Building a business as a disabled person has been both challenging and rewarding. The highs make it all worth it, even when the lows make you question everything. But it constantly teaches me valuable lessons.
Not just how to navigate the working world as a disabled person but also how to take up space and set boundaries – and stick to them! Most importantly how to spot and make the most of all the opportunities around me.
This article aims to share a little insight into what I’ve learned, in the hope that it will empower other disabled people to pursue their dream careers- whatever that looks like.
Time is money
You’ll find no hustle culture here! Leaving behind the expectation of 9-5 Monday to Friday was the first thing I did. I have an energy disability, so in terms of resources, time is my most precious.
Take breaks, don’t take breaks, work from home, an office, or a coffee shop. Work with music, or don’t. Whatever you do, however you work- figure out your rhythm. It doesn’t have to look like anyone else, and it can change depending on what you need in that moment.
I work best when I do three days a week, with two rest days. I need at least two of those days to be working from home. I make a long task list the week before to map out what the priority tasks need to be every day, what would be nice to get done and when I need to take a break.
Having this level of control is what I need to be as productive as possible, in as little time as possible. This has allowed me to produce a full-time equivalent worth of work in part-time hours.
Even if one week, I have the energy to do more, I won’t push it and work until I’ve exhausted that energy. Having spare energy is great for picking up tasks from next week’s to-do list, but I also make sure I use that time for personal development, learning, networking or, most importantly, resting.
Boundaries/ setting expectations
Setting boundaries is an essential skill for everyone, but it is particularly important for disabled people. Learning how to communicate boundaries professionally may seem like an overly formal practice, but it’s worth it.
Setting a boundary means being clear about what you can and cannot do and what support you need to do your job effectively.
It’s also important to stick to these boundaries, which can sometimes mean saying no to requests or delegating tasks to others. It might be daunting but remember that you aren’t going to get backlash or appear like you can’t do your job for setting a boundary.
It’s actually a really professional practice- you’re not just ensuring you’re going to be able to get the job done, you’re also outlining exactly what the process looks like for the others involved.
If you’re nervous about giving this a go, you can start by changing your email signature. Here is mine:
“I have an energy disability, and work part-time to allow myself the rest I need to perform to the high standards we promote here at SIC. If I don’t respond to you immediately, thank you for your patience- I will get back to you no later than 48 hours.”
You deserve to be there
Imposter syndrome can be particularly challenging for disabled people. We’ve been told that we don’t belong in this space, that we are ‘too much work’ or ‘ not the right fit.’ But know that this comes from a place of miseducation- and also that it’s not your job to educate the people around you about ableism, access and inclusion!
We have valuable skills and experiences that can benefit the workplace. A great exercise I still do on the regular is writing down all my wins, and things I have achieved- think of it as a rolling lifetime CV.
Another great exercise to do is to write down a list of all the soft skills you’ve learned from being disabled. For me, navigating an inaccessible world means I’m above and beyond in skills like problem-solving and conflict resolution. Maybe you’ve developed skills that have also been coping strategies. They are just as valuable as those you’ve learned through working, and need to be recognised and celebrated!
Ask for help
I also know that I can’t do everything. Asking for help is one of the best skills you can learn. When I have a task on my to-do list, I know one of the SIC team can do better than me, I’ll delegate.
We also actively try to outsource larger tasks that will take time – not because I can’t do them, but because it will take me out of the business.
As a co-founder, I need to be mostly working on the business, not in the business. This applies to outsourcing support for market research, writing lengthy copy or marketing. However, as a small start-up, we can’t outsource the strategy, developmental and business-building activities only founders can do at this stage and that’s where I’m needed most.
There are opportunities everywhere!
As a disabled person, it can be challenging to find opportunities that are accessible and inclusive, whether it’s led by an organisation who have no idea about disability or neurodiversity, or the events are in person in the least accessible venue.
It can often feel like there is no help out there, but there is! And it’s important to keep a look out for them or actively dedicate time to searching them out if it’s important for you to find them.
SIC recently won Disability Specialist at the RIDI awards, we’re on the Natwest Business Accelerator, and I have recently completed eight months of media training through Sounddelivery Media, all of which are hugely boosting the business and completely free.
My biggest tip is to ensure you’re actively building your network and are open to opportunities. Anything that comes up, you need to screenshot it, save it, email it to yourself- anything that makes sure you remember to follow up.
We spotted the RIDI award application from following other businesses in our industry. The Natwest Accelerator had been recommended to me years ago, so when we saw it pop up in our area, we jumped on it.
More tips: If you’re employed, tell your manager you’re looking to develop something specific. Look up free online courses. Contact your local business representative from your council and ask them to keep you in the loop with any upskilling/ development/ support initiatives. Look at local coworking spaces and see what free events they run. Ask for mentorship from someone in your field who is where you want to be.
Community means everything
Belonging to a community that understands the daily struggles has been the most reassuring thing I could do- like a weighted blanket for the soul during the low times and the biggest cheerleaders during the highs.
It was tricky at first to find the groups that are positive and empowering, as disability and chronic illness can be tricky topics to navigate- especially if you’re actively looking to push barriers, show up, and change narratives.
Be prepared to develop thick skin from people’s judgement or leave those spaces. Losing friends or followers is also tough, but it’s also important to remember that it’s also a natural part of growth.
That’s not to say your community should be an echo chamber. Follow people who challenge your views in a healthy way, and be open to constructive criticism.
The disabled community has supported me and SIC, and it has been a source of inspiration and motivation for me. Remember, you are not alone, and there is a supportive community waiting to help you achieve your goals.
Rachael Mole is the co-founder and CEO of Sic, which supports disabled and neurodiverse people in their dream careers and helps businesses be more inclusive. Check out the Sic Learning Hub for great e-learning resources and keep an eye out for it’s overhaul in the coming months. Rachael and Sic also regularly share great tips on Instagram.
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