Natasha Graves, M.P.H. ’14, continues to turn obstacles into opportunities, having just launched a travel website that caters to those with disabilities of all kinds. VacayAbility.com is a user- generated review website, where people with disabilities or unique abilities can rate and review places based upon accessibility.
Graves described her motivation for creating the site, and her intended audience. “I was diagnosed with dysautonomia, a disorder of the autonomic nervous system, as well as various other medical conditions, including Sjogren’s (an autoimmune disease), inflammatory arthritis (which makes mobility difficult), and GI dysfunction (causing me to now have to use a feeding tube for nutrition). With a background in health education, I have always used my professional skills to advocate for people with chronic illnesses and have used my own story to bring awareness to these illnesses.
“Although I live in Philadelphia (I grew up in Bryn Mawr, went to Harriton and now live in Overbrook), with access to a wealth of medical providers at the area’s hospitals, many are not well versed in some of my medical conditions. In 2019, I decided to venture to the Mayo Clinic in Arizona to see a specialist. As an avid domestic and international traveler, being in Arizona for a week was an opportunity for me to see the local sites and experience the local culture. However, if you do a quick internet search for things to do near Scottsdale, the majority of the results are related to hiking, something I physically cannot do. After finding it increasingly difficult to locate reliable information on accessibility and disability resources at my travel destinations, I came up with VacayAbility. Think TripAdvisor, but for accessibility.
“The idea came to fruition after receiving prize money from local pitch competitions (through Temple University, as I am an alum) and the site was launched in February 2020, one month before COVID hit. With the travel industry nearly non-existent due to nationwide and international travel restrictions, I have been forced to turn to alternative business strategies, and adapt my business. However, I am optimistic about it for the future because it is a much needed resource. Accessibility doesn’t just apply to physical mobility, but can address deficiencies in vision, hearing or other senses, allergies, etc. — all things that are often overlooked.”
Before earning her master of public health degree from UCLA, Graves received a B.S. in health education/community health from Howard University. She uses her skills from both her personal and professional life to teach others about the health conditions that she battles and documents her journey with chronic illness. After realizing that much of the healthcare industry is focused on business, she obtained an MBA from Temple University, to help ensure that public health and patient voices are heard in health care to improve patient outcomes and quality of life. Her achievements in multiple sectors have led to a published book, a career in public health and advocacy, and her award-winning disability travel business. Graves began experiencing POTS symptoms in her freshman year of college, and was finally diagnosed after two grueling years of seeing multiple specialists and a myriad of misdiagnoses. With a passion for diversity and inclusion, and to help others living with chronic illness, Natasha volunteered for Dysautonomia International for five years in a variety of capacities prior to joining the board of directors, including serving on the patient advisory board. She lives in Philadelphia, Penn.
Graves has been featured in the Temple News; was the grand prize winner of the 2019 Temple University Social Entrepreneurship Summit; and a winner of the 2019 Temple University Innovative Idea Competition. VacayAbility has been a recipient of the Lori Hermelin Bush Seed Fund. Her personal blog has been featured on My Hidden Truths, The Mighty and the Dysautonomia Dispatch.