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Self Employment – Helen Dolphin MBE

Helen in Wheelchair with Dog next to accessible coach
Helen in accessible car showing Driving License

Hello I’m Helen Dolphin. Many thanks to Jenni for inviting me to write for DPV and giving me pretty much the freedom to write about whatever I like. I thought I’d write about employment and how I ended up as an accessible transport consultant.  

I became disabled when I was 22 when I lost both legs and hands to meningitis. I was studying for a PhD in obesity at the time, but when I was well enough to return to work it became pretty obvious that finishing my PhD was going to be impossible. The lab was up a spiral staircase for a start and although I’m pretty adept with a split hook, working a pipette would be very tricky. I therefore found myself unemployed with absolutely no idea what to do. 

There had been a lot of publicity around me, my disability and also the campaign I had run to get better prosthetic limbs for amputees. There weren’t many chat shows I hadn’t been on and I was quite a regular on Richard and Judy’s sofa. My local ITV news then asked me to make a short series for them on transport and disability. It went down so well with the viewers that I was asked if I’d like to train as a TV news journalist. Having assumed there weren’t many jobs I’d be able to do I jumped at the chance and after a year’s training I was a fully-fledged news reporter. 

I stayed at Anglia News for the next eight years and it was a job I really enjoyed. However, I often found myself reporting on the difficulties disabled people were experiencing and I felt in my heart that I wanted to do more to improve the lives of disabled people. I therefore made the decision to leave and join a charity called Mobilise (now Disabled Motoring UK) which campaigned on behalf of disabled motorists.  To start with, this was a great job and I loved being involved with campaigning. However, after some years I became increasingly unhappy with how the charity was being run and how I was being treated so I decided to leave and set up my own businesses. I say ‘businesses’ as I set up an accreditation for car parks called People’s Parking which helps people find a car park that meets their needs – www.peoplesparking.org — as well as a consultancy to help transport operators improve their accessibility. 

I love the flexibility and variety that self-employment allows. I can take my dog out for a walk in the middle of the day or pick my son up from school and I don’t have to worry about having a day out for a hospital appointment. I currently do some work for Network Rail, Heathrow airport, East Midlands Rail, the British Science Association, and the Civil Aviation Authority to name but a few. I think the hardest thing about going self employed was getting the support I needed from Access to Work. As a self-employed person you have to take a certain amount of money every year or your support gets stopped. I’m lucky that this has not happened to me, but it is always a worry. 

In the last 20 years, there have been a lot of improvements to transport for disabled people but there is still a lot more to be done. I feel lucky to be working in a sector that is trying hard to improve and when you can see the difference that your input has had it is really satisfying. The government is aiming for a fully inclusive transport system by 2030 and I’ll be doing my best to help make sure they meet it! 

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