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My business is changing the way people think about visual impairment

Thought Leader

My business is changing the way people think about visual impairment

Paralympian Georgie was told she would risk losing her eyesight altogether if she went to university – so she started her own business instead.

 

Name           Georgie Bullen
Business      Team Insight

 

In 2012, I competed in the London Paralympics. I’m a part of the GB Goalball team, and the Paralympics was an event I’d been training for, for years.

 

Georgie Bullen.jpgGeorgie Bullen smiling holding a Goalball ballI’d spread my A Levels over 3 years to be able to achieve academically as well as compete. So after a hectic summer, going back to reality was a shock to the system. And for me it meant completing my last A Level year.

 

I was planning on going to university, but quite soon into my final year I found out that I had been overstraining my eyesight through my work and revision. I have macular degeneration, which is a really rare eye condition for young people – there’s thought to be only 15 young people diagnosed in the whole world. It causes me to have a lot of blind patches in my vision. Whereas the average person has 180 degrees vision, I have about 12 degrees, and rather than tunnel vision I can see in patches.

 

Right then my doctor told me that I could continue with my university plans, but I’d be risking losing more, if not all of, my remaining sight. It was my decision, but she advised against going.

 

Looking at options

 

I panicked. I’d always planned on going to university, and knew it was hard for visually impaired people to gain employment. Around 73% of visually impaired people are unemployed – a huge percentage. It really frightened me thinking that I was now entering into that statistic without a degree. What kind of challenging job would I be able to get?

 

Other than being a pilot or driver, there aren’t many jobs I wouldn’t be able to do without a bit of support. I’ve come across many instances where people don’t really understand visual impairment as they have a lack of awareness.

 

I thought about this from an employer’s view – where it might feel awkward to go to shake your hand in an interview when they don’t know if you'll see them, or they might panic about offending you by saying something like "see you later".

 

I toyed with the idea of creating a team building experience using goalball. Taking away your sight forces you to work on clear and concise communication. It could help those in the corporate world go from feeling awkward around disability to gaining huge awareness.

 

What better way to get employers to understand visual impairment by taking part in goalball – having their sight taken away in a disability sport ran by visually impaired people?

 

Building contacts

 

I never expected starting a business. It was a scary decision. I voiced my idea to my parents to subtly see how they’d react. Both of them have run their own businesses so to them, me starting my own wasn’t entirely unnatural. They both thought it was a brilliant idea, and it gave me the confidence I needed to develop it into reality.

 

I did a Prince’s Trust Enterprise Programme and then launched Team Insight in 2014. Building my contacts was the most difficult part. Both my parents had always had existing clients that they brought with them, but I was starting from a completely blank canvas.

 

It took a lot of time to develop a pipeline and contacts. It’s all about timing. Team building isn’t something people buy on the spot, so sometimes it could take a long time to get the sessions secured.

 

Every avenue that we were offered to get the word out there I’d try at least once. I did a lot of public speaking at networking events and diversity conferences which were really effective. And being a Paralympian helped me get my foot in the door to tell my story. When you’re networking you only speak to a percentage of the room, but giving a talk means if people are interested they seek you out instead.

 

Next steps

 

I’m still in training as an athlete, which makes things really busy with the European Championships coming up this September! But when you are passionate about something, like I am with Team Insight, you can always find a way to balance things together.

 

I recently started taking our sessions into schools to teach students about visual impairment so that the awkwardness barrier is broken down from a young age. I’m also looking into offering team building events using other Paralympic sports in the future, such as sitting volleyball and wheelchair basketball.

 

Sport is an incredible bonding tool but disability sport can amplify that. When people are out of their comfort zone you get to know the real person more. I think that knowing you’ve pushed yourself and given it your absolute everything means you can never be upset with the result. And I’m really happy with how Team Insight has developed.