Danielle Farrel, who has cerebral palsy, set up consultancy business Y.O.U to help disabled people live independently, and businesses to become fully inclusive. Here, she tells us about how her experiences led her to start her own company, and her plans to help and reach more disabled people in 2021 and beyond.
Since the beginning of the lockdown in March 2020, Y.O.U and I has been on a journey, and it’s not finished yet. But, on reflection, our journey started long before that….
Growing up with a disability
I was diagnosed with cerebral palsy (CP) at around 18 months of age when I wasn’t reaching the milestones children of that age are expected to, such as sitting up on my own, taking my first steps etc.
Doctors told my mum that I would never be able to call her that or stick out my tongue. I have literally just said “mum” as I am dictating this story to be typed. And I can definitely stick my tongue out – mum used to buy me ice lollies to prove that I could!
From then on, I was never wrapped up in cotton wool. My parents never thought that I was less able to achieve anything than my older brother because of my disability.
Before I was old enough to advocate for myself, my mum was my voice. But when I was able to understand, my mum was open with me about the challenges she and my dad had faced as parents of a disabled child in the late 80s.
Fighting for an education as a disabled person
Education was one of the main challenges my parents had to overcome in my early years, and it was still a challenge I had to face as I became an adult.
When I was due to start primary school, my parents wanted me to go to the same mainstream primary school as my brother. But the education department was of the view that I would disrupt the class; of course I would, because having CP means I am a bull in a china shop!!
Fast forward seven years and I had proven that I could achieve and excel academically. I was on par with my non-disabled friends who, all the way through primary school, didn’t see my wheelchair, just Danielle.
Having also achieved at secondary school, I was able to start planning for my future. Having always been interested in writing, I took a Higher National Certificate and Higher National Diploma in media and production at college. I then went on to do a BA honours degree in media.
Persevering and overcoming challenges
As I continued my academic career, the same challenges applied – I had to fight for the right support and to be seen as an equal – but I faced them head-on.
I have often been asked where I get my strength and determination. Sometimes, I’m not sure myself. There have been points where I have felt like giving up and become very close to doing so.
But there is one reason, or should I say one person, that is why I don’t give up – my mum. She gave me a voice and made sure I knew how to use it. She is not with us now, but she has been and will always be my motivation to achieve everything I can.
During my studies, I decided to take a year out to decide what I wanted to do with my life. As it turned out, it was the right choice as that year I faced one of my biggest challenges ever.
My dad’s house, where I had lived to that point, was flooded when the bank of a river burst. That was a day I will never forget.
What followed was six months of living in temporary accommodation and more challenges with social workers. However, looking back now, the flood was my opportunity to grasp my independence with both hands.
It made me realise that if I was in the right place and with the right support, I could be so much more independent than I ever was in the rural town we lived in, where dad had to be my carer. So I decided I wouldn’t return to my family home but instead find my own place and personal assistants.
More than 11 years on, although my dad would never say it to me, my decision not only gave me my independence, but I gave my dad his life back. Now my dad and I have a father and daughter relationship and that is so important to me.
Creating Y.O.U – and how it can help you
The experiences I have just shared with you are some of the key reasons why I set up Y.O.U. The official name is Your Options Understood.
We work to support individuals and families to ensure someone’s needs and rights are fulfilled and, most importantly, that they can live their life as they choose.
When establishing Y.O.U, my aim was. and still is, to use my first-hand knowledge and experience of living with a disability to be part of changing the narrative for disabled people. We provide:
- training and education
- self-directed support advice
- person-centred planning support
- and consultancy.
Y.O.U also supports organisations and employers, helping them to be accessible for both customers and staff. They can access our training, where we design bespoke packages to meet the needs of their team.
I also offer consultancy services, advising businesses on how they and their services can be fully inclusive. I use my first-hand experiences of overcoming the challenges that society can put in place for disabled people.
It is important to me that Y.O.U also supports disabled individuals to have their voices heard, especially if they are not able to do so themselves. I do this through the advocacy work Y.O.U does.
To date, I am reliably informed by those who have accessed our services that my delivery puts a completely different spin on things and offers a completely different viewpoint. I have been told that I tell it like it is.
One headteacher of a local secondary school told me that, “I certainly make her staff think.” For me, this feedback is what it is all about.
If I am making people stop and hopefully reflect on how they provide support to disabled people, then I am doing my job right and achieving what Y.O.U’s aims are. I hope that my honesty offers a different perspective that will have a positive impact on the way those who support disabled people work.
The Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown have highlighted how important is it that things don’t go back to the way they were for disabled people, their families and even for the organisations involved in supporting them.
Due to this, I have changed the way in which Y.O.U’s services can be accessed and delivered. Part of this has been in designing a new website with a new logo.
Having pride in your disability and identity
Anyone who knows me knows I love colour, especially pink, and this is reflected in the new website and logo. Our new logo is an Avatar (pictured above), and it is scary to see how much a cartoon can resemble me.
The Avatar is also more than a representation of me as a person or Y.O.U as a business – it is also about emphasising the importance of disabled people being encouraged to embrace their own identity.
Being a disabled person myself, I know first-hand that a disabled person’s identity is often overlooked. This is sometimes unintentional, but, never the less, it is the reality.
Support workers, for example, might think it is easier or quicker if they choose a person’s outfit for the day without consulting them. They may also do so because a person is non-verbal, so assume that they are unable to make their own choice.
They might even think that it is not possible for them to have their hair dyed because they need assistance to wash their hair. But these shouldn’t be barriers – a disabled person should be able to express themselves through their clothes, hair or makeup, just like anyone else.
Whilst a personal assistant might have to think outside the box as to how this is achieved, I am proof at how this is possible – my hair is pink with pink and purple stars at the side, one of my many crazy colour and designs.
My identity and how I express myself has become part of Y.O.U’s trademark and part of how I hope Y.O.U can progress as we move into 2021.
Advocating for accessible products
I have also started producing product reviews and vlogs to highlight products available both on the mainstream and disabled market that allow disabled people to live independently.
It has prompted me to move into product design, to be involved in ensuring the product is useful and inclusive before it’s made. I won’t reveal all yet, but the first product I am hoping to produce will enable wheelchairs users to reflect their own identity through their chair.
If you feel that you, your business or someone you know could benefit in any way from the bespoke services that Y.O.U can provide, please do get in touch by visiting our website or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the meantime, remember it is all about YOU and/or the importance of being fully inclusive – and Y.O.U is here to help you achieve that.
By Danielle Farrel
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