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21.03.2019

#Determination&Disability: self-employed with Cerebral Palsy

by Girl Tribe Gang HQ

Girl Tribe Gang’s #Determination&Disability series helps to raise awareness of women with a disability who work for themselves.

The feature is led by GTG’s Disability Champion, Kirsty Meredith, who speaks with 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.

March 25th is Cerebral Palsy Awareness Day. In this blog, Kirsty explains why this day is so important to her, what Cerebral Palsy is and why we should celebrate women with a disability who work for themselves. She interviews Maria and Jodie, who share their stories of what running a business, studying and life is like with Cerebral Palsy.

Kirsty Girl Tribe Gang Jade Thomas
Photo credit: Jade Thomas

What is Cerebral Palsy?

Cerebral Palsy (CP) is a condition that affects the muscle control and movement as they grow and develop. Muscle movement and speech can be effected so Physiotherapy and Speech therapy can help someone to control their condition.  

CP is usually caused from an injury to the brain before, during or after birth. There are several types of CP including: Quadriplegia, Diplegia and Hemiplegia.

I have mild Spastic Quadriplegia and I have particular problems with my right upper limb and dysarthria. During my birth I suffered with Asphyxia (deprived of oxygen) which led to me developing CP.  You can read more about how CP affects me in my first blog post for Girl Tribe Gang.

How Cerebral Palsy affects me as a self-employed woman

In my business, time management has been crucial and I have found myself breaking up my days. I tend to be more productive in a morning and then rest come the afternoon.

I recently went to the Photography Show at the NEC in Birmingham. Unfortunately for me, I was busy again the next day and I had to schedule down time into the rest of my week. Like any small business owner, I love meeting new people and representing myself at events. However, it can be exhausting and takes me much longer to recover.

Having CP is hard work and I do have to adjust my work life balance. I also have to be honest with people. I am slowly learning to say NO, even through this can be hard as I don’t like missing out on the good stuff!

Lately I’ve been reflecting on my business and the year ahead. I believe when you are freelancing there is just so much information to take in and you are constantly on a learning curve.

It’s challenging at the moment, but I remember the positives and how lucky I am to have Girl Tribe Gang. I have such a strong supportive set of women to look up and aspire to.

CP-Awareness-Day-Kirsty-Girl-Tribe_Gang

Why raise awareness of Cerebral Palsy?

As a woman in business with a disability I feel it’s really important to raise awareness and speak out about disability. Having CP myself I am really keen to mark CP Awareness Day and also speak to other women who have CP.

If you want to get involved today, simply wear green and post a photo using the hashtag #cerebralpalsyawarenessday

Supporting other women in business with Cerebral Palsy

I am really keen to meet other women in business with Cerebral Palsy and learn about their experiences with CP.

I am always open to a coffee and a chat and love meeting new people and hearing their story so don’t hesitate and get in touch.

Let’s support each other.

Meet Jodie & Maria

Introduce yourself and your business

J: Hi, I’m Jodie, I work part time as an events manager at London South Bank Student Union (LSBSU) because I’m passionate about students.

However, I also do a lot of freelance work myself which is steadily growing and keeps me very busy. My website is under construction and will be ready soon (events-manager.co.uk).

M: My name is Maria Verdeille and I am in my final year at university In London studying a BA in Photography. Before I started university, I completed my A levels and a business course at college. During college, I began to develop a passion for photography. This influenced my decision to go to university and study a subject that I enjoy.

What has been your biggest challenge through having Cerebral Palsy and how have you overcome it?

J: I consider myself to be one of the lucky ones as I only have CP mildly on the right side of my body (Hemiplegia). This has resulted in some mobility issues and learning difficulties – dyslexia – and I have some problems with my speech and hearing.  

From a young age, I always got told by the doctors and some teachers I wouldn’t achieve great things. My parents were told that I would never ride a bike or pass my GCSEs. I actually did both and I received a 2:1 Degree from the University of West London.

