Abby Moorcroft tells us how her art helped her process her experience and find her community, and how her hobby became a rewarding business.
How do you identify as disabled, and what does it mean to you?
I have been chronically ill since the age of 11, and have since been diagnosed with postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS), myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME), and vestibular migraine, among others.
In the first year of creating my art, I learnt so much about disability and the intrinsic link it has with chronic illness. Before sharing my art and connecting with other disabled people, I had never used the word disabled to describe myself, partly because I was very young when I became ill and didn’t know about the history of the word or how people identify with it.
By listening to other people’s explanations of their identities, I began to learn how I fitted into the community too. It was also through these incredibly supportive online communities that I discovered I am also autistic.
I wouldn’t be who I am without being disabled. It’s an integral part of who I am as a person and how I see the world. I haven’t achieved what I have despite my disabilities, I have achieved what I have because of my disabilities. I’m proud to say that I am a disabled, autistic woman.
Tell us a little about your business.
Colourblind Zebra creates badges, pins, clothing, cards and more to raise awareness of chronic illness and chronic pain along with acceptance of neurodivergence and disability. All my artwork and products are created with my own perspective of being chronically ill, autistic and disabled, with the goal of empowering others in these communities.
Why did you start the business? Share your story so far.
Colourblind Zebra originally started as a hobby and a way for me to process what I was going through: I never intended for it to grow as much as it has. It started in 2019, when I was learning how to draw digitally. I naturally began to draw about chronic illness and the impact it can have on the lives of those affected, and shared my illustrations on Instagram, where I found an amazing community of other chronically ill people.
Throughout that first year, I connected with lots of other chronically ill and disabled people, and received many messages and comments about how my work had helped them in one way or another. The process of creating is incredibly therapeutic to me, but to hear it was also helping others meant the world.
Along with messages, I also started to see people asking for pins, stickers and clothing with my artwork on them. This is what gave me the push to start the process of launching my shop. In 2020, during the pandemic, I contacted The Prince’s Trust to take part in their Enterprise Programme. My mentor helped me to create my business plan and in October of that year, I pressed launch on my website.
What do you see as the main challenges facing your business and its continued operation or growth?
While I was excited to be making the decision to open my own business, there was a level of worry that came along with it too when I was first researching the process.
Many of these were the worries that I think every business owner cycles through in their mind – how do I even begin to start this journey? What if I fail miserably? What if everything that could ever go wrong goes wrong? Can I even earn enough to live on?
But also, I had to contend with the worries that chronically ill, neurodivergent and disabled business owners feel – what if my health gets worse and I can’t run it anymore? Will the anxiety that comes with being an autistic person living in a neurotypical world mean that I can’t achieve all that I want to achieve?
These worries were still present when I hit launch on my website, but I had faith in myself that I could do this. I would have to do things in a different way, there would be hurdles in my way that others wouldn’t have to face, but running my own business would give me the ability to work around my symptoms, to have a workspace that was tailored exactly to my needs, and to be able to take breaks whenever I needed to.
I know that in the future my health could mean that I can no longer work, but having that flexibility means that I am giving myself the best possible opportunity to succeed. None of us know what’s around the corner. We can have an educated guess, but chronic illness and all of its ups and downs has taught me that you have to live in the present and enjoy the little things as much as you possibly can.
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?
We need to centre and celebrate more disabled entrepreneurs. Role models are incredibly important and can be the difference between having the faith in ourselves to get started because we know someone like us has succeeded, or feeling alone and not knowing where to start because no one in this space looks like us or has been what we’ve been through.
Community is also vital. Knowing that there is a safe space out there for us to ask questions or for advice without any judgement allows us to learn with the help of others who have the perspective of being a disabled business owner.
What do you consider your greatest achievement or the proudest moment in your life so far?
I am so proud and feel incredibly touched whenever I open my email or inbox on social media to see messages from people who say they’ve found community through my work or that it has made them feel less alone in what they’re going through.
If there was one thing you could change about peoples’ perception of disability what would it be and why?
Not every disability is visible and ambulatory wheelchair users exist! Most wheelchair users do not use their wheelchair all of the time. Many of us use our wheelchair when we’re out and about or we may use different aids like a walker, crutches or a walking stick in conjunction.
Who or what inspires you?
Creative people inspire me. My family is full of artists, creatives, photographers and crafters, and this is where I found my own love for creating. The people in my life inspire me every day, whether they’re a family member, a friend or a celebrity I’ve never met. I see their own creativity and it lights the flame of inspiration to create within me. Whenever I’m in need of a helping hand, an encouraging word or some humour to get me through, I know I can count on them.
Do you have a recommendation for a book or a podcast which has helped you along your journey?
When I was starting to look into creating my shop, I searched YouTube for any advice other small business owners had taking their first steps in their own entrepreneurial journey. I first found Katnipp’s YouTube channel, where she shares ‘studio vlogs’ and takes you along with her on her work days as an illustrator. She has also created videos with tips for new business owners and I found these particularly valuable. I still watch Katherine’s vlogs to this day and she continues to inspire me in my own work!