One designer's journey through disabling obstacles to self employment

Dave Scates case study;

Breaking into the job market can be hard for any graduate, but for many disabled people it can seem impossible. Daniel, a successful graphic designer, told us about the obstacles he faced when starting out.

After university, I spent two years applying for a full-time job with no luck.

I knew I wanted to be a graphic designer and that I had the skills and knowledge to do the work. I had already done some design work for people at university – mainly for family and friends.

Those two years without work were quite hard. I did have a handful of interviews but had no luck getting any work. At one of the interviews, the building was completely inaccessible and only had a flight of stairs at the entrance. I had to ask the interviewer to carry my chair up the steps. I didn’t get the job, and I’ve often wondered whether this had a bearing on the interviewers’ decision not to hire me – I would have had to get up those stairs several times a day if I had gone to work there.

Although I was really disappointed that I couldn’t find a job, I didn’t give up.

I kept on designing things myself and improving my portfolio. Whether it was my own projects or designing for friends, I had lots of encouragement from those around me and my designs were well received. I began to gain confidence and to take on work from outside my immediate circle.

I’d moved in to a house-share in North London after university with some friends. I knew I had to start earning if I was to stay living in the city. I started thinking about setting up my own business and getting paid for my work.

Livability Enterprise offered me the training I needed to get going.

I heard about Livability Enterprise through my local job centre and I went and talked to them. They explained how they could offer me training to help me set up my own business. They helped me compile a detailed business plan and a work plan.

They always had a solution to every problem and could suggest a new way of approaching things if I got stuck. They were always there for me – they were happy for me to get in touch at any time and ready to help with any query.

“Livability Enterprise always had a solution to every problem and could suggest a new way of approaching things if I got stuck” – Daniel

Through Livability Enterprise I learned everything that I needed to know.

I had a lot to learn about being self-employed – from HMRC, tax returns, accounts and business planning to exploring new business ideas and branching out. Livability Enterprise offered me courses and advice on every aspect of running a small business.

They also encouraged me to network and put me in touch with others who were self-employed and in the same boat. I saw this as an opportunity to gain a few new clients – we were all starting up new businesses and my design skills could help others get theirs off the ground. We all supported each other and swapped knowledge – this gave us a solid understanding of how things work.

Livability Enterprise also set up talks given by industry professionals and these were really helpful too. As the groups that attended these talks were small, we could all ask questions and there was time afterwards to chat further. I learned loads from these sessions.

My business is now very competitive and I am confident approaching new clients.

I have a better understanding of different areas of design, which helps me to guide clients as to what works best for them. I’ve also expanded the types of things I work on. I’ve built up a good network of other freelancers to call upon if I’m not free and we often pass work on to each other.

I work with lots of new businesses and help create their own brand identity, including their logo and any promotional materials. I still design for companies I helped set up – I really enjoy seeing how, with my designs, their businesses have grown and become successful. I also work on appeals and newsletters for different charities and I’ve started doing layout design.

I want to explore more areas in design and expand my client base further. I’d really like some bigger names under my belt. Being self-employed works really well for me as it means I manage my own schedule and can work from anywhere.

My family have played a big role in my choices.

My family are really important to me and have encouraged, supported and inspired me in every way to ensure my disability never held me back – or defined who I am or what I could achieve. They have been amazing – I wouldn’t have the life I do now without this shared outlook.

I’ve always been pretty independent and surrounded myself with friends so I can honestly say I don’t see my disability at all.

Daniel is a freelance graphic designer based in London, UK. He has experience working on a wide range of products, from business cards to full-brand corporate design. You can find out more about his work here.

Livability’s Enterprise Team support disabled and vulnerable people set up their own business or identify engaging employment opportunities. Find out more about their work here.