‘Day Undefined’ Helps Search for Adaptive Products

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by Hawken Miller |

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Liam Dougherty, who has Friedreich’s ataxia (FA), and Katelyn Leader, whose sister has an undiagnosed form of spinocerebellar ataxia, are creating a new website to connect people with all types of disabilities to consumer products that can help them in their daily lives.

Day Undefined co-founders Dougherty, 31, and Leader, 34, came up with the idea for the website about a year ago after constantly searching for products that could fit their unique needs — and often falling short. When they fully launch Day Undefined in the fall, they want it to be a centralized place for product recommendations in the disability community.

“There are so many things that are barriers for me that I can only overcome with the appropriate product,” Dougherty, who currently works full time out of Philadelphia, told Friedreich’s Ataxia News by phone. “It’s kind of frustrating to be doing things the hard way for so long, and we get a friend that says ‘Have you tried this?’ And suddenly it works.”

Most ataxia patients lack coordination or muscle control during voluntary movements. However, later in life, motor symptoms spread to the upper body, eventually affecting speech and eating.

None of these products are expressly designed for people with disabilities to use, though many of them help patients who have less strength and motor control, and those who drive wheelchairs.

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The 50-plus products listed on the site range from a device that helps someone carry a mug or cup without spilling, to an easy-to-grip bottle, can, and jar opener, to foam grips for grasping items like silverware, razors, or markers.

As the “undefined” part of the website name suggests, these products aren’t designed with a specific disability in mind, though most of them currently relate to the ataxia community because it affects Dougherty and Leader.

“We wanted something that was just completely detached from anything,” Leader, who now lives in Germany, said in a video interview. “A store that didn’t have any preconceived expectations as to what it would be about.”

For Dougherty, his Amazon Alexa has become a useful adaptive device. It allows him to play music, set alarms, and do other activities around the house that normally would be difficult with his condition.

Katelyn Leader, left, and Liam Dougherty met at the University of Pennsylvania and co-founded Day Undefined. (Photo courtesy of Katelyn Leader)

For Leader’s sister, Jen Leader, finding a plastic, reusable water bottle with a straw made it easier for her to stay hydrated, and she didn’t have to worry about it breaking if she accidentally knocked it over. While these types of bottles are now ubiquitous, they were not at the time of purchase.

The real breakthrough idea for the website occurred at the University of Pennsylvania, where Dougherty was completing his master’s in public administration, and taking a social entrepreneurship class. After striking up a friendship with Leader, who also was working there at the time as a program manager at the university’s Perry World House, a center for global policy and research, the two began brainstorming product accessibility. After extensive conversations and product iterations, Day Undefined was born.

Dougherty and Leader want the store to be grassroots-focused, and though the site is still being built out, product recommendations by and for the disability community are welcomed. What might work for one disability also may work for another, and that’s where Day Undefined can break down silos among different patient communities, according to Dougherty. The form to submit a product is available here.

“People with FA are cut off from other disabilities,” Dougherty said. “I think that there’s a lot of redundant work. There are things that 70 disability communities have looked into or thought about, and that message is not shared by other people.”

Blog posts, written by Dougherty and Leader, focus on topics such as stable canes, condiment bottles, and how to make good coffee with adaptive equipment. In an effort to get more of the disabled community involved, the founders are looking for other bloggers who can share ideas, opinions, experiences, life hacks, and essays about adaptive living.

Day Undefined does not sell anything directly; rather, they link to the product page on Amazon if a person is interested in purchasing something. In the future, Leader and Dougherty would like to apply for the Amazon Associates Program, which would give them up to a 10% commission on Amazon purchases through their website.

While Day Undefined is still at the starting line, Dougherty and Leader feel there’s plenty of growth potential and an opportunity to help make the lives of people with disabilities easier.

“I would like to help people get connected to products that are useful to them sooner, so they can enjoy them and benefit from them,” Leader said.