My name is Jessica, I am 22 years old and I was born with Cerebral Palsy;  I come from a great family who have a keen interest in Art, Design and Culture. My greatest achievement to date has been my recent graduation from Kingston University where I completed a BA (hons) in Product and Furniture Design.  My final piece, which I’m very proud of completing, is centered on myself and my disability; it showed and described my personal struggles, attempting to look at those struggles in a better light —a more positive way of approaching design for disability.  I feel that if my work reflects myself and my character, then I could help others to do the same.

Photo of Jessica.

Image: Jessica

If I was asked to describe myself, I would say that I was an energetic and hard-working person who loves working collaboratively. I understand people and I am happiest working as part of a team, but occasionally I enjoy working on my own.  I am opinionated and a pleasure to work with as I am committed and will always give 100% in whatever I have been asked to do. I am very outgoing and very sociable, as well as a keen learner and who enjoys learning new things. 

I do not always face barriers on a day-to-day basis, but sometimes I have found it hard to express myself and articulate my point in the workplace. Sometimes I have found that I can face physical barriers, ranging from fine motor skills to maybe being asked by someone to carry out a large task physically.  I try not to allow these barriers to overwhelm or interrupt me, but instead I try to crack on with the activities to the best of my ability.

Nothing can stop you but yourself, and don’t let anyone else stop you in pursuing your aspirations.

Discovering Shape

I was browsing online for jobs in the Arts and Culture field when I came across Shape. I immediately expressed a keen interest in the company as I was keen to receive support in order to tackle barriers and progress on to a good career. I had hoped that it would allow me to become a more confident individual when expressing my ideas and describing my work in the future.  

Yannis replied to my email immediately and told me about the one-to-one information and guidance sessions as well as the many ways that Shape could help me to take the next steps in my career. In the first session with my career advisor I was able to have a detailed, informal conversation about my future plans to build a career for myself; I found the advice to be very helpful and clear as to what my next steps should be.  I was also able to openly discuss my struggles and to find a way to tackle any difficulties, I felt that not only I was able to discuss my plans on what I want to do/achieve, but I could also foresee how it may happen.

Photograph of objects designed by Jessica Ryan-Ndegwa

Image: Products designed by Jessica.

Finding my Voice

Shape is a very supportive and inclusive network that I have the privilege of being part of.  Shape has supported me so far by opening new doors for me and helping me to develop my career. I have also joined the forum of Young Leaders at Shape.

I am happy to be working with colleagues that share a passion for making the Arts and Culture sector inclusive for all and expanding the network of young disabled people having their say when it comes to the arts.  Through Shape, I have been involved in attending workshops and events; I was recently able to visit the Richard Cloudesley School and had the opportunity to talk to students who may face barriers in their day-to-day life. I also led a creative chat with sixth form students to inspire them to think about having a career in the arts, and to represent the face of Shape along with another colleague. This was really inspiring for me, as I had never done anything like this before. On a more personal level, I really enjoyed it and it was great being able to get a valuable insight into these wonderful students' lives. 

Jessica Ryan-Ndegwa at a youth forum meeting

                                                               Image: Jessica at a creative chat with college students

I would describe my experience with Shape so far as very welcoming, and everyone who works in Shape is so easy to get along with, because we all share a similar experience.  I hope to continue to expand my network of people who are working within the field of my choice and to meet new people as I go along.

Shape is allowing me to become more confident in myself, and my own disability.

Final words

I feel as if I finally have a voice to be heard; this is very important because from past experiences nobody can really understand fully what it’s like to be disabled — unless they have a disability. I say this because there are a lot of products and services etc. that should take everyone’s needs into consideration, but actually fail to meet those needs. I would like to pass on my knowledge and inspire a younger generation of people that may be facing difficulties in finding themselves to let them know that nothing can stop you but yourself, and don’t let anyone else stop you in pursuing your aspirations.

Looking forward, Shape is starting to benefit me by making me believe in myself more and my future career possibilities. I am beginning to create and see a path emerging which combines my interests and what I want to do.

As I am still a new Young Leader, I hope to start developing my career as a disabled product and furniture designer, and to be thankful to Shape for being the ones who helped kick-start my career in design.

Jessica Ryan-Ndegwa

Visit Jessica's website for more of her designs:

Banner Image: Flash-Drive Key designed by Jessica Ryan-Ndegwa