Around December of last year, Zoey Harrison, of Ithaca, would take almost 20 minutes to get ready for recess due to her cerebral palsy.
By the time she was ready to go out, recess was already over.
Her mother, Jennifer Harrison, had an idea to put two coats together to create a specialized coat that would make her daughter’s recess preparation time about 10 times quicker. That now has turned into a business for the Harrison family.
X-Ability, the business created by the Harrison family, sells the specialized coats to other families with special needs children. The “X” in the business name is crossing out the “dis” in disability.
The coats have specialized compartments to allow for harnesses to be used in conjunction with the coat. Compartments can also be customized to suit the need of a customer, according to Jennifer Harrison.
Other types of coats are being made for every part of the season, according to Jennifer Harrison. Some of the coats that are in the creation stage include raincoats, fleece jackets and top coats.
It all started with a video on Facebook.
The paraprofessional who was working with Zoey Harrison at the time was not sure how to use the coat, so Jennifer Harrison, with the help of her husband John Harrison, posted a video on Facebook on how to do it properly, since the video file could not be sent through email or Facebook message. What she didn’t expect was the video to gain millions of views.
“I originally put it publicly to just show the parapro how to use the coat and was going to put it as private afterwards,” she said. “Before I know it, my husband (John Harrison) was telling me that the video got over 7,000 views.”
The video is still up on Facebook, with it being viewed over 11 million times, 16,000 people reacting to it and it being shared over 3,000 times.
Since then, the coat has been covered by several media outlets and was featured on both Good Morning America and ABC World News Tonight.
“We’re very private, humble people, so we didn’t think that we would get this kind of attention,” Jennifer Harrison said.
Since they started to open their online shop for the coat four weeks ago, there has been orders from around the country, including New York, Chicago, New Jersey and more. The orders have also gone international, with requests from Canada, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, according to Jennifer Harrison.
“We have supplied around 300 coats and a lot more are being ordered,” John Harrison said.
The current price for the coats is $115 for the child size and $185 for the adult size.
Before the coat, Zoey Harrison said that they difficulty getting ready made it hard for her to play with her friends. She also said that she’s now happy that she can go out more easily but is even happier for others.
“I’m glad because not only will I be able to play with my friends more, we’re helping other kids around the world,” Zoey Harrison said.
The coat was also meant to be a long-term solution to a common problem that the family would have with being out for long periods of time.
“We’ve tried ponchos, blankets and other things, but nothing was efficient or easy to use,” Jennifer Harrison said. “The blankets would always get tangled up in the chair and the poncho would leave Zoey soaking wet whenever we took it off. “
The coats save parents with special needs children money because of the damage that can be done to alternatives, Jennifer Harrison said.
“I’ve had to throw out blankets and other things because they got so nasty,” she said. “When you are going to a specialist in Ann Arbor, for instance, you’re there all day. If that blanket gets ruined, your options run out fast.”
Zoey was one of nine children adopted by the Harrisons. Her birth mother had been in and out of prison due to drug and theft charges. When her mother was pregnant with her, Zoey Harrison was in danger of not being born at all.
"She pounded her stomach up against a wall," Jennifer Harrison said in an interview with ABC13. "The second time, she paid an inmate a pack of cigarettes to beat her stomach so she would go into pre-term labor."
Doctors believe that the trauma that was brought on by Zoey Harrison’s birth mother led to her disability, according to the Harrisons. Zoey Harrison is doing well in school but struggles to keep up with her friends physically.
The Harrisons work with several local businesses, which they say they are the biggest factors into making the coat into a now-worldwide phenomenon.
“All of the businesses we use are in the Central Michigan area,” Jennifer Harrison said. “They are all also associated with the Central Michigan University Research Corporation.”
The businesses they work with include:
• Mid-Michigan Upholstery and Awning
• E+S Graphics
• PNC Bank
• General Insurance
• The Small Business Development Center
• Spider Marketing
• Blystone & Bailey, CPAs
• Chasing Fireflies
• Alley T
• Shannon Kraiger Photography
The family applied for a patent for the coat soon after the coat started gaining attention. The patent is currently pending, according to Jennifer and John Harrison.
John Harrison is retiring from his job at the Gratiot County Jail, which will allow him more time to work with the family’s new coat business.
X-Ability has a Facebook page and a website, xabilitystore.com, that sells the coats.