How Turo And Technology Have Helped Michelle Perez Help Her Son Find His Voice

At the end of May, I posted an interview with Turo chief data officer Albert Mangahas about the car startup’s use of ChatGPT and other technologies in reinventing what he called an “antiquated” automobile industry. Turo, which is more or less analogous to Airbnb but for cars, allows people to rent vehicles through its app on iOS and Android.

From an accessibility point of view, Turo’s use of ChatGPT and generally more streamlined way to rent cars can very well prove more accessible to someone with certain cognitive and/or visual and motor delays. The conversational approach to the ChatGPT chatbot, coupled with the ease of use of the Turo app itself, means less cognitive load and less stress on someone’s visual and/or hand-eye coordination. As I always say here, these seemingly minute details go a long way in shaping the user experience for a person with disabilities. Even in a world where ostensibly “everyone” is accustomed to clicking and swiping and tapping, the reality is not all people can do so with ease—if at all—and new technologies like AI can do a great service in removing potential, often undervalued, barriers to access. Disabled people rent cars too, after all.

In a press release issued on Tuesday, Turo announced the advent of Hosting Teams. It’s a feature whereby users can “securely and efficiently” partner with family, friends, and/or employees at the company’s first-ever Power Host Summit. The feature is “the latest addition to Turo’s suite of best-in-class tools that empowers hosts of all sizes to build successful car sharing businesses on the platform.”

“This new feature will allow hosts to collaborate without the need to share sensitive information including account credentials, earnings, direct deposit, and tax information,” Turo wrote in describing the new Hosting Teams functionality in its announcement. “Additionally, Turo can verify and account for each co-host, and inform guests when they’re interacting with a co-host for complete transparency. Starting today, hosts can create teams within their Turo accounts and grant co-hosts access to trip management functions like checking in and out, viewing trips, managing incidentals, messaging guests, uploading photos, and contacting Turo Customer Support using their phone numbers.”

One of Turo’s All-Star hosts is Michelle Perez. A stay-at-home mom, Perez previously worked at Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield where she worked her way up from a 19-year-old customer service representative to eventually attaining a supervisory position in the special accounts department within two years. During that time, Perez and her husband started a family, welcoming a baby boy into the world in 2011.

In an interview with me conducted by email earlier this month, Perez said she was “only a few months” into her new job at the health insurer when her 18-month-old son was initially diagnosed with autism. As soon as they learned of the diagnosis, both Perez and her husband immediately “started looking into every in-home therapy we could find.”

The search didn’t take long to take its toll.

“It only took a few weeks before we felt completely burnt out—juggling our new life as parents while navigating two full-time jobs and adding several in-home therapy visits,” Perez said. “We sat down and made a terrifying but overall smart move in order to help our son reach his full potential in life. I became a stay-at-home mom while my husband took on all the responsibilities of being the sole earner of our family. 12 years later, my family is doing amazing because of that leap of faith we took.”

Perez found Turo when she “found myself with extra time in my day that I was eager to fill” as her son get older. In July of the last year, Perez started look around for essentially a side hustle. She told me she wanted work to do what would “allow me to earn money on the side to contribute to my household despite my hectic schedule.”

As it turns out, that side hustle was an opportunity with Turo.

“After hearing about Turo from a friend, I decided to seize the opportunity and listed my 2020 Toyota 4Runner on the platform,” Perez said of her Turo origin story. “In the first month of listing my car, I earned enough on Turo to cover our groceries for the month. This was earth-shattering for me after over a decade of being out of the workforce. I quickly gained experience on how to grow my business on Turo and now earn enough each month to cover our mortgage and more.”

In the time since, Perez has been able to add four more cars to her existing fleet via financing. She’a slap in the process of building out her business, called Ausome Rides LTD. The business has two goals for Perez: it helps highlight her two cars available for rent on Turo while raising awareness of nonverbal kids. In pursuit of the second goal, Perez donates a portion of her Turo earnings towards the purchase of iPads for nonverbal children like her son. She wants to give back.

Perez’s son is considered nonverbal, speaking only two-word phrases, and has been in speech therapy since he was a toddler. To help facilitate communication, he uses an AAC (augmentative and alternative communication) app on the tablet. Her son’s experiences with using the iPad to find his words has compelled Perez to set aside a portion of each month’s Turo earnings to be able to donate iPads to needy families who may not have the resources to buy one on their own accord. Perez said she works directly with her son’s teachers and therapists to “help find families to whom I can donate.” Perez feels compelled to do this charity because, as she told me, technology has “helped us provide a voice for our son and has been able to help expand his vocabulary.”

“Although he tends to communicate with short phrases, he is able to get his thoughts and feelings across to his family, teachers and therapists with useful tools such as the AAC app on the iPad,” Perez said.

In terms of feedback, Perez said she’s received “great feedback” from guests, telling me she currently sports a 100% response rate and 169 5-star reviews. She tries hard to cultivate a top-shelf user experience for her guests, taking an attention to detail akin to what she would do for personal family and friends. To this end, Perez personally “details, cleans, and maintain each of my vehicles” with the goal of ensuring every trip in an “awesome adventure.” Additionally, her guests are afforded amenities in the car. The niceties include the Colorado State Park Pass, which she described as allowing guests to “visit any of Colorado’s beautiful parks by car, bike or foot entry at any time of the year.”

When asked about the future, Perez said she’d love to expand upon her current five-car fleet; the goal for her is to have as many as 20 on the Turo platform. She also hopes her story proves helpful and inspirational to other people who are on the fence about starting with Turo. She called her experiences using the platform “life-changing for me and my family.”

“After many years of being a stay-at-home mom, I was worried about jumping back into the workforce, but Turo has given me the opportunity to be a homemaker while providing for my family in many ways I haven’t been able to before,” Perez said of her future. “[I owe] big thanks to Turo for guiding me as I continue to build my business on the platform. I can’t wait to see what my Turo adventure has in store for me!”

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