employees understand their rights and protect the employer by documenting and standardizing an often unstructured conversation.
Adoption is especially important in times like these, argues Olson, who notes that, based on data from the last recession, tech outfits are more likely to employees litigate more often and for higher amounts because they are more financially motivated to do so.
Even as the economy recovers quickly, remote working has also put pressure on employers seeking better technology to support a distributed team. Olson said there has been a 61% increase in employee housing requests — a statistic she says shows employers need to take disability requests more seriously.
An important aspect of Disclo’s software is that it anonymizes what an employee’s disability is, instead telling the employer that the person has filed a disability report and could use the following adjustments to feel more supported at work. This could help, as not all disabilities are visible and not every person with a disability feels comfortable stating that they have one.
Olson’s personal experience underlined that it was both difficult to navigate the disclosure process and to find a company that “embraced” what she needed. Disclo does not force startups to provide certain accommodations, but creates a framework for a company to be more aware and able to support their employees.
Speaking of the disorganization that governs many startups, one wonders why the large group of HR tech startups haven’t tried to disrupt the disability side of the business. Some startups are forced to use sticky notes and box drives because restrictive laws don’t allow information to be stored on employee platforms, Olson says, while large companies use disability insurance companies.
“Many companies think of accommodations from an insurance claims perspective, but accommodations encompass a lot more than just insurance-related things,” she said, such as reschedule work, bringing your pet or asking for captioning tools. “These requests often require a conversation with a manager, and we’re here to help.”
In that case, technology may be just too late in the game. Steve O’Hear, a former australiabusinessblog.com reporter, wrote in 2016 about technology companies’ lack of disability reporting.
“At its best, technology acts as a facilitator for PWDs, helping to level the playing field and therefore can be a real force for social mobility,” O’Hear wrote at the time. “However, since disability is not included in most public diversity reporting from technology companies, we don’t know how well the technology industry itself is doing in terms of the number of PWDs it employs and how this compares from company to company. Given the challenges with under-reporting and a lack of general transparency around companies, he urged the tech industry to “find a way to be more accountable.”
Disclo is convinced that it is the first software company to work on this specific niche. Let’s see if technology is ready to be an early adopter.