Daman Wandke: Disability Advocate and Accessibility Entrepreneur
July 13, 2017
As a longtime customer here at Cascade, we’ve watched Daman Wandke grow into an impressive young man. A graduate of Western Washington University, Daman has a background working with accessible technology and also in disability advocacy. And now he’s also an entrepreneur with a new start-up company—AbiliTrek—aimed at making travel more accessible for people with physical disabilities. Daman, who has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair, travels often for work and pleasure, and typically finds that hotels do not have the accessibility features he needs. For the past five years, he has envisioned a travel booking service that provides detailed accessibility information. Now, with his dream becoming a reality, we recently had a chance to catch up with Daman and hear about his new venture.
Daman, what services does AbiliTrek provide?
Abilitrek.com provides hotel booking and user-generated hotel accessibility reviews all in one place. We are the only hotel booking website that crowd-sources accessibility information in the form of reviews in order to help the community of people with disabilities book hotels that fit their specific accessibility needs.
It sounds like you have quite an enterprising spirit. How did you get AbiliTrek off the launch pad?
It all began in 2016 when I participated in the Bellingham Entrepreneur's 54-hour Startup Challenge, where we took 1st place. Over the competition weekend I and three others took my idea and turned it into the basis of what our business plan is today. Then about nine months ago, I secured a contract with a hotel supplier that provides us with our baseline hotel data, on which we’ve built our user-generated hotel accessibility data. We are now a three-person team: myself as CEO, Logan Helgeland as our Marketing Manager, and full-time student Travis Heller as our Lead Developer. On April 25, 2017, AbiliTrek officially launched, allowing both those with or without disabilities to book hotels on AbiliTrek.com.
How is business and what are your goals for the future?
Since launch, we are revenue-positive with approximately 15 bookings and 80 new users, and are focusing on a marketing campaign that will position our brand for sustainable growth. We have a goal of earning a large amount of users who can provide us with the many hotel accessibility reviews that will provide our community of users with the information that will help them make better, more informed travel decisions.
Tell us about your work as a national disability advocate.
I started working on disability advocacy at the national level during my senior year of high school when I joined the National Council on Disability's Youth Advisory Committee. Since then I have served on various non-profit board of directors and advisory boards at the national level. Currently, I serve on the board of directors of PolicyWorks, a small national non-profit that works on improving public policy for youth with disabilities.
Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know?
The community of those with disabilities is unique in that they are a highly supportive group of individuals. Our company truly needs our community of those with disabilities to help us so that we can help them. In these early stages, we need our users to book hotel stays, complete accessibility reviews, and be advocates for our company, mission, and solution so that we can effectively solve this problem. Our goal is to have superior customer service and be the company that has its focus on those with disabilities.
Daman’s personal perspective, innovative business skills, and motivation to make travel more accessible sounds like a winning combination and we wish him and AbiliTrek a bright future. For more information, watch AbiliTrek’s video and explore their website.