Girl Tribe Gang’s #DeterminationAndDisability series helps to raise awareness of women with a disability who work for themselves
The Blog series is led by GTG’s Disability Champion, Kirsty Meredith, and she will be reaching out to women who work for themselves to get the low down on what life is really like running their own business, and living with a disability.
In this feature we speak with Kirsty Meredith, founder of Kirsty Meredith Photography and member of our Maidenhead & Windsor Tribe.
Kirsty graduated with a first class honours in BA Photography from the University of West London in July 2018. Kirsty has mild Cerebral Palsy down her right side (since birth). In no way has this affected her ability in her photography but rather adds life experience.
Having a disability has allowed her to see everyday life through a unique perspective. She uses this to constantly push herself to achieve the best of her ability. Kirsty now freelances as a photographer and has recently been building her business Kirsty Meredith Photography. Kirsty’s present photography style is to produce high contrast images with vivid colours and high clarity.
1. Tell us about your disability and how it affects you on a day to day basis
I have mild Cerebral Palsy down my right side that stemmed from birth; my right shoulder got stuck and this caused complications in delivery. I also developed an under-active thyroid which I maintain with medication.
My Cerebral Palsy affects my speech and my physical well-being. I tire much quicker than others and require more sleep to function. I also have poor dexterity in my right hand and shake in both hands.
On a day to day basis my Cerebral Palsy can affect household chores e.g. removing hot dishes from the oven, carrying hot drinks and plates of food.
I also need help with other daily tasks including putting on my own jewellery such as earrings, necklaces and bracelets (my partner would do this) and doing up buttons and shoelaces (this takes me much longer).
2. What would make it easier for you to connect and network?
I recently attended GTGLIVE18 and thoroughly enjoyed the event. There are however a few things that would have made my experience even better and some of these points are general to all networking events.
Hot Drinks and Silly Cups – The cups provided for hot drinks have tiny handles and this for me is tricky. I love a big mug with a big handle! I struggle with the grip when carrying hot drinks in cups due to poor dexterity in my hands. I met Catherine for the first time at GTGLIVE18 and the first thing she did was take my cup as I was struggling and about to spill my drink. Not the best first impression, aye!
Eating – I remember having breakfast on arrival of GTGLIVE18 and due to the busy seated area I stood at a high table eating a bowl of fruit and yogurt. I felt self-conscious and worried that people were looking at me. I struggle to eat standing (end of making more of a mess!) let alone walking around.
Standing – I tire much quicker if I’m standing up. If there is lots of seating at networking events then I’m a happy lady! I feel much more confident sitting down and talking to people rather than standing for long periods of time.
Loud Environments – I am not a fan of loud environments. Trying to talk over music or be heard through multiple conversations in a room? This for me is not fun. I feel less confident and my speech deteriorates. I struggle to be understood, let alone have a full on conversation. Sometimes I feel myself having to shout which no one really wants to hear!
Losing the Baggage – When I’m networking I like to be free! Free of heavy items or baggage. GTGLIVE18 ticked all the boxes for me on this one! This first was provided by a FREE cloakroom! Thank you Girl Tribe Gang! That meant I didn’t need to carry my coat around all day! Providing the goody bag on exit was also another tick for me. I struggle to carry things on my shoulders as the muscles in my right shoulder are weak – this leads to more fatigue and looking like a lopsided mess!
3. How does your disability affect you in your business?
I’ve only started my business in the last few months and I’m always learning something new about myself each week.
The first is recovery time particularly from big events such as networking or late nights when I’m out of a routine. It took me days to recover from GTGLIVE18. I’d never been to Manchester before let alone stayed overnight for a networking event. I was completely exhausted when I got home on the Sunday and slept most of Tuesday, I didn’t return to work till Wednesday.
I beat myself up over this; why can I not cope like everyone else? Who needs more than a day to recover? Me! I have to give myself a pep talk and say Kirsty it’s ok! That client, invoice or opportunity can wait a couple of days! Just rest, relax and recuperate.
As I shake in both my hands, this gets worse with nerves. If I’m taking photos in a new environment or trying to impress a new client sometimes this can be difficult. I really have to slow everything down and concentrate on the photos I am taking. I always check the focus after each shot and make sure I’ve got all the images I require before leaving the location.
Most of you are probably thinking… ‘Why don’t you just use a tripod for all your shoots?’ Problem solved right? Not quite. Tripods are very heavy, combine this with a weak shoulder and you have a walking disaster!
I also find my own tripod incredibly tricky to set up as there’s three different bits you have to hold down at once! I only have one pair of hands and one is pretty useless as well as my poor dexterity.
Meeting clients in loud environments is also tricky and I don’t feel completely comfortable. It’s hard for them to hear me clearly and I can struggle to fully concentrate.
I love communicating through emails and social media. The best way however is face to face, I feel I can give the best impression of myself this way and it allows my clients to get to know me better and how I work.
I don’t enjoy communicating on the phone in the first instance, this is because I worry clients will struggle to understand me. After meeting them initially however, I am far more relaxed when speaking on the phone.
4. How do you overcome those challenges?
Here are some of my top tips to overcome my challenges:
Face to face meetings in quiet environments.
Extra planning for shoots.
Always taking my time and not rushing.
Creating strong connections within my network for support.
5. What advice would you give to anyone out there with a disability who is aspiring to work for themselves?
I would say GO FOR IT!
Don’t let your disability stop you from fulfilling your dreams and ambitions. Through my life I have also fought for what I wanted and never gave up.
A long time ago someone said to me “You won’t cope with doing a degree!” so I thought, ok I’m going to prove you all wrong! So I went out and got my degree in BA Photography (a few years later than planned) but I graduated with a First Class Honours and this is my biggest achievement to date.
I don’t believe a disability should stop you working for yourself.
In my business I do require help with certain aspects but doesn’t everybody? I’ve met some really kind people in the last few months, a large amount of them from Girl Tribe Gang who have been willing to give their time, advice or just have a coffee with me and for that I am grateful.
Be yourself, prove everyone wrong and inspire others!