Work & Education

From volunteering to starting my own business helping disabled people access events

Our very own Zubee Kibria, who has cerebral palsy and has worked with Disability Horizons for more than seven years, is starting her own events business. Like many disabled people, she’s discovered that finding the right job hasn’t been straightforward. So, starting her own business is the ideal way to be financially independent and work on her dream job.

Please tell Disability Horizons readers about yourself?

I am a disabled entrepreneur who loves to make a difference in people’s lives through the work I do. I have had a varied career working and volunteering for a number of organisations in the public, private and voluntary sectors.

I started my career in the hospitality industry, but then moved onto a number of different charities doing a variety of roles. This has included working on events, something I loved and am now really passionate about.

In May 2012 I started volunteering for Disability Horizons and I have been committed ever since. It has helped me to develop as a person, gain more confidence and skills to progress further within my career.

I have always wanted to start my own business, but have never had the right support to enable me to get me to where I want to be. Since my last paid job, which I left more than a year ago, I have struggled to find the right job opportunity, despite having applied for numerous positions.

So, I have finally decided it’s time to take the alternative approach and start my own events company called Access My Events.

Zubee, Emma and Liz from Disability Horizons at Naidex
Zubee (on the left), Liz and Emma on the Disability Horizons stand at Naidex 2019.

What is the aim of your company and how can it help disabled people?

Access My Events is a unique business designed to give disabled people the opportunity to attend events around the UK, from fashion shows to trade exhibitions. I will find events that are accessible and build partnerships with those businesses to enable me to promote the event to the disability community across social media and through my network. If I find an event that isn’t accessible, I will work with the business to make it inclusive.

What was it like growing up with a disability?

I am the eldest of three sisters and one brother and the only one with a disability. I was a premature baby and as I started growing up my parents noticed that I was making slow progress with learning to walk and had difficulty with balance and co-ordination. They later discovered that I have cerebral palsy. As young parents, they hadn’t heard of the disability and didn’t know what it was.

Being raised in an Asian family and having a disability has its own cultural barriers, too. In the Asian community, disability is very much seen as negative, something to be ashamed of, to hide away or get rid of by finding a cure.

A lot of families assume that a disabled individual will not be able to live a fulfilled and independent life. They see it as a life sentence where the disabled person will be doomed, unable to get a suitable education and work, live independently, get married or start a family. It means there are a lot of misconceptions and discrimination against disabled people in the Asian community.

Being female means it’s twice as hard too as some parents can be very overprotective, like mine are. It makes it harder for me to be independent as they don’t believe I am as capable as I am. Due to these restrictions, I do feel my disability a lot more.

What inspired you to start your own business?

As a disabled person myself, I understand the challenges disabled people face when it comes to finding and attending events that may be of interest. I have a passion for helping other disabled people attend activities in and around their local area – it’s so important for independence and wellbeing.

As somebody who struggles to get out and about myself due to family and cultural barriers, I know what it’s like. I believe that starting my own business will enable me to earn and be more independent, all whilst doing something I really enjoy and am passionate about. For me, it will not only give me a great sense of achievement, but be a dream turned into reality.

How do you feel about being an entrepreneur and starting your own business? 

It’s tough being a disabled entrepreneur, especially if you have not run a business before. But it’s exciting at the same time. There will be a number of challenges along the way. But with persistence and determination, things will slowly start progressing and falling into place.

When I started out a few years ago, I tried to get financial support from organisations. They all gave me hope that my idea was good. But, in the end, they couldn’t offer me what I needed to make progress. So I left it for some time, thinking business wasn’t for me.

However, I have now decided to do it alone and get the guidance and advice I need through the connections I have made along the way. As time goes on, my confidence levels go up and down. But it’s important to keep going.

With my idea being completely new, I didn’t know what response I would get from businesses. But the first call I made to a big events company was really positive. It was great to hear the owner saying that I have a unique idea that I should defiantly peruse. This motivated me to never again give up on my idea.

The entrepreneurial journey is a learning process, but I’ve also learnt a lot about myself along the way.

How did you build up the confidence to start a business and is confidence something you’ve struggled with or had to work on?

I have struggled with confidence from a young age. A lot of it has been down to my disability and the people I have been surrounded by growing up. But, as I have progressed through my career, I feel that I have slowly started to build it up. Having a good support network of friends and family really helps to boost confidence.

I enjoy watching and listening to motivational videos from people who have made a success of their career through hard work and determination. I also love reading positive quotes, one of my favourites being:

“Life is like a camera, just focus on what’s important and capture the good times, develop from the negatives and if things don’t work out take another shot.”

Zubee Kibira

From your experience of accessing events, what challenges do disabled people face and what should event organisers be doing to make the experience better?

The challenges vary for each individual depending on a person’s disability as well as the event. Challenges could include:

  • no lifts or ramps;
  • no accessible toilet facilities;
  • an attendee being unable to actually get into a venue due to lack of access;
  • limited or no disabled parking near the venue;
  • no British Sign Language or subtitles for those who are deaf;
  • no provisions for someone visually impaired, such as Braille or a hearing loop;
  • no accessible train stations on a route for those needing to get there by public transport;
  • no hotels nearby with an accessible room for those who want or need to stay over.

As well as a lack of physical facilities or too many barriers, there also needs to be more staff training to improve customer experience.

Event organisers need to be prepared and cater to disabled people’s needs in advance of planning an event. If unsure, it’s always helpful to ask the individual what type of support they would need. Once in place, the experience will be more enjoyable for the individual, making it a hassle-free event.

What are your top tips for going to an event if you have a disability?

  • Plan well in advance.
  • If you need an entry ticket, book it in advance and find out about concessions if you’ll be travelling with a PA/carer.
  • Think about how you will get to the event and back? Would it be easiest to travel by train, bus, tube or car?
  • Call the venue to check the access and toilet facilities, rather than just relying on information on the website.
  • If you will be getting there by car, check whether there is disabled parking, where you need to book it and what the process is?
  • Find out the nearest accessible stations if travelling by train and book assistance for your journey in advance.
  • If you’ll be travelling a long way, consider looking for hotels nearby with accessible rooms available so you can stay overnight.
  • Depending on the type of event, inform the venue what assistance you would require once there.

What are your plans for Access My Events and the future?

I want to grow my network of disabled individuals keen to attend events and make connections with businesses who want to be inclusive, as well as encourage others to do so as well. I also want to use Access My Events to raise awareness of disability and make inclusivity a staple part of organising an event.

If there is a particular you are interested in attending, or if you’re a business that hosts events and are interested in getting more disabled people to attend, please get in touch by emailing or contacting me on Twitter @AccessMyEvents or Facebook.

What advice would you give other disabled people thinking of starting their own business?

It’s hard to start a business on your own, especially if it’s your first time. It’s even more challenging with a disability as you won’t know what reactions you would get from the businesses that you approach.

So it’s helpful to have a mentor from the beginning to guide and help you through the ups and downs. Try to find someone who has a few years’ of experience running a business in your area and therefore knowledge of the industry. It’s also good to do your own research before taking a mentor on board.

By Disability Horizons

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Zubee Kibria

I am a multi-skilled and motivated individual with a passion for inclusion and diversity having worked in the field of disability and equality for many years. I have over 10 years experience in media relations with a proven track record of commissioning articles with high-profile celebrities, bloggers and influencers. Engaging with celebrities is a particular skill I have and I am exceptionally creative at finding angles to interest them.
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