Honestly –  I’ve overcome my CP just by trying. If something doesn’t work out the ‘normal’ way, there’s a million other ways of achieving your desired goal.

Just because it may take me longer or I have to put in a little more effort than others to achieve something, it doesn’t put me off. Having CP doesn’t define me, it’s just something I have to be aware of.

M: I am very fortunate that my CP is mild which allows me to be able to walk without assistance. However, one of the biggest challenges I have through having CP is tiredness and being able to keep up with the demands that the industry expects.

Maria Cerebral Palsy disabled women in business

How does your Cerebral Palsy affect your business and how do you overcome those challenges?

J: I don’t allow it to! Maybe with the accounting side of things as I’m not very good at Maths, however, I always have my Dad to help me or can pay an accountant.

M: Photography uses a wide range of equipment that can be very heavy. When I need to concentrate on where I am walking, it can be difficult especially when you know the equipment is worth lots of money.

To overcome this involved admitting to myself that it is okay to ask for help and to be honest with people. If there is a day where I am extra tired or I keep tripping then I have realised that it is ok to ask for help. This is to protect myself and the equipment I am using.

The most important thing that CP has taught me is to listen to my body. As I have other disabilities alongside CP, it is vital that although I do not let my disabilities stop me from doing things, I am able to understand when my body is telling me to slow down.

As much as I would love to, I can’t keep up the same pace as everyone else!

Why is it important to raise awareness for Cerebral Palsy?

J: I couldn’t tell you the amount of people who have said to me that I do not have CP because I am not in a frame. People can be so ignorant.

There are many different types of CP, ranging from mild to severe, so I think more can be done to help people understand that CP affects people in different ways. Unfortunately people can be unkind and not think about what they say to others.

Jodie Cerebral Palsy disabled women in business

M: It is vital that we continue to raise awareness for CP. Although it is one of the most common forms of disability, everyone is affected in completely different ways.

It is important that people are aware of the common side effects that are associated with CP and can adjust accordingly. Most people would be surprised at how small changes can make such a positive impact on people’s lives.

Tell us about one of your most recent achievements?

J: I am training for the London Marathon in April for Cerebral Palsy Sport.

The training is tough and you have to be really committed to it but I have found a new love for running.

I cried when I completed my first half marathon as it felt like such an achievement. I always got teased for the way I used to run and before I started training I couldn’t even run a mile.

M: Alongside university, I also compete in disability athletics. My greatest achievement so far is competing for Team England at the Commonwealth Games in Australia in 2018 for the T35 100m. This involved training six days a week whilst completing my second year at university. This was tough, however I knew that there was an end goal that I wanted to achieve which helped me.

The best way for me to cope with my disabilities is through sport. Sport allows me to work my muscles and grow in strength after each training session. Without regular training, I become more tired and less able to concentrate. My walking gets worse as my muscles become tighter and less relaxed.

Aside from the physical benefits of sport, I also gain psychological and social benefits from being active. This allows me to take a break from my university work – although whilst I am at the gym is often when I come up with my most creative ideas!

Maria Cerebral Palsy disabled women in business

What advice would you give to other women with Cerebral Palsy who are thinking of starting a business?

J: Just go for it! Leap before you look. I find women tend to think about stuff too much. So just action it!

Having CP doesn’t define us just makes us different.

M: The best advice that I think I could give for other people with CP who are about to graduate is to be honest.

In my own experience, I found that the more honest and open I have been about my disabilities, the more people appreciate it. It then removes any awkwardness or the questions that they want to ask by facing the situation head on.

Connect with Kirsty

Connect with Jodie

Connect with Maria

Girl Tribe Gang’s #DeterminationAndDisability feature

In our #DeterminationAndDisability feature, Girl Tribe Gang highlight the stories of incredible women with disabilities who run their own businesses or aspire to quit the 9 – 5.

  • #Determination And Disability
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