A woman gives a treat to her assistance dog while reading a book.

Easy Read Toolbox employs people with disability to provide writing, workshops and more.

29 April 2024

Karen Hedley is not only passionate about inclusive communication, but she’s now dedicating her days to making communication easier for everyone to understand.

Karen is the founder of one of Canberra’s many successful social enterprises, The Easy Read Toolbox.

She primarily employs people with disability to provide writing, workshops and more.

To get started, Karen signed up for the GRIST accelerator with The Mill House Ventures, a non-profit helping social enterprises across the region.

“During GRIST I decided to set up The Easy Read Toolbox as its own company, teaching others about Easy Read and accessible communication. From there it has grown in leaps and bounds, and now includes custom writing, memberships, workshops and more,” Karen said.

The organisation’s simplified form of writing was originally intended for people with disability, but it’s suitable for everyone.

“Our aim is to change communication in our community, to increase inclusion and support people to make informed choices and protect their human rights. When people feel overwhelmed by complex information they give up on important processes,” she said.

“Members of our Feedback Group – people with cognitive disabilities who review our documents as quality management – have told us how important Easy Read being available is to them.”

The female-led, disability-led social enterprise has a unique employment model.

“We primarily employ people with disabilities of all kinds, and people with lived experience of disability. Our values mean that we pay everyone fairly, equivalent to non-disabled peers.

“We recruit based on potential and interests, and assign work based on these. We encourage our team to be innovative and passionate, and to allow us to support their development.

“We also provide a highly flexible workplace, allowing the team to set their own work schedule and style. As a result, our team is flexible, dedicated, supportive and high achieving,” Karen said.

The business has around six regular staff and contractors, and nearly 30 occasional contractors including writers, artists and photographers.

“Most of our clients come through word of mouth and return multiple times. Having written documents for a number of large not-for-profits, corporates and government departments, our work has potentially been seen by tens of thousands of people,” she said.

Running a social enterprise has made for some satisfying moments. For a number of Karen’s team, this is their first employment opportunity.

“Several of our younger contractors have said we were the first to give them a chance at working. Knowing we are paying them fairly is amazing too,” she said.

Her Mill House connections are also playing an ongoing role in her success.

“It has been great being part of the Mill House alumni. The team is knowledgeable and proactive at linking founders with important information and contacts in the community. Plus, the alumni network is quite close knit. It’s always great to catch up online and in person at local events.”

Applications for the four-month 2024 GRIST program are now open to anyone in the region with an idea for a for-purpose business.

The Easy Read Toolbox was recently awarded $10,000 in matched funding as part of the ACT Government’s new Social Enterprise grants program, managed by The Mill House Ventures.

The Easy Read Toolbox will be one of the many exhibitors at the CBR Small Business Expo on 9 May at the Budawang Pavilion at EPIC. Come along to find out more about what they do. They can also be reached via their website or LinkedIn.

Two women smile at the camera. They are holding laminated pages in their hands.

The Easy Read Toolbox founder Karen and employee Ladina

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