I don't think of myself as handicapped



Making a success of office life means coping with a series of minor and major irritations - from colleagues who won't shut up to computers perpetually on the blink. Most of us are too busy cursing the malfunctioning vending machine to give second thought to what it would be like to handle a personal challenge like disability - and manage that same office job all the while.

So Liz Jackson's story is extraordinary. She launched her telemarketing company, Great Guns, six years ago with a £100 grant and £4000 loan from the Prince's Trust. The company now employs 100 people with £1.5m turnover and nine regional branches and franchises. It's pretty good going for any entrepreneur, but the fact that she is also blind makes it a dazzling achievement.

"I ignore it. It's a practical issue only," says Jackson firmly. "I'm in a telemarketing career, the main tools are voices and ears. When I meet a client, I introduce myself and I just say 'By the way I'm blind - that's why I'll be hanging on my PA Pete's arm.'"

Greats Guns had humble beginnings. "To start with, I made 100 calls a day from the living room of a shared flat in Basingstoke - random calling for just one client," says Jackson. "Once I got a second client, I could hire someone else to help."

With someone to drive her and do paperwork, plus help from the Prince's Trust, business grew rapidly - Great Guns is now one of the UK top marketing companies. While Jackson uses a laptop with special software which reads out data to her, her role now is as a motivational leader. She speaks regularly to her staff when they have "employee of the month" presentations, holds directors' meetings and recruits and meets new clients. Her office culture is informal, with daily prizes like bottles of wine or chocolates, plus an office masseuse.

And she's not just popular in the office. People around the UK pay to hear Jackson's business acumen. She now has 40 speaking engagements a year. But it's not been the easiest ride. Over the lifespan of her business there have been "hundreds" of business problems, from unpaid bills to recruiting the wrong people. Jackson just doesn't let it bother her. "Worrying is a complete waste of time, so is getting depressed - you need all your energy for the office," she says. Unusually in these workoholic times, she refuses to work 24/7. "I can honestly say that I've rarely worked more than an 8-to-5 day. You shouldn't let work consume your life - I value my friends and family too."

Don't call her disabled, though: "I don't think of myself as handicapped. If I hear someone say 'Liz is disabled' I wonder who they are talking about. I'm just a businesswoman who happens not to see."

Adapted from the Guardian, July 25, 2005