02 October 2008

Future in her hands

by Gloria McShane,

FOLLOW your dreams - that’s the message from a visually-impaired entrepreneur to other disabled people.

Chartered physiotherapist Chris Ferguson, 49, has had the progressive eye disease retinitis pigmentosa since her teens, but that did not stop her taking the plunge and setting up her own clinic six months ago.

And because the clinic was purpose-built, she designed it around her needs.

An NHS physiotherapist at the University Hospital of North Tees in Stockton for more than 16 years, she had already begun a home-based business, but it was growing fast and she needed new premises.

After holding routine office jobs in her twenties, Mrs Ferguson trained as a physiotherapist and qualified in 1991.

“I’ve never experienced any discrimination,” she says. “Physiotherapy is known as a hands-on profession and I trained with two blind girls.”

A major hurdle was the use of computers in the workplace, for everything from medical records to appointments.

So Mrs Ferguson has two assistants who help her with computer work and reception duties, as well as another who reads professional journals to her.

The support workers are mainly funded by Access to Work, a Government scheme that helps with the costs of specialist equipment and assistance for disabled employees or those in self-employment.

At the clinic, Mrs Ferguson treats conditions, including osteoarthritis, lower back pain and tennis elbow, and business has been so brisk she often works until 8pm, because she offers evening appointments.

“It was a huge step to leave the comfort of a job in the NHS, and have to deal with overheads,” she admits.

Yet she urges other people with disabilities to take the self-employment route.

“If you’ve got a dream I firmly believe that you can achieve it.”

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