Legally blind Valley woman opens massage studio
Angela Sarhaddi, a woman who is legally blind due to a retinal condition, is opening her own business in Mesa, an Elements Massage.
“I think that my decision to start a business, other than my just entrepreneurial spirit that said all along, visually impaired or not, I have this in me to want to start a business, is it’s an ideal situation for somebody with a disability who needs accommodations on their job.” said Sarhaddi.
Sarhaddi has Leber Congenital Amaurosis, a retinal condition. However, her impairment is not stopping her from pursing her business goals.
“If I was standing three feet in front of you, I wouldn’t be able to see you. I might be able to see your outline if you were standing in front of a light source, but I wouldn’t be able to see any detail whatsoever or even tell if you’re male or female,” said Sarhaddi of her visual impairment.
Through the Vocational Rehabilitation program, also known as VR, offered through the Arizona Department of Economic security, Sarhaddi was approved for $18,000 in funding to assist with some of her initial business costs.
“The VR program is a program that assists people with disabilities to either obtain employment or advance in employment,” said Kristen Mackey, Rehabilitation Services administrator for the vocational rehabilitation program.
Sarhaddi began her business venture by working with SCORE through the Small Business Association, a mentorship program that matches aspiring entrepreneurs with former business people that are trained to council and advise those looking to start a multitude of different businesses.
“I wanted to start a business, but I didn’t know what type of business to start and I was running into sort of expertise issues,” said Sarhaddi. “They [SCORE] sent me an invitation via email to attend a workshop on franchise opportunities and at that point that just kind of triggered the solution to my problem.”
This lead Sarhaddi back to Arizona’s Department of Economic Security and the VR, which she had previously worked with throughout college, in order to gain additional help and funding.
There were at first questions about whether or not the Vocational Rehabilitation program would allow for franchise funding through their work and the first decision from them was against the franchise, however, Sarhaddi was unwilling to accept that as an answer and did her own research.
“So I read through their policy manual, which is quite hefty, several times and I could not find any restriction in there,” said Sarhaddi. “I did that extra bit of research, which was quite a bit of work, but in the end it all worked out.”
She had to hire an attorney in order to overturn the original decision regarding funding a franchise, but much like her visual impairment, Sarhaddi was not to going to let this small hiccup stop her from continuing to pursue her goal.
“Angela, she has her own way and she is very definite about things that she wants,” said Rosy Ashe, a friend of Sarhaddi’s, who is also helping to decorate her new business. “Sometimes the people that she’s dealing with, they don’t think that she can do it and she proves them wrong every time.”
Once the eligibility of both Sarhaddi and her business were confirmed, she continued through the VR program process.
“Once you’re determined eligible, then we take a look at what people’s strengths are, weaknesses, what do they want to do and do they have the capabilities of doing that,” said Mackey. “We will assist them in exploring that possibility, we have vendors that we utilize, we also use the Small Business Association and we ask our clients to then go and develop a business plan.
This was the next step for Sarhaddi. She had previously written a business plan for a different opportunity she deemed too risky, however with some extensive research, she was sure of her decision in an Elements Massage.
Elements Massage is a franchise company with 23 locations in Phoenix and across The Valley. Nationwide, they have over 200 locations. They offer a variety of different types of massages.
“They would develop this business plan that meets the criteria for us to review and the counselor and client have decided that this business plan is viable, meaning there is a labor market for it, they can be successful in earning wages from it, they have the support that’s needed in order to run that business,” said Mackey.
The business plan is then presented to a committee made up of staff members from the vocational rehabilitation program, as well as community members with knowledge of running or owning a small business.
With a strong business plan and confidence in her business of choice, the committee, which Sarhaddi presented her plan to, approved it and awarded her the funding.
The funding and support from the VR program includes the equipment necessary for Sarhaddi to successfully run her business, despite her visual impairment.
“There’s just so many things that she has done that a lot of people who don’t have a visual impairment have not done,” said Ashe.
Sarhaddi’s Elements Massage is located in Superstition Gateway Shopping Center in East Mesa. The location will open Dec. 2.
“I think I set this goal for myself 25 years ago and to be able to actually achieve a goal that you set 25 years ago is a huge accomplishment,” said Sarhaddi.