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Zubee Kibria tells us about how her new business aims to make events more accessible for disabled people, and how her first inclusive fashion show ended up in British Vogue.
How do you identify as disabled, and what does it mean to you?
I was born with cerebral palsy, which affects my mobility, balance and coordination. As a result, I use crutches to get around and occasionally use a wheelchair for long distances.
As a disabled person, I feel I have to do a lot just to prove myself. I faced a lot of negativity when I was growing up and was told that I couldn’t do certain things, which has affected my confidence. I don’t like to be seen as someone who is less capable just because of my disability.
I hope my story will motivate and inspire others and show them that they can also start their own business. Commitment, hard work, passion, persistence and determination are the key to success.
Tell us a little about your business.
My business, Access My Events, is a consultancy business that aims to make events in the UK more accessible to disabled people. Attending events myself has made me realise that not all businesses know how to cater for everyone. I want to give disabled people the opportunity to enjoy events too.
Why did you start the business? Share your story so far.
I always wanted to start my own business, but never had the right support to enable me to get me to where I want to be. I struggled to get a job in the events industry, despite applying for numerous positions, so decided the time was right to take the leap and start my own business.
I started my career in the hospitality industry, but then moved onto a number of different charities doing a variety of roles, which included working on events. This was something I loved and am really passionate about. As a disabled person, I understand the challenges disabled people face when it comes to finding and attending events, and I wanted to do something to change that. I love to make a difference in people’s lives through the work I do.
By setting up my own business I can create my own job, be independent, earn money and make a difference for other disabled people, all while doing something I really enjoy. It will be a great sense of achievement to have built something of my own and turned a long term goal into reality.
What do you see as the main challenges facing your business and its continued operation or growth?
It’s challenging simply to start a business with a disability and I’m sure there will other challenges as I continue to build my business.
I knew that it would be difficult to get other businesses to believe in my idea and what I’m trying to do. Although some of the businesses I first approached did show some interest, I didn’t hear back after my initial reply and phone calls, which was very disappointing, and there were many times I wanted to give up. I know that getting other businesses to engage with me and the services I offer will be an ongoing challenge, but I want to get as many businesses as possible on board who would be interested in making their events inclusive and accessible for disabled people. I want to grow a network of businesses to work with. Ultimately, I want to make inclusivity a staple part of organising an event.
Of course, I have been affected by the corona virus pandemic, like so many businesses in the UK, especially in the events sector. It has been very disheartening as I’ve been trying to get my business off the ground for a long time and it feels like there is always something that prevents me from reaching my goal. I was feeling optimistic about my business, but then Covid 19 hit, which made me question whether I should carry on amid so much uncertainty. I’ve had to work hard to keep the momentum going in order to feel that I am making some progress. Watch this space!
What can we do to encourage more disabled entrepreneurs to start businesses – what is holding them back and what can we all do to help change that?
More support is needed to help disabled people. We need mentors in different fields of expertise who can give guidance on everything from the process of starting a business to keeping it going and making sure it has all the necessary ingredients to make it a success.
We also need more awareness so that businesses see potential in a person’s ability and not just think that someone can’t run their own business because they have an impairment. The right support and guidance can make all the difference and change the course of someone’s life.
What do you consider your greatest achievement or the proudest moment in your life so far?
My greatest achievement would have to be putting on my first ever inclusive fashion show called Fashion with Passion in Oct 2010, which included both disabled and non-disabled designers and models, including some well-known celebrities who also took to the catwalk. I hadn’t organised a fashion show before, so it involved a lot of research and planning. The show was intended to raise money for charity and to raise awareness of disability in the fashion industry. It raised over £2,000 and received local, national and international press coverage, including an article in British Vogue. I had planned it to be a small scale event, as I was new to it, but it turned out to be much bigger, something I wasn’t expecting at all! You can watch a video of the show by clicking the following link https://youtu.be/bHdfEXceuV0
If there was one thing you could change about peoples’ perception of disability, what would it be and why?
Look at the person’s ability and not their disability.
Who or what inspires you?
I like to be surrounded by like-minded and positive people who support and motivate me. I have good friends in my network who are successful business owners. Hearing their journeys and experiences really inspires me to want to succeed and follow in their footsteps.
Do you have a recommendation for a book or a podcast which has helped you along your journey?
I like to watch motivational videos by Jay Shetty, who is a former monk and storyteller who shares words of wisdom based on things that happen in everyday life. One of my favourite videos (the following link opens and external page) Before You Feel Pressure – WATCH THIS.