How myUDAAN is addressing challenges in mobility service for people with disabilities
For a wheelchair-bound father based in Mumbai, the reality of being separated from his son living in Bengaluru due to the pandemic had taken a mental toll. On June 15 last year, he was finally physically reunited with his son, thanks to myUDAAN, an assistive technology company that offers on-demand mobility assistants to people whose movements are restricted due to old age, disability, temporary injury or even pregnancy.
“When the son contacted us, we booked flight tickets as well as a wheelchair taxi to take the father to the airport. Our mobility assistant picked him up from home and accompanied him throughout the journey. The assistant returned to Mumbai after the son had received the father at Bengaluru airport,” says Ravindra Singh, Co-founder,.
Another of Ravindra’s favourite stories involves an elderly woman in Mumbai who had to visit the registrar’s office but the building she was living in didn’t have a lift. Her grandson called myUDAAN for wheelchair assistance service. The startup, at a short notice, sent mobility assistants to her address who not only got her to the ground floor, but also escorted her to the destination. When they returned, the assistants carried her all the way to her flat.
Founders of MyUdaan: Ravindra Singh (Right) and Anil Pereira (Left)
On-demand mobility service
Since its launch in 2019, the Mumbai-based company has catered to 700 requests for indoor and outdoor services in and around Mumbai, including Navi Mumbai, Thane, Kalyan and Dombivli. The founders began with providing wheelchair assistance at the malls in Navi Mumbai. Along with the development of the myUDAAN app and the website, the enterprise focused on outdoor services and end-to-end solutions. It could be a visit to a doctor’s clinic, a bank or a park, a social gathering or a trip to a different city. In the old buildings of Mumbai without elevators, these mobility assistants are a blessing for those who can’t climb the stairs.
MyUdaan, a startup that provides on-demand wheelchair assistance to the differently abled
Ease of booking
“The guiding principle of our operations is to promote independent living among people with restricted mobility. They shouldn’t be beholden to their family and relatives, relying on them to push the wheelchair whenever they step out,” says Ravindra who is disabled himself, having been struck by polio in childhood.
Availing of an assistant’s services through the myUDAAN app is as easy as hailing a ride on a smartphone application, says Anil Pereira, the other co-founder, who had worked in multiple MNCs and startups. Depending on their need, clients can book slots of 4 hours, 8 hours and 12 hours, with per hour costs at just Rs 100. The app features accessibility information on 10,000 public places in Mumbai so that users can plan their trip accordingly. “It also allows users to buy devices such as wheelchairs, canes, and other assistive aids that they might need to improve the quality of their life,” says Anil.
Safety is of prime concern for the founders since people with disabilities are at a higher risk for abuse. The attendants go through an elaborate screening process, including criminal background check, before coming onboard. Usually, people with experience in handling patients such as ward boys get first preference, says Ravindra. They also must attend a sensitisation training programme to be aware of the needs of the Differently Abled Persons (DAPs).
Scale up potential
The success of myUDAAN mirrors the social and economic exclusion of the DAPs. When the modern-day infrastructure of Mumbai, the country’s financial capital, can hardly be deemed disabled-friendly, one can assume how conducive other cities are in this regard. This collective indifference is baffling since, according to the 2011 census, the number of people with disabilities in India is close to 2.68 crore, or 2.2 percent of the population. From the latest list of 21 disabilities, inability to move without assistance was found to be the most common disability. The size of the population stated above does not include the country’s elderly people and those with temporary disabilities who too battle with mobility issues and would require at least one Assistive Technology product to manage their daily chores.
The myUDAAN app is poised to reap dividends since it doesn’t have a formidable competitor in the highly fragmented Assistive Technology space. Since the model is asset-light, it’s easier for the founders to replicate it in other cities. Their strong presence in social media has helped in getting clients both in India and abroad. “We get queries from US-based professionals who have parents in India,” says Ravindra, adding that they plan to set up a base in America.
The founders are confident that in three years, the app would be available in at least 10 cities. By the sixth year, the target would be to cover 12 cities.
Role of Social Alpha, SIDBI and the UK Government
It was the alignment of myUDAAN’s core values, Social Alpha’s sectoral expertise along with SIDBI, and the UK government’s vision that brought together multiple resources to enhance the startup’s visibility in the market.
“We decided to provide investment and incubation support to the enterprise primarily because its theory of change aligns with our Assistive Technology Independent Living thesis. The company has made it easy for DAPs to step out of their homes whenever they want, which is indeed empowering. Now, they do not have to depend on their friends and families’ generosity for their mobility,” says Ankita Shirodariya, Portfolio Manager for myUDAAN. Small Industries Development Bank of India (SIDBI), the UK Government and Social Alpha have committed to support the startup through a blended financing model called the Swavalamban Divyangjan Assistive Technology Market Access (ATMA) fund, which will enable myUDAAN to subsidise their service by up to 50 percent, thus reaching out to a larger number of users.
SIDBI, the main driver of the ATMA fund, is committed to supporting DAPs in their quest for independent living. “New-generation problems need new value-add solutions; that’s what we found in the myUDAAN model when we decided to support the startup under the SIDBI ATMA Fund. Being part of such a passionate initiative that also gels with our mission of supporting the differently-abled has given us immense satisfaction,” says Chandra Shekhar Thanvi, CGM, SIDBI.
The startup’s popularity can also be attributed to the fact that it offers flexibility in hiring mobility assistants. In the current scenario, one is forced to hire caregivers for the entire day even though the requirement is for a few hours. Many of these assistants do not have the requisite soft skills. They may not have wheelchairs or harnesses -- the necessary equipment for venturing out. “MyUDAAN stands out for its specialised assistance, keeping in mind the requirements of language, mobility aids, and sensitivity that are essential in a service of this nature,” says Ankita.