Page last updated at 13:44 GMT, Friday, 28 November 2008

Deaf man wins 50K business award

By Geoff Adams-Spink
Age & disability correspondent, BBC News website

Photo of Andrew Thomson
Andrew Thomson will use the money to expand his business

This year's Stelios Award for Disabled Entrepreneurs has been won by a man whose company provides video conferencing for deaf people.

Andrew Thomson, from Grangemouth in Central Scotland, has been profoundly deaf since birth.

His company, Sign-now.com, is a web-based means of enabling deaf people to communicate with the hearing world.

Mr Thomson says he intends to use the 50,000 prized money to expand the services that his company offers.

With only 25 full-time British Sign Language (BSL) interpreters for Scotland's 7,000 BSL users, the company sets out to address the demand for skilled communicators by making them available online.

The 44 year-old businessman said it was "a great honour" to have his company recognised in this way.

"We can grow our business to reach new clients and expand our services to existing customers," said Mr Thomson.

"It's all about gaining the confidence, not only of our clients, but the trust and support of the interpreters we employ."

Mr Thomson says that a positive approach is necessary "to overcome the fear, prejudice and misconception" that disabled people often encounter.

He received his award at a ceremony in London from easyJet founder, Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannau.

Sir Stelios said that Mr Thomson demonstrated "the drive, creativity and determination" to get to the top.

He believes that running one's own business is a practical way of reducing the 50% unemployment rate among disabled people.

"Self-employment is a more viable option for many disabled people as it offers flexibility and helps bypass much of the prejudice that, sadly, still exists amongst employers," he said.

The awards are a partnership between Sir Stelios and the Leonard Cheshire Disability, and are now in their second year.

"Disabled people in business experience disadvantage and discrimination every day, largely through ignorance, and this needs to change," said the charity's corporate development manager, Anna Cooper.

She said that her organisation's partnership with the easyGroup entrepreneur was helping to highlight the barriers faced by disabled people in the workplace.

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