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Providing Access for Life with Kelly Twichel of Access Trax

“I want to make sure that those hotels and resorts understand that accessibility is really not as hard to achieve as they might think. And we’re here to help.”

— Kelly Twichel, co-founder and CEO of Access Trax

In this episode

Meet SheEO Venture Access Trax! Founder Kelly Twichel joins SheEO Activator Vanessa Hall to tell us more about her journey from Occupational Therapy student to entrepreneur, and her time in the SheEO community thus far.

They also discuss:

  • How AccessTrax is being used across industries for accessibility
  • Impact stories from folks who have used AccessTrax
  • What’s next for AccessTrax and their North Star
  • Her ASK for the SheEO community

We invite you to join us as an Activator at SheEO.World.

Connect with Dr. Vanessa Hall and explore her work with Crossroads ITG and #StrongSTEMGirls.

Take action and engage with Access Trax:

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Podcast Transcript:

The podcast is being transcribed by Otter.ai. (there may be errors, run-on sentences and misspellings).

Kelly Twichel 0:00
I want to make sure that those hotels and resorts understand that accessibility is really not as hard to achieve as they might think. And we’re here to help.

Vicki Saunders 0:11
Welcome to SheEO.World podcast, where you’ll meet women and non-binary folks who are transforming the world to be more equitable and sustainable.

Vanessa Hall 0:23
Hello, everyone, I am Dr. Vanessa Hall for SheEO. And it is an amazing day here to meet with Kelly from AccessTrax. I am a vice president, Portfolio Management Director for PNC. And we are just excited about the work that SheEO is doing in the community. Also on a consulting company, a coaching company, Crossroads ITG, where we mentor young girls and coach young girls in STEM, and our hashtag is strong STEM girls. So we’re gonna go off into introducing you to Kelly and talking about what she’s doing in the SheEO community and the world’s to do listening she’s doing to address the problems and the concerns we have on the world to do lists. Welcome, welcome, Kelly.

Kelly Twichel 1:15
Thank you, Vanessa,

Vanessa Hall 1:17
Tell us a little bit about AccessTrax is such an amazing venture, give us a little background about what it does, what problems it may solve, and how’d you even get started and come up with the vision?

Kelly Twichel 1:29
Those are all really great questions. So essentially, I’ll start with the the question of how it got started. Because the the funny story is, is that I didn’t set out to become an entrepreneur, I feel like that chose me as I was a student. So it’s an interesting story that I think a lot of other students can potentially relate to. So my journey to entrepreneurship begins back in 2016, I was an occupational therapy student at the University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences here in California. And in OT school, one of the classes we take is called assistive technologies. And assistive tech is really just anything, whether it’s modified or just purchased right off the shelf, that helps somebody accomplish a task more independently. So that may be your standard, your mobility device, like a wheelchair, it could be, you know, your eyeglasses, or a hearing aid and even software app on a phone. So lots of variety and what assistive tech is. And in that class, we as students are challenged to create something to help people with disabilities. And my classmate and I who worked on group projects together quite often, we wanted to tackle the challenge of helping adaptive surfers be able to cross the sand using their own wheelchairs with dignity and independence. The problem that we were essentially trying to solve is the fact that outdoor terrain like sand at the beach, or grass, or gravel or snow, they’re all barriers to people with mobility challenges, because you know that rough, uneven terrain is difficult to move over whether you’re walking or using wheels. So that is the problem. And it’s really a worldwide problem, as you mentioned, you know, working on the world’s to do list. So with that project, we were able to use creativity to be able to problem solve, and we came up with creating a lightweight portable access net. And that is what we used because of the concept of universal design. When we create an access mat, everybody who’s you know, there can use whether they’re walking or rolling over the mat. But if you were to create just a, you know, an adaptive wheelchair, for example, that only helps one individual at a time. So that’s the reason why we chose an access mat versus sort of wheelchair modification. It was October 1st of 2016, we had our handmade prototype, which was made from materials from Home Depot, we volunteered at an adaptive surfing competition. And there were five adaptive surfers there that day. And they all got to try the pathway. And that is the day that a school project turned into an idea for a business to where we can help millions of people around the world have better access to the outdoors and recreation. The reason why that day was the pivotal moment and not just from the beginning of the project is because, you know we were students, you know, we were still focused on becoming an occupational therapist. This was just a school project. However, when we volunteered and saw the feedback from those five adaptive surfers telling us hey, this is amazing. We need more of this. And we felt what they felt that day that feeling of empowerment and freedom and so that was why we decided, okay, this isn’t just a school project, we need to turn this into a business.

