'I want to turn my arthritis into an asset'

Felicity Ford, 26, is working on her masters degree in sonic art and composition

I once ordered some footwear from a UK company and when I opened the parcel I burst into tears and sent them back. I've had arthritis since I was 19 and I need wide, flat shoes, but these looked like something from a care home.

Products like these are a result of assumptions about disabled women; that we are not sexy and stylish like non-disabled women and are happy to use grey, NHS equipment. I thought there had to be a way to have glamorous, well-designed footwear that didn't look like slippers.

Before I started my masters, I was already toying with the idea of a chic disability-related store for women called Missability Ltd. I was frustrated at the inaccessible design of most boutiques, and the way disability stores reminded me of hospitals. I wanted things that were better designed and sold in an environment I would like to go to.

I did my BA in fine art and then saw this masters course at Oxford Brookes which would give me flexibility I wanted. It's one of four programmes taught under the "interdisciplinary arts" umbrella. In our first module last year, we were encouraged to think about how to solve problems in life and how to make art relating to our own experience. I began to see a chic disability store as a very bold artistic statement about my experiences as a disabled woman.

This term, we are developing an idea and I decided to make a model of my boutique concept by converting my childhood doll's house. As well as a boutique, the model includes a workshop, a gallery for VIPs - Visually Impaired People - a product development room and an office. I'm now using sound and composition to make my ideas accessible to people with low or no sight by working out radical ways of integrating sound, print, audio, unfussy fonts and sign language into my work.

I was recently chosen for the National Council for Graduate Entrepreneurship's Flying Start, a three-day course covering issues like business plans. But this is a cultural project as well as a business one.

On my art course, I get to think up an idea, consider the social and cultural meaning of what I'm doing, and create test versions. When I presented my idea at university everyone reflected the confusion I felt: when is something an amazing idea and when it is an actual business? .

It is also about making a job for myself. I'm trying to turn it my arthritis into an asset. I'm surviving on benefits and I can't live like this the rest of my life. Missability is about employment and making my life the life I want it to be.

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