Steph Cutler experienced unexpected sight loss in 2003. She found herself in demand to share her experiences and motivate others to achieve their goals and potential. This led Steph to set up Making Lemonade, a high-profile, award-winning business providing a wide range of training and development services broadly in the disability field. How did she do it? Read on.
Describe yourself in one sentence
I am a ‘doer’ who is always positive, sometimes cheeky and often impatient!
What does equality mean for you?
If you had asked me this question when I was a non-disabled, work hard-play hard fashion designer I would have said it meant nothing much to me. Having now lived with my impairment for nearly ten years I would say that it now means a lot to me.
Equality means remembering that when we are cut we all bleed. It means seeing beyond what you first think you see. It means people having the opportunity to fulfil their potential and contribute.
What advantages would more equality bring to the UK?
We would be far more innovative, creative and competitive. Realising these business benefits would boost the economy. Ultimately there would be increased quality of life for many more people. This should not be underestimated as it would have a significant, positive domino effect on all parts of society.
Describe any important turning points for you
A key turning point for me was definitely learning about the social model of disability. I never felt that my sight loss needed to be the end for me; in fact I consciously vowed upon diagnosis that it wouldn’t be. However, when I began adapting to my new challenges I found things unnecessarily difficult or impossible. Learning that it was not me on every occasion and that the barriers were sometimes created by something or someone outside me was liberating. It felt like a real 'light bulb moment' and I felt empowered.
Becoming employable again and finding work was the most important thing to me when I lost my sight. I wasn’t expecting to find obtaining work so disproportionately difficult. I had remained pretty positive, despite leaving behind my career, salary, friends, lifestyle, relocating to be with my family and retraining to become employable, but I began to feel down when I couldn’t secure a job. I didn’t secure an interview with a sight loss charity, despite being more than qualified for the role and fulfilling the criteria. As a result, I decided to stick a big two fingers up to the employers I felt no longer saw potential in me and decided to employ myself and I have never looked back from that moment.
I had never run a business, and was having a complete career change from fashion to disability, so it was a big plunge to take. I was having a ‘wobble’ at the point of deciding whether to go for it and start the business I believed was viable. At this time I heard an entrepreneur speak. She was blind and super successful, I heard her speak and I knew my ‘wobble’ was over and that I was definitely going to go for it. This was my first real experience of how amazing and important role models can be.
Who helps to inspire you?
My Dad inspired me a great deal when I was starting my business. He believed in me and supported me with ideas and motivation. The disabled leaders, job seekers and business owners that I now am privileged to work with inspire me regularly.
‘If life deals you lemons... make lemonade!’ C’mon, what else would you expect me to say?!!