Jaki King of If Everyone Cares CIC tells us how her community maps are changing the way people can find and offer support, about her experience of receiving diagnoses later in life, and about the A to Z of positive thinking.
How do you identify as disabled, and what does it mean to you?
I think you need to use the word “disabled” when you’re talking to people so they ‘get it’, however actually it’s a ‘different ability’, you’re differently abled. Like everyone else there are things I’m good at that perhaps others aren’t, things I’m really good at, and then things I really struggle with that knock my confidence on a daily basis.
When I set up my business, I already knew I was dyslexic, that I struggled with anxiety and had complex PTSD from surviving an emotionally abusive marriage. I wasn’t diagnosed with dyslexia until I was 32. Growing up, school had been a scary place and I left with no qualifications. I was quite a good verbal communicator when I felt confident, yet when asked to write things down or follow instructions, or if someone changed the subject, it would totally throw me. I spent my time in the classroom thinking that I had to take notice of every single thing, because if somebody asked me a question then I had to try to find a way to answer it without looking stupid, it was exhausting and confusing.
I now own my ‘different ability’ and say it’s like I’ve got ‘Swiss cheese holes’ in my brain: I can be doing a task or having a conversation, that’s really flowing, and then out of nowhere, everything is blank and my brain is fighting to find connections and routes back so that I don’t look ‘stupid’.
In my early 50’s, through Access to Work, a work psychologist suggested that I be assessed for autism and ADHD. The process took over two and a half years, and in late 2019 I was diagnosed with ADHD and then six months later with autism. I had spent my entire life feeling like a ‘misfit’, feeling ashamed, and doing what I now understand is masking: putting on a front to the outside world to hide the confusion and turmoil that’s going on inside. Masking all the time is exhausting and also terrifying, because you feel that you don’t fit in and don’t seem to understand the things that other people take for granted. I’m still cautious about being open and honest about it, because often you see or hear a change in a person’s reaction to you – which can have a real impact on how you feel in that moment and a lasting impact that you need to ‘recover’ from yet again.
Tell us a little about your business.
Across the UK there are over 150k charities and even more community groups, projects & organisations that provide critical support, places to connect with others & opportunities to volunteer. Yet, believe it or not, there is no central hub that brings this information together. This means that often it’s easier to find a restaurant on Google Maps than it is to find help and support.
In today’s world of incredible technology, it made sense to create a resource that changed this and I have launched aDoddle.org, the UK’s first network of connected area-based community maps, focused on connecting people and communities – one click at a time.
I think we can all agree that there has never been a more critical time to bring this information together in one place, to make it ‘aDoddle’ for people to find help, give help or connect with others. At the same time as raising the profile of the thousands of charities and community organisations that have, and continue, to support those in times of need.
Hidden within our communities there are incredible organisations that people struggle to find. It’s time to bring the information together on one map and help people find help when they need it most. As an example, aDoddle will help people find out where they can volunteer, where they can connect with other people, so they reduce isolation which in turn will have a knock-on effect on reducing mental health. Some people may find that actually they don’t need to go to the doctors for antidepressants or even have an appointment if they could find a local history group, or volunteer at a local memory café, make new friends or get support.
We built aDoddle from the ground up. As we listened to people from all walks of life the more we realised that comm unity mapping done it the right way could benefit everyone, help empower people and support the growth of more resilient communities. aDoddle will help ‘join the dots’ as to what exists and what doesn’t, which will help key decision makers in local authorities and the government to make decisions about where money is channelled, because they’ll be able to see where there’s duplication, where there’s a lack and where there’s need. Over time it will provide a ‘true’ picture of the organisations & resources in every community across the country.
Why did you start the business? Share your story so far.
For most of my life, I have only spent short spells in employment. It always followed the same pattern: I would do my job, I would be excellent at it, then they would change what they wanted me to do and it would be terrifying and I’d leave – that was the cycle of my working life.
In 2010, I had one of my brief spells of employment. I was working as a trainer, helping people who’d been out of work long term due to illness and disability to rediscover their confidence and self-esteem. It was amazing. I wrote and delivered the courses; I managed the time and the space and everything else. If there were empty seats on any of the courses, I would invite people who’d already attended a course to come back and be peer mentors for other people. It cost the company nothing more than some sandwiches, biscuits and coffee, and sometimes people needed to attend more than once in order to build their confidence. Then one day, my manager told me that they couldn’t repeat the session anymore. They could come on one course and that was it, done. Plus, because I was doing so well, my manager asked me to do more. This was before my diagnosis, so I couldn’t understand why I found this so frightening and why I couldn’t take on just one more thing.
