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Focus on accessibility earns Wellesley woman a spot with digital series

[Submitted]

An entrepreneur with more than 20 years in the graphic design and marketing industry, Wellesley’s Jolene MacDonald is also an advocate for people with disabilities, both as a parent and through her own experiences.

The combination of those two facets of her life led to the launch of Accessibrand, a marketing and design venture organized in 2018 as a collective of those with disabilities or whose lives have been touched by disability.

MacDonald’s work is being profiled in the just-launched second year of How She Hustles’ Startup & Slay digital series, featuring seven women and one non-binary entrepreneur from three provinces who have shown how their startup is slaying the Canadian market. She’ll be featured in the October 21 online event, Making Business More Accessible, along with Sage Lovell of Deaf Spectrum.

The Startup & Slay series aims to create a space for diverse women to connect and learn from each other about how to be successful entrepreneurs in Canada.

That appearance is part of a busy year that saw MacDonald use the coronavirus downtime to take part in the Conestoga College Entrepreneurship Collective in its Venture Lab.

On October 21, she’ll be sharing her story online  with individuals across the country, having been one of the successful eight from among 200 applicants.

It’s a story MacDonald describes as “kind of long and short and sweet.”

Having a daughter living with a disability was her gateway into the world of accessibility issues.

“That is how I got into the world of advocacy and working with individuals with disabilities. I myself was diagnosed with an invisible disability called Ehlers-Danlos syndrome a few years ago,” she said, noting that came as she was part-owner of a marketing and design company in Kitchener. “Between balancing kids, my father was terminally ill, and I was very ill and with no diagnosis, it was just too much. So I decided to go on my own doing freelance. But I had an opportunity when the pandemic hit in January to re-pitch my business to the post-college Entrepreneurship Collective.

“The brand now has gone from just me being a freelancer to a full-fledged virtual ad agency that focuses on accessibility.”

MacDonald ran with the decision and applied for the Venture Lab as the college, her alma mater, had extended the eligibility to past grads.

“It has been my vision since about 2012 to create some sort of agency that helped other individuals with disabilities, on the accessibility forefront. But I owned another business, life changes and things like that,” said MacDonald of the winding road that led to Accessibrand.

The company’s focus is employing those living with a disability or those that are impacted by it – being a caregiver to someone with a disability, for instance. Currently, 80 per cent of those employed by Accessibrand have a disability, with MacDonald noting the venture has expanded such that 13 people now work with the company.

“A lot of the times, individuals who have been impacted by disability, they can’t work full-time jobs, and employers just can’t accommodate them very well. So I sort of put that together as a thought that we could create this collective and provide opportunities for jobs,” she explained of the effort.

Under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, all businesses must move to become more accessible to people with disabilities, a natural fit for Accessibrand’s services.

“Every business has a mandate to become accessible. There are different levels of accessibility for different sizes of businesses, but many businesses that are traditionally faced in design and marketing always had accessibility as an afterthought. We approach all of our projects with accessibility is a top priority, and the benefit is that all of our staff have lived experience, so, they know exactly what works and what doesn’t,” she explained.

It is estimated that 22 per cent of Ontarians live with some kind of disability.

More information about the Start-Up and Slay event can be found online.

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