Podcast Episode: Your Options Understood: Danielle Farrel
What follows is a transcription of the audio recording. Due to differences between spoken and written English, the transcript may contain quirks of grammar and syntax.
MM - Michael McEwan
DF - Dr Danielle Farrel
MM On this podcast for Iriss I went to interview Dr Danielle Farrel. Danielle Farrel owns her own company called ‘Your Options Understood’, so I went to find out more about it. So Danielle, why did you set up your business?
DF I set Your Options Understood up back in 2015 after I’d finished my PhD and graduated from university. I guess I set it up for two reasons really. I started applying for jobs and things and wasn’t getting anywhere fast really. So somebody who’d worked with me quite closely at the time had said to me, “Do you ever think of setting up something for yourself, Danielle?”, and I said, “What do you mean?”, ‘cause I really hadn’t thought about it, and she said, “Well you’re the one person that could use your knowledge and experience of living with a disability to help others”, and as I say, I hadn’t really thought about this as an option at the time, but if you say something like that to me it sort of plants a seed. So I thought about it and I thought, “Well if I don’t try I don’t know.” So I approached Business Gateway initially and they put me in touch with the Prince’s Trust. So from there on it was a Prince’s Trust supported business, and I also set it up because I felt like it was the right time in my life to use my experience and knowledge of living with a disability to help and support others, and to try and help be part of changing the narrative for disabled people.
MM So I think you touched upon it there, but just expand on that, Danielle, about why was there a need for your kind of business?
DF Well there are lots of businesses out there that provide services for disabled people and a lot of them are led by disabled people, and I think that’s where I wanted to fit in as well because - and I don’t mean any disrespect to any business that provide services for disabled people, who have non-disabled employees who provide that service - but I think it’s very different if the service comes from disabled people, who have the lived experience and the knowledge, and it gives you a totally different viewpoint and I think you approach things differently. You can empathise with people on a completely different level, and also I’ve been told in recent months that Your Options Understood services are different because I have such a big personality and I have such a different approach to things, and I’m very honest and just tell it like it is I guess.
MM I think it’s very important as well if you deliver a service and you’ve got first-hand experience because you’ve got a disability as well. You can understand what people go through on a day-to-day basis, especially if they don’t get the right support when it comes to self-directed support. Danielle, I was reading on your website as well about you offer a wide variety of services - and you can give your website out in a wee bit - but I just picked 2 services that you do. Tell us a bit about the self-centred planning that you do and your advocacy work.
DF Well the advocacy work is about giving people a voice who wouldn’t otherwise have a voice, using my experiences of disability to offer that type of support, because when people need support and to have their voices heard, they often feel as if they’re not being listened to by services. So it’s really important that they are being listened to, and as a result of me being able to empathise with that I think that gives a different shift, and also it’s important to say I think that in response to COVID-19 and the challenges we’re facing at the moment, you can now offer these advocacy services online. So people can still contact you and I am happy to deliver the advocacy support either on the phone or via Zoom or any other video calling platform. The person-centred planning support, again it can be offered digitally at the moment because we’re not able to do it face-to-face, but that is about helping people with disabilities to be big and look to the future and realise their potential, and break down those barriers that they may think are in their way when it comes to living the life that they want and leading it how they want to lead it. So the person-centred planning support is about thinking outside the box. It is not service-led. It’s about helping the person being big, even if they can’t reach the whole of their dream due to their disability. For example, somebody said they wanted to be a pilot, but rather than due to their disability saying, “Oh you can never do that”, the person-centred planning process helped that person break that down and say, “Well what is it about being a pilot that you enjoy?”, and because of that process it helped the person. They weren’t able realistically to become a pilot but through the process they were able to identify what it was about being a pilot that they could do and what it was they enjoyed. I believe now that they actually work in the airport. They’re not a pilot but they still work in the airport and they wear a uniform, ‘cause as it turned out it was wearing a uniform and helping people that they liked the idea about being a pilot. So the person-centred planning process is just about helping a person get their own identity and look to the future I guess.
MM And also you mentioned as well on your website, Danielle, you say it’s coming soon but if you can tell us a wee bit about it just now if you can, about the eLearning that you’re doing?
DF Yeah. It’s coming very soon. Hopefully in the next couple of weeks we’ll find they’ll start to go out in social media in the build-up to the launch, but yeah, the eLearning platform, I’ve been developing it for a while before COVID but more so now in response to COVID, in the fact that we aren’t able to do face-to-face training due to government guidelines, but the online training platform will be an opportunity for providers and the individuals themselves, if they employ their own PAs through self-directed support, but they can purchase new training modules which have been specifically designed by me using my lived experience of disability, and they’ll be up on that platform and there’s loads of training materials that I’ve developed using voiceovers and stuff. So even when people purchase the online material you’ll still get the relevant face-to-face experience because I’m actually including my own thoughts and voiceovers in the material. If organisations want this I’m offering the fact that their staff can come on and talk to me at the end of completing a module. So if they have any questions I’m happy to come on Zoom or whatever to have that interaction with the staff, and there’s also an organisation that’s already approached me to design bespoke training for them. So it’s very specific to their training needs and what they want their staff to learn, so that’ll be up there too. So if Your Options Understood doesn’t currently design material that they need, I’m happy to do that.
