Client Spotlight: SpecialGlobeDenise McArthur 01.08.2015
All too often, the word “inspiring” is a tired cliché. Really, that PowerPoint on streamlining workflows stirred your soul? Engaging, maybe. Interesting, sure. But inspiring? Then you meet people like the individuals behind SpecialGlobe, and there’s simply no other word to describe it: they’re doing vital work that touches your heart and inspires you to be a better person.
SpecialGlobe empowers families with children with special needs (any physical or cognitive disability) to explore the world with confidence, while educating the travel industry on how to better serve special needs families.
We sat down with Meghann Harris, Senior Founder and CEO of SpecialGlobe, and Natalie Stopko, a key contributor to SpecialGlobe’s website, user experience, and branding, to discuss the company’s recent launch and new video.
Greg Lewis: What would you say SpecialGlobe’s mission is?
Meghann Harris: To empower special needs families to explore the world. Our tagline is “Empower, Educate, and Explore,” and educating is a really big piece. Not educating families, but educating the travel industry, helping those businesses be more inclusive.
GL: How did SpecialGlobe get started?
MH: It was the most mysterious thing: I had a dream on June 5, 2013, that woke me up in the middle of the night—I heard a man’s voice that said, “special globe.” Nothing like that had ever happened to me before. It kept me up, I was trying to figure out what that meant. Eventually I fell back asleep, and in the morning the first thing I did was go downstairs and Google it. Nothing. So I went to GoDaddy.com and looked it up—I could buy it for $11.49, so I did.
It didn’t take me too long to put the pieces together: I’ve always had a passion for traveling. I traveled a lot as a child—I loved it and got a lot out of it. It changed my life and the way I look at the world.
I wanted to provide those same opportunities for my own eight-year-old daughter, Eliza, who has Rett Syndrome. But like so many parents who have a special needs child, planning a trip around her cognitive and physical difficulties was very scary. Worse, the resources that’d make me less afraid didn’t exist—I looked.
It took me a while to commit to exploring the world with our whole family, including Eliza’s younger brother, who can also be a handful. Would the world accept my daughter? Would it be better to just keep her at home? No, we found every city to be welcoming, but those resources were still missing for other families. That’s why I wanted to create SpecialGlobe.
GL: How did your co-founder Jonathan Yardley get involved?
MH: Jon and I grew up across the street from each other; we’ve been friends since we were four years old. He’s very technically savvy and pragmatic—I’m not at all (laughs)—so we balance each other beautifully. Once I had the idea, the first thing I did was call Jon.
GL: And what about you, Natalie?
NS: I had worked with Jon before through his prior company. Years later I started my own and he reached out saying he had a great new project. I was instantly drawn to it—it really touched my heart and hit close to home. I grew up with friends and family with special needs, and many of my friends have special needs children too. Above all, it gave me a strong sense of purpose; I knew I could help and bring value to this important cause.
GL: It’s hard to imagine why something like this didn’t exist before.
MH: For many families, it’s tough to talk about. It’s still very private. You always worry, if we go out to a tourist spot, will my daughter bother someone? After having traveled with her to New York City, San Diego, Hawaii, Tennessee, and Boston, I’ve yet to meet anyone bothered or offended. What we’ve experienced isn’t just acceptance, but total embracement.
I took the kids to New York on Memorial Day weekend to see Lion King on Broadway. We were lined up outside and it was extremely congested. There was a woman in front of us with her mother, dressed beautifully in these gorgeous sparkly shoes. Eliza loves that stuff, and before I knew it, she reached her hand out and touched the woman’s back. I grabbed her hand too late—the woman turned around and smiled. Sure enough, it happened again in a few seconds.
This time she turned around, got down on Eliza’s eye-level and said hello. Eliza noticed her two rhinestone bracelets and told her how pretty they were.
All of a sudden, the woman pulled one bracelet off her wrist—I said she didn’t have to, but she insisted—and slipped it onto Eliza’s arm. I pleaded with her to take it back, but she said, “No, I want her to remember her time at Lion King… and now, every time I look at my bracelet, I’ll remember Eliza.” People are so welcoming to Eliza, and Eliza’s so genuinely thankful. It’s beautiful.
GL: Wow. What effect do you think exploring has on special needs children?
MD: A huge effect. After traveling a lot this summer, Eliza’s teachers have all commented on how she seemed to mature; she’s gotten to know herself better. Traveling has a profound effect on special needs children—and by traveling I don’t mean the Great Barrier Reef. It can be a family going to their local movie theater, or a hometown baseball game, or museum, or play.
NS: Absolutely. In my experience, special needs children who get the chance to engage in art and music and exploration, they seem to grow more. They pick things up more easily and interact with their surroundings with more confidence and comfort.
GL: You just launched in November of 2014. What are your plans for the future?
MH: We’re considering growing Special Globe into two sectors: a transactional travel website for special needs families, and a nonprofit that goes to the travel industry, advocating and educating—everything from sensitivity training to organizing special showings. We’re also going to continue building our online community of special needs families, and IdeaRocket’s animation has been a big help with that.
GL: Why did you choose an animation for your video, and why IdeaRocket?
NS: I had worked with IdeaRocket in the past and was really impressed. I loved working with everyone here. Meg and Jon wanted to be able to introduce SpecialGlobe to the world—they wanted something focused on children, lighthearted, fun, and cool. When Meg said that, I immediately knew where to go.
MH: It was great. Even the very first rough draft was 95% perfect. It just immediately made me smile.
GL: Did you guys enjoy the process?
NS: Totally, Will understood what we were going for immediately. He had the great idea to have the car transform into a boat, which transformed into a plane. The character design was brilliant, with lots of nice touches.
MH: IdeaRocket was very good at walking us through everything, making us comfortable, but still allowing us to provide critical feedback—it was still our vision. I love the music and how the family interacts, how the hyperactive boy has tired himself out by the time they return home. It really relates to all families; it’s fun and universal. And that’s the point: special needs families are just like other families—they should feel confident travelling like it, too.
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