Talking Travel, Business, and Possibility with Martyn Sibley

Muneer: As an entrepreneur, what is the biggest challenge you’ve faced and overcome? The thing you’re most proud of?

Martyn: Leaving the day job. I had lined up a little contract, so I knew I had two months of oxygen, but bearing in mind living in London: London rent, London lifestyle. If things didn’t go according to plan, months three and four were going to be pretty tricky.

Muneer: That sounds scary?

Martyn: It was. And I still don’t quite know what pushed me into doing it, cause all of the logic and all the practicality was saying “don’t do it.”  I just went in one day and gave my notice, “I’m out of here in a month.”

Muneer: How do you feel compared to other, able-bodied entrepreneurs?

Martyn: I feel the same as any entrepreneur. I’m the same as Richard Branson. I’ve got similar drive.

Muneer:  What advice would you give to other disabled people who want to become entrepreneurs?

Martyn: There’re a few exercises to do. One thing, look at yourself and what you like, enjoy doing, strengths and weaknesses, and what kind of lifestyle you want: you only want to work for one hour a day, or not go to an office, or travel the world, whatever it might be, will be a part of how you approach the business idea.

It’s also about taking the small steps. There was a girl in Italy who picked up my work. She facebooked me and asked me ‘how can I do what you do?’ But the simple answer is she won’t ever do what I do; we’re two very different people. But what she can do is start.

Martyn’s confidence and conviction in his abilities burn like a fire inside of him, tempered only by his modest opinion of himself. He doesn’t see his achievements as an entrepreneur any more remarkable simply because of his disability.

But I disagree with Martyn. Having read his blog and some of the articles posted by other disabled people on Disability Horizons, it quickly became apparent to me how many things able bodied people take for granted in their daily lives: the ability to walk, climb, drive, shower, change clothes, travel, use the stairs, etc. The list is lengthy indeed if you take even a few minutes to sincerely think about it. And even among disabled people there are those less able than some, especially if they live in countries whose governments don’t allow for disability provisions.

Self-employment is difficult work. Many entrepreneurs go through multiple try-fail cycles before making it. When you’re disabled, your day-to-day challenges add up pretty fast. To become self sufficient with a disability is a feat worthy of distinction all on its own.

But Martyn is not unique in this regard. There are many others like him.

One of many Disabilities come in many forms and some are more severe than others. As such, it can be unfair to compare one with another. Disabilities can be visible, invisible, physical or psychological. Some people are born with disabilities and others get them through accidents. But there are many individuals who fit into one or more of these categories who have succeeded as self-starters.

Urban Miyares is a blind and multi-disabled Vietnam War veteran. He founded the Disabled Businesspersons Association (DBA) in 1985 and is now recognized as one of the leading figures in self-employment for disabled people. He has won multiple awards in entrepreneurship and founded other organizations and charities since, including Challenge America, a therapeutic sailing program for disabled people.

Eileen Parker was diagnosed with autism and Sensory Processing Disorder. During therapy for her condition, Eileen discovered weighted therapeutic blankets. These blankets help people with autism and SPD to focus their senses, relax and rest. Eileen was inspired to design and sell her own blankets and founded Cozy Calm in 2008. Cozy Calm has rapidly grown since then, selling blankets to individuals as well as hospitals, with sales forecasts tripling between 2011 and 2012.

Vanessa Heywood gave up her professional acting and singing career in 1995 when she was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. In 2002 she founded Tiny Mites Music, a program that provides music, movement and drama classes for pre-school children to develop their natural curiosity and imagination. In 2010 Vanessa won the Stelios Award for Disabled Entrepreneurs in the UK, along with 50,000 pounds to grow her business.

These are only a few of the amazing people who didn’t let their disability – whatever it was – stop them from going where they wanted.

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