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Autistic interior designer draws confidence from program for entrepreneurs with disabilities

Jo Viney from Phillip Island is one of 15 Victorian business owners finding her feet in the industry in part thanks to a program designed to support entrepreneurs with disabilities.

The Good Incubator program, which started in June and concludes later this month, partnered participants with business mentor Tricia Malowney who has helped them as they develop their businesses.

Ms Viney, who has autism, opened an interior design studio in Cowes earlier this year which specialises in designs for people with disabilities or with sensory processing needs.

She said taking part in the program had been an amazing experience which helped her refine her business plan.

"But I think for me, the best part has been getting to know another group of disabled individuals and realising that we're stronger together and that we can support each other in different ways," Ms Viney said. "That that sense of community has made a really big difference to my confidence levels as well."

More likely to be self-employed

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, people with a disability are more than twice as likely to be unemployed.

But Ms Malowney said they are also much more likely to be entrepreneurs.

"There's a couple of reasons for that. One is that it gives us the chance to work our own hours in the way that we want to work [and] that we don't have to ask for special consideration," she said.

Businesswoman Tricia Malowney has mentored the participants in the Good Incubator program.

The program, delivered by social enterprise Impact Co, featured entrepreneurs with a range of business ideas including a job seeker service for women and accessible rock climbing.

It was meant to be delivered face-to-face, but the coronavirus pandemic meant it had to be delivered completely online.

"People with disabilities are used to pivoting. So they've been able to adapt really well — to adapt their businesses to suit the current situation," she said. Disability as a superpower

Ms Viney did not find out she had autism until last year and describes her diagnosis as a "light bulb moment".

"I've got freedom within myself. It's not a disability. So I actually say that autism is my superpower," she said.

"It allows me to think outside of the box in terms of design."

Ms Viney said her autism helps inform the work she does with clients who are differently-abled.

"There is a blanket statement that says … 'if you're decorating for autistics, you need to decorate in pale greens, pale blues, because they're really calming'," she said.

"But what I found is that's just a blanket statement that people make and it does not take into consideration people's individual relationships with colour."

Functional but still looks good

Marc Copland is an amputee who asked Ms Viney to redesign his bathroom in a way which makes it accessible but aesthetically pleasing.

He said as he gets older it was getting harder to access his shower, but wanted to avoid a design which looked "clinical" by simply adding accessibility handles.

He asked Ms Viney to help. Jo Viney from Brinnie T Design with her customer Mark Copland.

Ms Viney said many designs for people with a physical disability followed the appropriate standings but could end up looking "sterile". "It's got all the supports that Mark needs and caters to all the Australian standards that are necessary, but it doesn't need to look like something that's in a clinical environment," Ms Viney said."We're trying to bring the warmth, and Mark's individual aesthetic, into that design with his bathroom."

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