Sarah DIllingham

Sarah Dillingham of Grace & Able tells us how her wedding dance inspired her to found her company, and why disabled entrepreneurs are perfectly placed to run their own businesses.

How do you identify as disabled, and what does it mean to you?

I have rheumatoid arthritis, which is a rollercoaster of an autoimmune disorder where my immune system attacks the joints and tissues in my body, causing swelling, pain, and joint deformity.

When I was first diagnosed, it was uncontrolled, severely affecting my mobility. Many things that I took for granted, like getting dressed, cutting up food, and walking up steps, suddenly became almost impossible.

Twenty years later, I still live with chronic pain and fatigue, but my situation is much improved. Medication has slowed the progression of the disease, for which I am very grateful – but the trade-off is that the meds come with challenging side effects.

For me, disability is acknowledging these limitations, and learning to accept and adapt to achieve the things I want to do.

Tell us a little about your business.

Grace & Able make wearable joint support for people with arthritis. Orthopaedic bracing and compression therapy relieves arthritic pain and swelling, and reduces the need for invasive procedures like injections and surgeries.

Grace & Able products are hand therapist designed, with input from arthritis patients, for function, comfort and style, empowering wearers to keep doing the things they love for longer.

Why did you start the business? Share your story so far.

I have eroded bone in my right wrist. A few years ago, I needed to wear an ugly bulky wrist brace – at my own wedding! I wasn’t very happy about it, but I didn’t want to give up my first dance, so I customized the brace to match my dress. Result: one wedding-worthy wrist brace and a very twirly first dance.

When I shared my photos, I received many requests from other arthritis patients, asking me to make them a wrist brace. I joined forces with Certified Hand Therapist Trevor Petrie, with a mission to empower people with arthritis through wearable joint support.

Two patents and three products later, we have a thriving business and are excited for the future.

What do you see as the main challenges facing your business and its continued operation or growth?

Managing my energy is an ongoing challenge. I am thankful that I can run Grace & Able remotely from home, to work around physical needs and medical appointments.

Wrist brace from Grace and Able

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?

The best businesses solve a real-world problem and are run by founders who can keep going in the face of setbacks.

Disabled entrepreneurs already have these strengths. We can identify solvable problems that larger companies can’t spot, and we already know how to be resilient and adaptable.

The unfortunate reality is that it is often harder for ‘non-traditional’ founders to raise capital. You don’t have to do it alone though. Organizations like Innovate UK are a good place to look for grant funding, while d:Entrepreneur’s inspiring founder stories show that it can be done.

What do you consider your greatest achievement or the proudest moment in your life so far?

I’m proud of all the five star reviews we have received for Grace & Able joint support. Hearing how our products make a positive difference in people’s lives makes the hard work worthwhile.

Wrist Brace And Bag

If there was one thing you could change about peoples’ perception of disability, what would it be and why?

Disabled people are normal people. Disability can – and does – happen to anyone. 80% of disabilities are acquired, occurring between the ages of 18 and 64.

Who or what inspires you?

I love seeing adaptive products that combine function and beautiful design, removing the stigma of using them. Two companies who excel at this are Oxo Good Grips and Neo Walk canes, who are both very inspirational.

Do you have a recommendation for a book or a podcast which has helped you along your journey?

Burn the Boats by Matt Higgins is a great read to get over hesitation and imposter syndrome in business.

Podcast must be a shout out to the Grumpy Gits – the world’s most listened-to disability podcast!