Vanessa Hall 5:06
Kelly, that is genius, such a ministry inside of a business, I cannot even imagine the joy you may see on the faces. I’m a beacher and love to go to the beach. And when I saw this, I was like, this is just an amazing thing to create, and provide for people to feel that independence and to feel just clarity and what they can do, and just feels a huge gap in the world to do list. So kudos to you and the team for coming up with the visions of venture and bringing it to life. Thank you so much. It’s one thing to have a vision, but it’s another thing to bring it to life and make change in the world. So thank you for that. Let’s talk about the SheEO community as we get into the business and sharing your reflections on becoming an adventurer, first of all, and then, you know, how does it feel to be a part of this community?

Kelly Twichel 6:02
This is an amazing community. I mean, the fact that this was built because the system needed to be completely overhauled. I mean, we as women and non binary founders, we have a lot of challenges that not everybody faces in developing a startup and a business and to have the resources, the community, and just the support is amazing. And I will for sure say that the financial aspect of it as well is really impactful because it’s difficult for a founder to especially from someone who started as a student, right, I didn’t have a lot of savings to put into this business. So to have access to a 0% interest loan is incredible. Whereas from a traditional bank, there’s no way that I would get a half decent rate, because I have no assets personally. So it’s great to know that I don’t have those odds stacked against me, because of SheEO.

Vanessa Hall 7:11
Yeah, the SheEO community, I say provides results, it is just an amazing thing to see to operate. The model is just one that you know, you just have to say, someone with a great vision, miss Vicki had the vision. And it’s like, it’s amazing to see it come to light. So that is just what we look for in that SheEO community. I’m so glad you had that experience that is helpful. The network, and the finances are important to your success in your business. Tell me a little bit about I know you have some amazing stories of people who have been impacted by your venture. Can you share with the audience just one of those stories?

Kelly Twichel 7:55
Absolutely. So I think early on in my business, we started in 2018. And I believe it was in 2019. I was doing a small rental for a gentleman in Carlsbad, California at the beach. He was teaching the ancient art of the Hawaiian drum making. And he had students from inland come out to the beach to watch this and participate. And he happened to use a wheelchair. So he needed accessibility to be able to teach his class. Well, so I was there for the event, I had set up the access pathway on the beach, and I was just kind of hanging out close by as he was teaching. And I noticed that a man and a woman had come up from the boardwalk towards this pathway. And the man was using a power wheelchair and the woman was standing next to him. And I could tell he was looking at this pathway like what is this? Can I go on this? It goes towards the water. This is great. And I came up and I said hey, you can absolutely you know, feel free to use the pathway. And he had mentioned that he was a neighbor of the teacher. So he knew the gentleman who was renting. And I said I promise you can go on it and he was still hesitant like I don’t know this, this wheelchairs really heavy is it going to be okay. And finally I convinced him and he started going forward with his power chair onto the mat. And then after like one or two seconds of go moving on it and he knew it was okay. He just flew down the back way towards the water. And he just had the biggest smile on his face. And it was such a cool moment to see because you really do you feel that sense of freedom and excitement because you know, as an able bodied person, sometimes it’s difficult to imagine, right? You know, being in another person’s perspective. But if you’re, you know, hundreds of feet away from the water, it’s a little bit harder to see it’s harder to feel the wind on your face and hear the waves crashing and it’s just a different perspective, right just in general facing that physical barrier to mobility. So, basically that day, they were, you know, hanging out. And after the event, the wife came up to me and she said, how much for all of this, and essentially, the family purchased all of the mats that I had brought that day because she was so excited to be able to, you know, go on beach, picnics with her husband again, and be able to go camping and do all these things without that barrier, because she is able to physically move these mats around because they’re so lightweight. And the wife told me that day, you know, we hugged and actually cried together, because she told me that her husband had been diagnosed with ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease. And unfortunately, that’s typically a very fast moving neurodegenerative disease. And so they weren’t sure you know, how much longer that he would be with us here. So they were able to take accessibility into their own hands, be able to enjoy time together outdoors, because that’s what they loved their whole life is traveling and being outdoors together. I would get happy text messages and get photos from them quite often, the months after that. And while Fletcher is no longer with us here today, it’s really special to know that I was able to make that impact for them, and for them to share their time together. So that’s one of my favorite stories, because of the impact it had. And I still communicate with his wife, and she volunteers and loans, the mats out to other organizations who benefit in her area. So it’s really, really a special family.

Vanessa Hall 11:39
That is what it is all about. You just said that that sums up what this life what this journey is all about. You just don’t know how that touched me. And I know others are listening. It’s just I had a girlfriend who lost her husband to the same disease. And they had the same challenges if only they would have owned an AccessTrax, they could’ve share some of those moments too. So just thank you don’t know how to say thank you enough for the vision and for bringing it to life.

Kelly Twichel 12:11
Thank you.

Vanessa Hall 12:11
Tell me I’m gonna shift because that had me crying too. That’s just attaches me. One other thing I want to talk about here is, what do you see? I see this going so big myself?

