Happy Women’s History Month, Aerie fam! We’re taking a moment to highlight our #AerieREAL Changemaker Keely Cat-Wells, an inspiring advocate for women and people with disabilities. Through her Hollywood-based business C Talent, the entrepreneur directly supports and lifts the voices of the disabled community, while connecting them with relevant opportunities in the entertainment industry!
Read more about Keely’s story and C Talent below, and how the #AerieREAL Changemakers program has impacted her and her initiative.
Who/what encouraged you to become an entrepreneur and create C Talent?
C Talent was born out of the hardest experiences of my life. When I was admitted to the hospital for what must have been somewhere near the hundredth time, I was depressed and felt like I had no purpose. Before I fell sick, I was training to be a dancer and without the ability to dance I felt as though everything had been taken away from me.
That stay in the hospital was different from the times previous, someone told me ‘if in doubt, give’, so I started representing my friends who were still dancing and I was giving them the job opportunities I was missing. It gave me an insight into what it was like to be a part of something larger than me. This turned into my first business.
When I was discharged from the hospital, I had PTSD and was living in a new body after many operations. I felt the need to get out of the UK, so I went to Los Angeles for a couple of weeks in the sun. I fell in love with the city and worked hard to obtain my visa for the next year.
I noticed the dire lack of representation of people with disabilities in the entertainment industry and I lost a job because of my disability. So, I turned what I had learned from placing my friends in job opportunities into a fully-fledged Hollywood-based business which is now called C Talent.
What services does C Talent provide?
C Talent solely represents high profile d/Deaf and Disabled artists and athletes, with the goal of breaking stereotypes and normalizing people with disabled beings as [people who are] experts in things beyond disability.
We also provide Disability and Accessibility Consulting for major companies such as Virgin Media, NBC, adam&eve DDB and more. At C Talent we believe [that] to change society we have to learn to tell and listen to a new set of stories about the work we want to create, with authentic voices and accessible workspaces.
What is the importance of intersectionality of women with disabilities in media?
We must change the misrepresentation of women with disabilities in the media and enhance the number of portrayals both in front of and behind the camera. I have often been perceived as weak due to the way women, like me, with disabilities are written and played in the media, but we are likely some of the strongest people you will ever meet.
The traits you need to be an entrepreneur and the skills you learn being disabled in a world that was not made for people with disabilities cross over. Such as the ability to adapt, determination, time management, problem solving and so many more.
When you think of diversity, often people think of ethnicity and gender but almost always forget disability and intersectionality. I want to see women with disabilities who are gay and people of color represented and shown in all projects and every level of organizations, working in roles where they can thrive authentically and not feel like a box that has been ticked or like they are [being tokenized].
Lived experience is so important and all voices must be heard and have accessibility. In a world where diversity is “trending,” let’s take the opportunity [to support] diversity with integrity. And make the time to find talent who represent this ever-changing world we live in and truly listen to their stories without judgment.
What are some of the challenges you face while being a leader and entrepreneur with a disability?
Personally, there are often times I feel embarrassment, anger or fear. Of course, these feelings are natural and go hand in hand with life-changing surgery. These feelings are also due to the lingering societal stigmas surrounding ostomies and PTSD.
Disability is not an easy thing to live with and often, that is not due to the disability but rather because the world was not built with us in mind. Little do many know, disability teaches us how to adapt, it teaches resilience and perseverance. Disability should not be an unvoiced taboo or hidden because it makes others feel uncomfortable. When we start breaking down the barriers of what is “acceptable” to society it is then we will see shifts in our ecosystems.
When I had the surgery that saved and changed my life things became very different. As I regained my strength, I [toyed] with different life choices that were finally available to me. When your biggest risk has been your life, nothing seems to compare, which is why I think I have the courage to risk everything to live a life I once could only dream of.
My disabilities have impacted and shaped my life in the most beautiful ways. They have shown me business acumen and have been a secret weapon in boardrooms. I think entrepreneurship comes naturally for someone with a disability, as both require strong leadership skills, the ability to adapt, emotional intelligence, patience, empathy, sacrifice and the capability to fight.
How has being an #AerieREAL Changemaker impacted your expansion of C Talent?
The Aerie grant enabled us to hire more staff and grow our amazing team, which in turn has allowed us to take on [many] new artists and place them in global campaigns, T.V. shows and movies. Last year, we were a team of three managers and now we are an ever-growing dream team of six managers and 47 artists. Aerie’s grant really was a pivoting point to our growth, and we are so thankful.
What has being an #AerieREAL Changemaker taught you about yourself?
Being an #AerieREAL Changemaker is an incredible achievement, sometimes you are working so hard and you don’t take a step back to look at what you have created. Aerie gave me an opportunity to say, “wow, I have really turned my life around and built something.”
The credibility as a woman with a disability is important. One of the most amazing impacts has been connecting with the other #AerieREAL Changemakers. The journey of entrepreneurship, especially as a marginalized voice, can feel extremely lonely but connecting with other powerhouse women has been incredible. We all share so much in our journeys, how our very different and individual stories connect is beautiful. Community is vital to anyone’s success.
Keely’s story is so inspiring! Let us know your favorite part of her journey in the comments, Aerie fam.
If you want to be an #AerieREAL Changemaker, share your voice with us by submitting your 2021 application!