Q&A: Why Disability Is Not a Barrier to Starting a Successful Business

- Leadership - Dec 20, 2014

I’m Fiona Jarvis, Founder of Blue Badge Style. I worked for 25+ years for various large software companies, operating mainly in the Finance sector, selling multi-million pound systems.

However, due to progressive disability I became adept in finding ‘cool’ places to go with clients, places that held no surprises regarding accessibility & facilities.

There was nowhere to find this information and no one site for anything to do with disability and style. I realised that there must be other people with the same needs so I collated this knowledge into a Website and more latterly a Mobile App - Blue Badge Style.

In 2012 I received some investment and decided that this would now be my life’s work! I want to create a community where style & disability are not mutually exclusive and I’ve subsequently developed a business model where significant revenue can be achieved from the idea.
BRE: How did you overcome the challenges presented to you by your disability in setting up the business?

FJ: So far the only challenge is transport to meetings. Public transport exists for wheelchair users but it’s not always reliable and involves military planning – so spontaneous journeys are impossible and getting to meetings on time is precarious.

Journeys can be unacceptably long, especially if the man with the ramp is not available. The only alternative is taxis and I have a network of cabbies I regularly use who know my needs. The challenge is the expense!
Were there any particular businesspeople or events that inspired you to start up your company?

I’ve set up a business because working for a company can be very difficult if you’re disabled. It has changed a lot since the Paralympics and the companies I worked for were very understanding and helpful but a daily journey to an office or a client’s site became just too difficult. The freedom of being the boss means I can work more flexibly and choose what my goals are.

What would you say to other disabled people out there who have aspirations to succeed in business?

Whether disabled or not you need to believe in what you’re doing and enjoy the journey. I’m the poorest I’ve ever been setting up my own business but I’m the happiest and don’t regret my decision. I wish I’d had the courage to do it earlier in my career.

My advice is consider the risks in anything you do but in my experience working with people you like and respect, as well has ‘gut feel’, gave me a successful career in software sales and more latterly with my own business.

Likewise for those older people looking to get into business, what advice would you give?

The easiest way is to set up your own business with a good idea. In my sales career there was definitely a resistance to hiring a woman, as the software business was very male dominated. Subsequently age & disability have been a bit of a barrier. This has always made me more determined to succeed.

Challenges are what drive me and being disabled means I have to overcome them every day in my personal life, challenges at work are nowhere near as difficult to deal with. So perseverance and being open to new ideas and experiences is my advice.

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