MM So we’ve been talking about your website quite a bit now, about your business. Tell us a bit about how people can get in touch with you through your website.
DF Well, lockdown has been a very challenging unexpected journey for Your Options Understood, and like many businesses I wasn’t sure where we were going to be or how we were going to be at this point, but I’m fortunate enough to say that it’s a journey that I’m embracing at the minute and part of that journey has been that I’ve sort of rebranded the business. So I have a completely brand new website. It’s very pink, which if you know me you know that’s very me. Very pink and it’s very funky I hope, and I have a new logo, which again if you know me you’ll know it associates very well to me and looks quite like me - scarily - in cartoon form, but the whole idea with the new website was to appeal to everybody and for people to associate Your Options Understood - or YOU it can be abbreviated to - so that people could associate YOU with me. So through the website people can either submit an enquiry through the website or obviously by email, and my phone number is there as well. So they can email or call me directly.
MM We’ll come back to a bit about your business in a minute, but you mentioned about the coronavirus. So how are you coping with the coronavirus, and also you mentioned earlier about your business, but just tell us a bit more about how is your business coping with the whole coronavirus?
DF For Your Options Understood’s response to coronavirus, I spend my life on Zoom or on Google Meet, but that’s fine. We’re all doing that at the moment. I’m becoming quite a pro on how to use these things, and my diary is filled with a lot of these meetings, which I decided this is what I need to do. For me on a personal level, I’d say that like for everybody it was very challenging being separated from family and not being able to visit as much as you would like, and even when you are, still having to keep that distance. In all honesty, if I didn’t have my work and the people who I have around me right now supporting me, lockdown would have been a very different experience I think. I wouldn’t like to think what the experience would have been like if things had been different. It’s also been quite a learning curve and I’ve had quite a hard pill to swallow as well, because as I mentioned previously Your Options Understood was a Prince’s Trust supported business. It’s not anymore just because I took the decision to move away from the Trust because it was brought to my attention quite clearly that people who had supported me previously had given up on me and just assumed that because I have a disability and because of coronavirus and because I was having to shield, that I wouldn’t be working anymore, and they made this assumption without having spoken to me, and it was brought to my attention by somebody else that this was the response that they’d given, and that was a pretty hard pill to swallow ‘cause what right does anybody have to make any assumptions about anybody, but these people had worked with me for five years and decided to make that assumption. So yeah, it just goes to show that you don’t really know people.
MM So going back to the beginning of your business, Danielle, if you would, what’s the feedback been like from your clients that have been using your organisation, because I know as well that you go to a lot of events to kind of like promote your business but also to speak about your own personal experience as well?
DF Yeah. On the whole it’s been really, really positive. Don’t be wrong, I have had some comments about how to improve things and how to amend things. That’s fine because that’s constructive criticism and part of your personal and professional development is that we all need to go through that, but on the whole it’s been really positive. A Head Teacher from a local school, she’s been proactive in getting all her staff involved with it in sessions, and she got me in to deliver them and she would always come back to me and say, “You certainly make my staff think, Danielle.” I said, “Well if I’m making them think that means I’m doing my job right”, because it’s giving them a different perspective, and one young person I support - or I have supported in the past - who was making the transition from school to college, her social worker actually came back to me and said, “When you started working with her, her anxieties were through the roof, but now they’ve very much settled down because she was able to talk to you and she knew that you’d been through that transition process.” So I think I was able to empathise and show her that it doesn’t need to be as scary as it seems and if you just break it down into manageable chunks, and she was able to cope with that and I’m really glad to say she’s now at college and she’s really doing well. So for me that’s another positive outcome. Yeah, organisations I’m working with now, in the next few weeks you’ll be able to hear from them directly because there will be a video going out with the viewpoints of various people and organisations that I’ve worked with and continue to work with, and I’m happy to say that you’ll see on the video that their viewpoints are very positive.
MM So what are you hoping for in the future after the coronavirus? Obviously getting out and about more to speak to different people to promote your business?
DF Like all of us, I don’t really know what the future is going to hold. It feels impossible to look that far ahead at the moment, but I’m just using this time and embracing what opportunities come to me and I hope that by the time the current restrictions are lifted, that we can actually go back to normal as we knew it - if we ever can - or at least get out and about. I’m hoping that I can build on what I’m building now, and I can see how a lot of the online services work - especially for disabled people - at times. So I don’t think I’ll move away from that entirely but if there comes a time where we can go back to face-to-face delivery of services I would hope that I could get a balance between digital and face-to-face, because although I can see the benefits of it I can also see the limitations of digital support, because when people with disabilities go through challenging times sometimes there’s a lot of emotion involved, and if that’s the case and if people become emotional online, you can’t really comfort them in the same way you would in person. So for me, the way we’re having to deliver services right now, that’s lacking that, but understandably because we can’t hug or whatever, but I think it’s just made me see how digital works and how it’s lacking in some areas. So I would hope after corona I would be able to get the balance somewhere for Your Options Understood, and continue to build on what I’m developing now.
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