Glenda Watson Hyatt was born with cerebral palsy; she has speech impairment, uses a wheelchair and can type only with her left thumb.
Despite these challenges, she is also a college graduate, budding photographer, expert at macramé and the owner and founder of Soaring Eagle Communications, an online consultancy that helps companies and municipalities make websites more accessible to persons with disabilities.
In our e-mail interview, Watson Hyatt discusses her business, how she stays positive and her advice for budding entrepreneurs with disabilities.
OF: How did you decide to start your own business?
GWH: During my job search years, only one employer chose to take a chance on me and that was for a grant-funded position. Once the year was up and the funding gone, I was out of a job. No other employer gave me the opportunity to prove what I was capable of and what I could bring to an organization.
After much thought and without any opportunities presenting themselves, I decided to take the plunge and start my own business. I had been considering it for a few years. Being self-employed meant I could work from home and work flexible hours, which seemed like a sensible way to accommodate my disability. I began researching self-employment programs and then launched Soaring Eagle Communications about 14 years ago.
I’ve worked with three levels of government, transit authorities and non-profit organizations to improve accessibility of their websites for people with disabilities. I also write avidly on my blog about accessibility and disability-related issues. Recently, I’ve been presenting on accessibility-related issues at various conferences.
OF: What does your average day look like?
GWH: After feeling drained last fall and having four consecutive nasty colds, I decided to implement a four-hour workday in January. I’m at my computer around 10 a.m. Client work is always a top priority. I also write blog posts, work on content for a new product, network via Twitter, and answer e-mail.
Since implementing the four-hour workday, I’ve started to feel healthier, more energetic, happier, content and balanced. Some days I have to work more than four hours, but I have no qualms about it. I also don’t feel guilt taking a day off once the job is done.
OF: What challenges do you face in your business because of your disability and how do you overcome them?
GWH: Given that I type with only my left thumb, maximizing output and productivity has been a challenge. I use word prediction and completion software to increase my typing speed and reuse and repurpose content whenever possible.
When I started my business, my speech impairment was a challenge, but now it is much less of an issue, thanks to technology. For example, when I have group meetings online, I use text chat to communicate so I am no longer excluded from discussions. Most days I don’t think about having cerebral palsy and using a scooter. I’m too busy to be disabled.
OF: What inspires you to stay positive every day?
GWH: Some days it is difficult to stay positive, but then I hear a favorite song, witness someone struggle with a serious situation and succeed or watch someone do what they are passionate about and I am reminded of what I need to do to move forward and keep going.
OF: What's your advice to other persons with disabilities who dream of being entrepreneurs?
GWH: Do you homework first. Talk with other business owners. Research your idea. Once you decide to go for it, go for it! You might encounter naysayers along the way. Listen to them and then prove them wrong.
Living with a disability has likely given you the ability to solve problems creatively, to see situations from another perspective and given you other life lessons. Use those lessons to your advantage; exploit them.
Photo credit: Courtesy Soaring Eagle Communications