Disability and employment: my story of success
From a non-conformist teenager to a successful career woman with her own business, disability blogger Kelly Perks-Bevington talks to Disability Horizons about how her disability hasn’t impacted on her accomplishments.
Let me start this piece by thanking Disability Horizons for approaching me, and for taking the time to painstakingly read my rambling blogs about my life, my career and everything in between (if you fancy having a read, scroll to the bottom of the article for a link to my blog). I’ve admired Disability Horizons for a while – it’s current, informative and it doesn’t patronise.
When approached to write this piece, I was asked to write about my career and setting up my own business, something I don’t write about often, but when I do, I always wonder why I don’t do it more.
So, where to begin? I suppose I should address my disability first. My disability is Spinal Muscular Atrophy Type 3 or SMA 3. Because of this, I use a wheelchair on a daily basis. As it’s a genetic condition, I’ve dealt with SMA all of my life and used an electric wheelchair full time since the age of 11.
So, because this story is all about my career, I suppose I should start at the point where our ‘careers’ start… secondary school.
At secondary school, I wasn’t studious in the slightest. I didn’t apply myself and, to be honest, the only thing I tried to do was to NOT be clever, but to instead be as rebellious as possible.
I hated the way we were forced to learn, and I hated the way I was patronised, and pitied because of my disability. Throughout my whole life, whenever someone has pitied me, I’ve made it my absolute mission to act up as much as possible. I really don’t know what I was trying to prove, but it made me feel better at the time.
Anyway, at Secondary school, I stupidly aimed to fail, grinning like an idiot at every bad grade and sitting out of lessons in my ‘physio room.’ Then reality hit, after our GCSE’s, we all had to move on to the real world. I had to decide my future and I had to decide what I wanted to be! I felt so unprepared.
So, I chose media?! Yep, Media, at a college that non of my friends were going to. I’m really not sure why! Although I acted like I had everything figured out, and like nothing scared or even slightly worried me, I was SCARED TO DEATH.
On my induction day I was terrified. I’d spent years at secondary school building up my ‘rebel’ reputation, but there I was, back to square one – everyone in the room looking at me, pitying me, underestimating me. All of a sudden the awesome fringe, brand new beanie and woollen tank top that I’d picked for my first day were betraying me – they’d made me go from ‘cool’ teenager to misguided little girl in a matter of seconds. I wanted to leave straight away.
But, I stuck it out – privately networking between classmates, trying to prove myself, and it worked! And it worked better than I’d ever expected… I met genuine friends, friends that I didn’t have to impress, friends that liked me, for me. I even met my husband on this course!
But, even at this stage in life, when I was accepted and starting to find out who I REALLY was, I still dedicated zero time to learning. I was instead more interested in learning about the spirit selection in our local pub (yes we got served then, no idea how!). So, to cut a long story short, myself and my friends got into a spot of trouble and I ended up being kicked out of college (bet you weren’t expecting that!).
My parents forced me to go back to start a new course, a different course, until I could get a job. I saw this as an absolute death sentence at the time. I was sure I’d never get a job – I had NO GCSEs and I got kicked off a foundation course at college, never mind the fact that disabled people often face discrimination when it comes to work as well!
But it was then that something switched in me. I knew it was time to actually try and work. I tried SO hard to get a job, applying for anything from retail, to bar work, to jobs in factories! If someone told me I couldn’t do any of the jobs, I’d tell them why I could. I was FINALLY using my defiance for something productive, making solutions to the many problems that the world of work presented me and many other disabled people.
After a solid year of trying for a job, someone finally gave me a chance! I got my first ever job , and it wasn’t a bad one. I was hired to be a doctors receptionist and I LOVED it. So much so, that after just a few months of working there I was promoted to Prescription Clerk, a role I loved even more!
I called monthly meetings with my practice manager, begging for education, begging for ANY training course that they could offer me. I LOVED work – who would have thought that could happen?! After a few years in my dream job and a distinction in Medical Terminology (I scored 99/100 on the test), I was ready to move on.
From the doctors, I applied for a concierge role at a local company in the world of football, but got the job as an admin assistant. Similarly to my first job I worked hard and was on call 24/7. I made my own relationships with clients and shortly after starting there I was promoted to account manager with my own roster of clients to look after. This was a HUGE achievement, I was extremely PROUD of myself.
The time spent at my first concierge company was a huge learning experience for me, and the place where I really discovered my self worth. I WAS good! Clients liked me, and I loved my job.
However, it wasn’t an easy job. So, after years of getting the worst clients, always being the one who answered the 4am calls, a never getting invited to any of the events, I’d had enough! And so I left, feeling severely undervalued. That’s when I set up my own business, my company that would become G5 Lifestyle, with an investor and business partner.
After building the company ourselves, and working tirelessly to build a client base, we were in a place where things were starting to take off. However, my business partner didn’t wish to continue – the world of concierge is VERY full on, and it’s a very strange role if you aren’t used to it. So I decided to take G5 forward on my own. I was scared, but I was relieved. Now was my time to make it work… or to go back to work! Thankfully, it worked.
Throughout my career as a concierge I’ve done some AMAZING things. I’ve sent clients to the BRIT’s and to London Fashion Week. I’ve sourced the ONLY particular bag in Gucci America (5th Avenue Store) and I’ve been to collect it! I’ve brought engagement rings for my clients and I’ve planned honeymoons. I’ve seen my clients grow from young footballers without a clue, to happy families… It really is an amazing job, but it’s not without it’s downsides. I’ve had to grow massively as a person, and I’ve had to look deep into myself for self belief that at the time, I wasn’t sure even existed.
Fast forward to today, I still run G5 for a select group of clients and their families and I also co-direct G5 Sports Consulting with my dad, a company that brings people together. We use our knowledge of the football industry and our contacts to consult on various projects. With the success of this company, we’ve brought majority shares in a local Football Club. This is our biggest project to date and probably my most exciting! It’s a daily challenge, but it’s something new and something that we are already very proud of.
As a defiant teen, I never, EVER saw myself running my own company OR working alongside my dad (in fact, I spent my whole career trying to avoid this! – as I didn’t want any ‘help’ along the way!). Now, I’m a 27 year still with a lot to learn, but who has already learnt A LOT. There’s a long way to go, but I can finally see a clear path.
Hopefully my story will prove that you don’t always need As and Bs on a piece of paper to make a success of a situation, and you don’t always need to have your path decided at the age of 16. But most of all, you should never consider your disability as a hindrance or stumbling block. It’s part of your life, but it’s not the sum total of who you are.
We ask a lot of people these days, just do what makes you happy. But first, learn what makes you, you… that’s when you become invaluable.