Hayley Kellard with her brailler (Perkins)

Hayley Kellard tells us how a passion for braille led to her setting up her own business, what it was like growing up with a disability in the 1990s, and how she learned to accept herself and her disability.

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

I was born with a rare eye condition called Wagner’s Syndrome and have been visually impaired my whole life. I also have a condition called POTS (Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome), which I was diagnosed with in 2019.

In my younger years, I struggled a lot with being disabled and being different to everybody else at school. I just wanted to be the same, to fit in. I hated that I couldn’t see the board and had to copy from a friend’s notes. Back then, in the 90s, nothing was adapted for my needs and instead I just had to make do and get on. I had very little support, except for being given A3 handouts instead of A4 – something that I didn’t actually need but was given to me anyway! I believe that’s one of the reasons I did so poorly at school, leaving with just maths, English and science GCSEs.

As I got older, I learned to accept myself and my disability. I grew more confident about saying “I can’t see that” in group settings and asking for adaptions.

However, it’s only recently, after teaching myself braille and opening Dotty About Braille, that I have fully accepted who I am, and started to forgive my body for letting me down and failing to keep up with my hugely ambitious mind!

Tell us a little about your business.

Dotty About Braille was opened in May 2023, selling on Etsy, Not on the High Street and through my own website. I specialise in braille greetings cards, labels and letters, and I also recently launched a large print range of cards.

I currently hand type all the braille products myself using a Perkins brailler.

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

I found I had a passion for braille, and being a typical entrepreneur, I wondered how I might turn that into a business. I came up with greetings cards because I knew the options were limited, having struggled to find cards for my mum in the past, and sometimes they were quite expensive.

I wanted to offer greeting card options for a wide range of life events, key milestones, and special occasions. So far, I have over 30 designs with more planned, and I’ve priced them in line with what you’d pay for a regular handmade card.

Christmas Braille Cards Group Square

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

One of my biggest challenges is getting the braille cards into physical shops. This is one of my goals, but the response I’ve received so far has been quite negative, because they won’t be big sellers.

I want business owners and buyers to understand that not everything is about the bottom line, sometimes it’s more than that. By stocking these braille cards in their shops, they’re showing their community that they’re inclusive and that they care.

Another challenge is my own limitations: due to hand typing everything myself, I can only make so many in a day. In future, I would like to invest in an embossing machine to increase the production rate, improve accuracy, reduce waste, and expand the products and services I offer.

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?

Specialist 1-1 business support aimed at disabled entrepreneurs would be fantastic. I’ve had a lot of support with my business so far, which I’m very grateful for and have found really helpful, but so few people know much about braille or disability that the advice I’m given is never tailored to me and what I might need as a disabled business owner.

I think we also need to make everything as accessible as possible, so potential entrepreneurs know they can run their own businesses independently.

Websites like this do help a lot though: by showcasing disabled entrepreneurs, you’re inspiring others, showing them that it’s possible for them to do the same.

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

I know it sounds cheesy, but I think Dotty About Braille is one of my greatest achievements, because I’ve created something that people love and that’s meaningful and inclusive.

The feedback I’ve received has been so positive. One customer who’d purchased a card for a blind friend even wrote me a lovely thank you note because she was so pleased to have found my cards.

It’s also fantastic that Dotty has been selected as one of the Small Business Saturday UK #SmallBiz100 for 2023.

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

I recently discovered the social model of disability and I think it’s a brilliant concept: it’s not my impairments that disable me, it’s society by not being inclusive and accessible. I think that’s what I’d love to change: I’d love able-bodied people to look at disabled people and not think, oh they’re such a pain, such an inconvenience for needing this adaption, or this support. I’d love them to look at us and think, okay so the way things are done right now doesn’t work, what can we do to help with that?

I want people to understand that disabled people are talented, capable, and keen to succeed, it’s just that society is holding us back by not adapting as quickly as it needs to.

Who or what inspires you?

People achieving their dreams inspires me, whether that’s running a successful business, landing a dream job, getting into university, whatever it is: I just love seeing people having a dream and then working hard to achieve it.

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

A great book I would recommend is Profit First by Mike Michalowicz. I did find it a bit wordy and it went on for longer than was needed, but the concept is brilliant, and it transformed how I manage my business finances. I read it in 2019 and I implemented the concept into how I run Dotty from day one.