27 October 2016
Rehabilitation bus service provider Doufu fitted each van with a large automatic lifting board that can accommodate wheelchairs of all sizes and types. Photo: Internet
Rehabilitation bus service provider Doufu fitted each van with a large automatic lifting board that can accommodate wheelchairs of all sizes and types. Photo: Internet

Startup toughs it out to make lives of disabled easier

Jeff used to be a documentary editor. He knew nothing about taking care of people in wheelchairs. He never thought he needed to know.

But one day, his 90-year-old grandmother fell sick and had to start using a wheelchair. Jeff suddenly realized how difficult life is for the disabled in Taiwan.

Booking a public rehabilitation bus is a nightmare; public transportation is not designed for wheelchair-bound passengers.

Jeff tried to book government service, but he was told his grandma first needed to apply and get evaluated to see if she was qualified. That would mean months of waiting.

In fact, the inconvenience of getting around has forced many disabled people to stay at home and forgo social life.

That was why Jeff ended his 12-year media career and ventured into rehabilitation bus business in 2009.

His family thought he was mad. “They said I am putting them through a crisis,” Jeff told local media. Rehabilitation bus is a business that involves lots of capital but offers very slow return.

Former colleagues mocked him: “So you’ve become a driver now, eh?”

But he went ahead and made the investment. Seeing his perseverance, his brother came onboard because it was “the right thing” to do.

From staff training to regular facility checkup, Jeff want to make sure users get a safe and pleasant ride. For example, their vans are fitted with large automatic lifting board that accommodates wheelchairs of all sizes and types.

They also purchased stair climbing machines to deal with the last-mile issue.

Staff had to receive proper training, including playing the role of a disabled passenger.

“If they have never tried, how could they know what it feels like? That is the only way they can improve their skills,” Jeff explained.

Customers were initially skeptical. “Why would a private company provide a service that won’t make much profit?” they asked. “Is this a scam?”

But soon, their efforts paid off. The company name Doufu is now well known in the disabled community in their region.

Some old colleagues joined the team. One did it because he too had a disabled grandmother so he knows what it’s like to feel helpless.

Another did it after seeing Doufu tough it out for three to four years and that Jeff and his brother have almost thrown in all they have. “I feel I have to do something to support them.”

Eventually, the number of customers has grown, the crew is getting bigger, but loans are taken to support the expansion. The pressure is not easing yet.

Daily work can be a hassle. Most disabled people are booking their service for medical appointments. Delays and emergency situations are common. That means a lot of rescheduling and rerouting.

There is also a lot of dirty work. The elderly people sometimes just can’t control their bladder.

Yet Jeff does not take these challenges negatively.

“First thing we do is to tell them it happens all the time. Imagine when that happens, who is the most embarrassed?” Jeff said.

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Doufu invests in stair-climbing machines to deal with the last-mile issue. Photo: Internet

EJ Insight writer

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