At the same time my manager said a number of my clients were “no hopers”. It was a flippant comment, which has never left me. No one is a ‘no hoper. I’d listened to their stories and knew that had they been able to find help and support at an earlier stage, they probably wouldn’t have got to crisis point. Some had lost their jobs, their marriages, their homes, some had tried to take their own life, others were isolated and some struggling with mental health issues. The stories were often devastating and have stayed with me. I also knew that a short period of time before, I would have been considered a no hoper, and I may well be considered one again in the future. In that moment, I decided, I wanted to try to find a way to help people find the help they needed, when they needed it.
At that point in my life, I was privileged as I had some savings, and my first grandchild was due, so I decided to quit my job – yet again, to work on a solution.
The road hasn’t been smooth, and there have been many times when I wanted to quit. A turning point for me was when someone suggested that I contact Access to Work, to see if I was eligible for support. At that stage, I only knew I had dyslexia and CPTSD. It was a long process, however, a work psychologist picked up on the fact that she thought I had either ADHD or autism and so started the journey for diagnosis.
Eighteen months before getting support from Access to Work, I was told to give up work and to sign on as unemployed. I said that I didn’t want to be unemployed, I wanted to work, and I was told that my business was never going do anything. Yet, since then my business has been named on the UK Digital Leaders 100 list for potential social impact. I’ve received a Points of Light award from the Prime Minister, as has another member of my team. And I love hearing how people have found support or opportunities through aDoddle.
I’m so proud of our tech: our maps can be dropped into any website, and they can feature just a niche concern such as food aid, environmental support or mental health support, or they can feature just an area. Organisations can create their own profiles which are like a miniature website that can be partially branded to them; we even hide our header, so it looks like it’s the organisation’s website. Some smaller charities are using their profiles instead of having a website of their own. It’s easy for them because it’s just filling in a form, and then our tech works the magic in the background. This reduces their costs and a need for a tech volunteer too.
What do you think we can do to encourage more disabled entrepreneurs to start their own businesses and what do you think is holding them back?
From my personal perspective, as someone with autism and other conditions, I think that self-employment is an amazing thing to be able to do, because it’s manageable. I think job centres could be more supportive of self-employment, and perhaps work in collaboration with the National Lottery and organisations like ours to create a 3-year pilot project for people who have disabilities to work out what support they need to achieve this.
For example, I know some people struggle with the fear that they could build and grow businesses, and then be removed from the security of the benefit system, only to find themselves suddenly ill again and having to renavigate the system from scratch, yet this time without the support that they’d previously had.
This could sound like people want to survive on benefits, however, for many people with disabilities, that could not be further from the truth. They want to work; their conditions are unpredictable yet given the right support they could be empowered to achieve far more than even they think is possible.
What do you consider your greatest achievement or the proudest moment in your life so far?
My greatest achievement is my kids, who they are as people and their values. They’re grown up now and I’ve got five grandchildren: my oldest grandchild is 12.
Apart from that, I think it’s the fact that I persevered with the work that I’m doing now when people told me I couldn’t do it and when people told me it wasn’t possible. I’ve been told my whole life I can’t do this, or I can’t do that, that I’m stupid or thick or troublesome, that I’m the black sheep of the family and the one who causes trouble and problems. I wanted to break the mould and show people that I could do something – and I am.
When I was diagnosed with ADHD, the consultant said, “Imagine what you could have achieved if you’d been diagnosed as a child,” but I wouldn’t be who I am today without ADHD, dyslexia and autism. In some ways I’m pleased that I wasn’t diagnosed as a child, because the struggles that I went through made me push past barriers I never thought I could push past.
Who or what inspires you?
Everybody I meet inspires me, because everybody’s been on their own journey and has had to overcome something. I’ve met people who have overcome things that I just don’t think I could have coped with, but they’ve done it and they’re still standing. When somebody has the courage to share their story, they are helping someone who comes behind them.
Do you have a recommendation for a book or a podcast which has helped you along your journey?
There are many books that I love (often audiobooks) but these are two that come to mind.
The first is Start With Why by Simon Sinek.
Another book I love is The A to Z of Positive Thinking. Did you know that in an average dictionary of 30,000 words, there are 5,890 words that have a negative connotation and only 1,705 that have a positive connotation? That means it’s three times easier to be negative about somebody or something than it is to be positive about somebody or something. The book goes through all the positive words from A to Z. I have two copies and I love it.
One thing I would recommend to anybody is to listen to audiobooks. I have to give myself permission to read. I used to read all the time when I was depressed or anxious, because it took me away from the real world; and then when my eyesight started to change and it wasn’t as easy to read, that’s when I discovered audiobooks. When I’m able to get out for a walk, they’re the support: having the headphones on, having an audio book helps me get outside.