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How Access to Work helped Sharon set up her own business

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How Access to Work helped Sharon start her own business

Sharon Ross has set up her own business ghostwriting autobiographies to enable people to capture and tell their own stories. Here she explains how the government's Access to Work scheme has helped her overcome some of the challenges presented by her epilepsy.

Sharon is wearing a red dress and  matching white necklace and bracelet. She has shoulder-length dark hair, parted in the middle. Sharon is talking at a mic and reading from a script.

A couple of years ago, I came up with the idea of setting up a business, ghostwriting autobiographies for everyday people to share their story with family and friends. I called my company Prashker – in memory of my grandfather, who I never met, and whose full story I will never know. 

As a writer, I knew I had the skill-set to carry out the core of the work. But there was a snag. Although my seizures are controlled, my cognition is poor. Setting up a business involves planning, organisation and decision-making skills, and this is where I knew I would struggle.  

Access to Work

That is where Access to Work came in. A friend told me about the scheme, and I applied for a grant online. The application process, which included sending them my business plan and medical reports, was straightforward, as was an online assessment that took about 45 minutes. The assessor recommended Disability Impact and Coping Strategy training, recruiting a support worker and several software packages. All of these have proved invaluable. 

I was able to fund Executive Function coaching instead of Disability Impact and Coping Strategy training using the grant and found a coach using a company called Connections in Mind. My coach, who I met with online weekly, took time to understand me and the business I was setting up. I felt that she appreciated the cognitive struggles that I faced. The coaching wasn't a one-size-fits-all approach or a miracle cure, but an experimental exercise to see what strategies we could find to help me. 

I needed to do a certain amount of paperwork to obtain the grant for the support worker. This included writing a job description, listing the tasks I wanted the support worker to do, together with how long I thought each task would take. I was lucky to find atwsolutions, employment recruitment consultants, who helped me with this paperwork as well as finding me a support worker.

Support worker

My support worker's role is to assist me with planning, goal setting, problem-solving and some administrative tasks, and I meet with her via Zoom. As I said, I designed her job description to support my needs, and each disabled person would have different requirements for a support worker.

The software packages Access to Work provided included Otter, which records and transcribes conversations and Text To Type, which reads out the text on the screen. These packages help me remember and process information, and without the assessment, I would not have known that they would be useful for me.

Help with transport

Access to Work can also provide tailored mental health support for up to nine months for those in work. I know that many people with epilepsy have such challenges and feel that this support could be helpful for them. Another useful aspect of the scheme for people with epilepsy is that it can pay for taxis if you cannot use public transport because of your disability. A disabled person can also apply for funding for communication resources needed for an interview.

I have had to pay upfront for some of the resources and claim the money back from Access to Work. This process can be difficult for a small business. However, I would encourage disabled people in work or about to start a business to apply to the Access to Work scheme. It could make the difference between being in work or not. In my experience, so-called 'dis' abled people are very able indeed and deserve all the possibilities that work can offer.

Find out more

Prashker autobiography ghostwriting

All views expressed here are those of the author and are not necessarily those of the Epilepsy Society.