Kelly Twichel 12:24
Well, we have, I would say our North Star goal, which is being able to partner with the Paralympics when it comes to LA in 2028. So we’re based in San Diego, so that will be right in our backyard. And it would just be incredible to be able to support the Para athletes for that event. And fingers crossed, we’re really hoping that adaptive surfing or para surfing gets added to the Paralympics for that year, because you may or may not know that surfing was added to the Olympics. So sometimes when something gets out of the Olympics, it’ll get added to the Paralympics shortly thereafter. So that’s a big dream for a lot of the athletes in the community that I serve. Because, you know, our early adopters were those adaptive surfers. So we’re really hoping that that gets added. So that’s our Northstar is to partner with the Paralympics. And on the way to that vision, you know, we’re already partnering with nonprofits and organizations that are assisting with that that planning process because it’s it’s such an incredible feat to be able to host the Olympics in a city. So LA is already preparing now. And we have worked with the city of LA’s Parks and Recreation Department already, so they own some of our mats. And we’re really hoping to have a much stronger presence in that region. So that event will be just incredible.

Vanessa Hall 13:50
Wow, well the SheEO world we’ll be here rooting that you reach your Northstar in 28. What will you want your listeners in the community to hear from you like contact you and how do they go about reading about this great venture?

Kelly Twichel 14:07
Thank you for asking that. So I would love listeners to know, as they’re thinking about ways of helping our mission of making the outdoors more accessible for all people. I’d love them to know that access tracks we’re based in San Diego but we sell and rent these access mats globally. And we’re here to make sure that everyone is able to access life’s adventures whether that’s going on a vacation, whether it’s you know providing an accessible pathway for aging in place, you know making sure your your yard, your driveway, your garden is accessible. We’re also partnering with a lot of adaptive sports organizations around the world. And we also serve government entities like Parks and Recreation. So as people are thinking how can I help you know getting referrals to any of those types of customers is really helpful for us as we spread brand awareness. And additionally, for the rental side of the business, we’re working a lot this year to help make sure weddings all over the US are more accessible for their guests and, and even the bride and groom. So that’s really special for me to be able to make somebody’s you know, they’re the on one of the biggest days of their life, make sure that they have access, if especially if it’s over grass, or, you know, a beach wedding, we’re helping brides and grooms and their bridal party and families be able to all not worry about accessibility for that. So meeting with wedding planners or event coordinators is really helpful for us this year as we grow as well. And finally, one of the biggest missions I have this year is to break more into the travel and tourism industry. And to make sure that, you know, let’s say beach resorts, for example, are accessible in the accommodations that they provide. Whether it’s a beach bonfire, or you know, just getting to that beach cabana or the kayaking adventures, we want to make sure that the tourism industry recovers from the pandemic as much as possible. And how they can help do that is to open up their services to a wider audience. And that’s the largest minority in the world. That’s people with disabilities. So I want to make sure that those hotels and resorts understand that accessibility is really not as hard to achieve as they might think. And we’re here to help.

Vanessa Hall 16:29
Kelly, Kelly, Kelly, you you are changing the framework of accessibility to those awesome places when you said weddings. Yeah, yes, that’s that I’ve seen that, you know, at weddings, you know, accessibility issues, especially I can say beach weddings. But this is just amazing in a pandemic, to come out with this, you know, great venture and for others to see and join in. This is going to change the whole landscape. And we just appreciate you being a part of this community. Is there a specific ask you have?

Kelly Twichel 17:10
Yes. So this year access tracks is focusing a lot on more brand awareness and getting the word out there, we have the solution ready, we just need to connect with the right people to bring that to life in their communities. So we’re looking to connect with people in the rehabilitation space. So major, let’s say spinal cord injury facilities, where they directly serve out, you know, people who could be our customers and benefit from that. So occupational physical therapists, for example, and major hospitals, we’re also looking to connect with the tourism industry, with major beach resorts, for example, because we want to make sure that those resorts have accessible accommodations as they open up their market to more people and welcome more guests. So I think those would be the main two asks for brand awareness this year.

Vanessa Hall 18:07
Call out your website to the listeners. Yeah. So they know how to get on and read about this great venture.

Kelly Twichel 18:11
Thank you. So you can find us at accesstraxsd.com. That’s a c c e s s t r a x s d.com. And you can also find my email address on the website as well. I manage everything. So you’ll be speaking directly with me, Kelly, and I’m happy to connect with everyone.

Vanessa Hall 18:36
Thank you so much for sharing this time with us. It feels so good to invoke change. And I can just you know, hear it in your voice, the change that you’re making and how you’re so passionate about the vision and the venture. And for that, that means a lot to the world. And we just thank you for this time.

Kelly Twichel 18:54
Thank you. I appreciate the opportunity. And yeah, let’s build a more accessible world together.

Vicki Saunders 19:02
Thank you for listening to the SheEO.World podcast. Like, comment, subscribe, and share this podcast with your friends. We invite you to join a global community of radically generous women and non binary folks at SheEO.World.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

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