My journey to award-winning entrepreneur

19 December 2016

Sarah Leadbetter, our Volunteer Campaign Coordinator in Leicester, tells us about the help and hindrances she met on her journey to running a successful business - and what action the government needs to take to improve the situation for disabled people in the workforce

Facing ignorance in training and work

From the age of 16, I trained as a nursery nurse in a college that had staff that I felt didn't really want to help me finish the course.
I wasn't given much help in being given alternative formats of what was being put on the overhead projector and anything else that was given to me as part of my coursework. This made me take a lot longer to complete things. I also wasn't given any help at all in a placement situation. I was put on a placement in a terraced house which was very dark. Because I had problems doing things, my tutors thought I shouldn't really work with children, and perhaps I would be better off working with older people instead.
Because of this, I had to keep going to my local Jobcentre, and through different schemes I did different placements in a few nurseries. Some were very helpful and understanding with problems I was having doing certain things. Other nurseries let me struggle, and the staff didn't give me much help at all. It felt like they were waiting for me to fail. They made excuses that they thought my sight was getting worse. They thought painting the walls white would help me, but that’s the worst colour for me, so that didn't really help at all. 

Finding the right help

I went back to college to retrain as a holistic therapist where I was really supported by all of the tutors. I had all my coursework changed into different formats. Nothing was too much trouble even though it took me quite a bit longer to complete everything.

Afterwards, I was given help to find work in a salon to work on a part time basis, but I didn’t feel that was the right thing for me to do. I felt that I wouldn't be quick enough, or the premises would be too dark for me to work at the same pace as everyone else, so I decided to set up my own business.

Again I had to go back to the Jobcentre. After some difficulties, I spoke to a member of staff that actually listened to what I was saying, that I would like to start up my own business and have a little therapy room at the end of my garden. I was accepted onto a course. For the first time, it felt like I was on the road to working for myself as a holistic therapist.
When I had passed all of the course, I had to write a business plan to go to have a meeting with the Princes Trust to see whether they would give me an grant and a loan to help me set up my business. That all went through, and I was given a mentor and as much help as I needed to set up and to build up my business.

Access to Work helped me start my own business

I did have help from Access to Work, but it seemed a long drawn out process when I applied for it. I didn't really get help from them to fill in all the paper work.
The better part of the process was the person from the company that came out to see me was very good. He listened to what I had problems with and what I needed help with. We tried a magnifier to see if that would help me to read the labels on the massage oils that I used in my treatments and all the other products that I sold as well.

He made sure that the products that he suggested were ones that would help me the most. These included Supernova on my laptop using speech, a scanner to help read my mail, and a speech programme on my mobile phone.

For 15 years I’ve been doing lots of different types of therapies and having regular clients coming for treatments on a regular basis. For the first 3 years, I had to work hard to set up and to get regular clients. I’ve met a lot of nice people doing local events and doing all the treatments over the 15 years that I’ve been trading as Hands, Body and Sole. I’ve been to a few local award events and I have won Entrepreneur of the Year.

What needs to change

I think there needs to be better training for Jobcentre staff. They need to get an understanding that people with sight loss may need extra support and time to do things in a work place placement or training. The only difference is that we have problems with our sight - companies need to stop making up excuses of how not to employ someone with sight loss by saying it’s not safe.