(Photo courtesy of Chiara Ceolin, article courtesy of Alessandra Greco, Cosmopolitan Italia)
“This is how I learned to win”
On her amplified phone she is an avalanche of enthusiasm. Nothing suggests that Maria Zedda is deaf almost 90 percent since childhood. This is the story of how she turned her disability into opportunity. Even employment.
“Everything started when I left Sardinia 20 years ago to go to London.
I was a waitress and I had an accident that changed my life. My boss wanted me to wear my hair behind the ears to show everyone that I had a hearing aid. To my refusal he shouted at me and in shock I dropped a frying basket that splashed me with lava-hot oil, injuring me. I was advised to go to the Citizen Advice Bureau to learn how I could ask for help and wade through the bureaucracy of claiming for benefits as I lost my job.
It was then that I discovered that I was eligible for help and someone with a disability like me could apply for further education courses and attend “confidence boosting” workshops to re-launch myself in the job market.
So my first interview was to work at the BBC’s Disability Programmes Unit. I was hired and I met a Scottish young man, Ian, who later became my husband.
It’s like the beginning of a fairytale. “At the BBC I worked in a unit where everyone, from directors to operators, were disabled. But they were also very prepared and talented and I learned a lot. As people progressed in their career, I felt that I could not advance in my job as much as I could because I did not have a degree. It was a very hard decision, but I left the BBC to join university”.
After graduation Maria worked for various charities in London. Then she got married and moved to the U.S., in San Francisco, Charleston, Philadelphia,
always working on projects for disabled people.
Then, with the birth of the first of her two little girls, she and her husband returned to London. “I knew that I would struggle to find employment, being deaf and a new mum. So Ian and I decided to set up Wideaware Training , a social enterprise to help the public sector and private businesses to promote the inclusion of disabled people in employment and through inclusive customer service.
We did this through delivering face to face training and e-learning. After 6 months we won the first of three UnLtd awards that changed things around for us. This and other awards allowed us to go forward without asking for loans and helped us provide work to our disabled associates. Now, among our clients we have the likes of ATOC (Association of Train Operating Companies), Network Rail, and luxury mega-store Westfield Stratford City.”
But Maria still has a dream: “To visit Italy to help promote how disabled people can be included in employment and in customer service.”