PA Pool founder and director, Katy Etherington, was honoured to be invited to be a panellist in an online seminar for Discover! Creative Careers Week as part of National Careers Week between 1-5 March 2021.
The live Q&A panels ran throughout the week, to allow young people to submit questions and have them answered by industry specialists. This helps make it possible for schools to count their engagement with Discover! Creative Careers Week within their Gatsby Benchmarks for good Careers Guidance obligations.
Katy, who has spinal muscular atrophy, is an award-winning graphic designer, in addition to running PA Pool.
Katy shared her story with the students: ‘I’d always wanted to do something arty as a career, but wasn’t sure exactly what, so I enrolled at Amersham college to study General Art & Design before going on to do an HND in Graphic Design. I was their first student in a wheelchair, so access wasn’t ideal, but they installed ramps so I could get around, and moved the whole art studio downstairs just for me! I had a fantastic time there, worked hard and got pretty good at problem solving, which I reckon has stood me in good stead overcoming life’s obstacles.
‘After graduating I began the search for a job. I went to loads of interviews and presented my portfolio to many top design agencies (sometimes on the pavement or a park bench if there wasn’t any wheelchair access!). Two years later my determination eventually paid off and I started as a Junior Designer for an agency called Frasers. It wasn’t long before I got promoted to Senior Designer and worked on projects for well-known brands such as the Disney Store, the BBC, Nestle and even rock band Status Quo.
‘I was at Frasers for 12 years before deciding to leave and start working for myself as a Freelance Graphic Designer. Being my own boss has given me a lot more freedom and flexibility! Plus I get to apply my creativity in lots of different ways, which is great as I’m a bit of an entrepreneur at heart! For example, one challenge I had was finding good Personal Care Assistants to help me with daily living, so I decided to do something about it. I came up with the idea of PA Pool, started it as a business and created a website where disabled or elderly people and Personal Care Assistants could find each other. PA Pool now has over 18,000 members UK wide.
‘Ultimately, I think what’s helped me achieve my goals is taking life’s challenges as obstacles rather than barriers, because usually, with a bit of determination, creativity and perseverance you can get around them and make your dreams happen.’
The Q&A session was facilitated by Jenny Connick, CEO of Talentino, whose #SameAndDifferent model is the national SEND school career model that allows identification and successful deliverance of career activities that will help young people with SEND to prosper. Other panellists included Carl Newbould, who manages the ‘Careers for All’ programme at Leeds Museum and Galleries, and Rebecca Meilak, a character animator who has dyslexia.
Speaking after the successful event, Katy said: ‘I was honoured to have been a part of such an inspirational panel of people. We hope our stories inspired young people and proved that careers in the creative arts are possible to achieve no matter what your disability.’
SEND stands for special educational needs and disabilities – find out more on the Government website.