Disabled Entrepreneurs

Although many people with disabilities are being employed and remaining employed, the unemployment rate for people with disabilities is unacceptably high, as shown in the 1994-95 National Health Interview Survey. This survey found that 79 percent of adults without disabilities were working at the time they were interviewed and only 37 percent of those with disabilities were employed. More than half of the non-working adults with disabilities who were studied wanted to work, but had encountered difficulties.

Because of their difficulties in finding appropriate work, an increasing number of people with disabilities and chronic health conditions are starting businesses. Self-employment offers many the freedom to work at their own pace in an environment that accommodates their special needs. Owning your own business often provides the flexibility that is necessary to those who require frequent medical attention, flexible hours, accessible work space, or other special considerations.

Self-employment does present many challenges and is not for everyone, but for many people with disabilities and chronic health conditions, self-employment offers the hope of making a living and achieving self-sufficiency.

According to the U.S. Department of Census, people with disabilities are almost twice as likely to start a business as non-disabled individuals. Fourteen percent of people with disabilities who are working are self employed, while only eight percent of non-disabled working persons are self-employed.

Because our culture often misunderstands and undervalues the abilities of people with disabilities, finding employment can be a challenge. Employers may be reluctant to hire a person with a disability because of fear, and a lack of understanding about the liability and cost of the accommodations needed. As a result, 70 percent of Americans with disabilities are unemployed.

Starting a business is not for everyone. It requires a significant commitment of time, energy and resources. In addition, the individual must have some marketable skills or a product or service with a demonstrated market demand. Any person pursuing business ownership must be prepared to make personal sacrifices and be willing to learn the "how to's" of starting and successfully managing a business enterprise. To learn more about what starting a business entails, check out the sections of the site on choosing to start a business and starting a business.

No More Job Interviews!: Self-Employment Strategies for People With Disabilities is a book authored by an entrepreneur with disabilities. It offers business startup strategies tailored to people with disabilities. The author of the book, Alice Weiss Doyel, covers little-known opportunities and resources in growing a business that she has found in the for-profit and nonprofit worlds as well as the public sector. She also offers tips on the role of the Internet, both as a way of doing business and as a source of business start-up information. Included in the book are four profiles of individuals with disabilities and their business plans.

Several programs exist to assist people with disabilities. The U.S. Small Business Administration provides millions of dollars each year to support the initiatives for micro businesses. Check with the SBA office closest to you for more information about services available through the SBA. To reach that office either call 1-800-U-ASK-SBA or log on to www.sba.gov. The SBA has also announced a new initiative with the Department of Labor to develop programs for persons with disabilities. Take a look at SBA and Department of Labor Partnership Will Support Entrepreneurship Among People with Disabilities to learn more.

In addition, state vocational rehabilitation programs provide a variety of services to aspiring entrepreneurs with disabilities. Each state has a vocational rehabilitation agency that serves free of charge all qualified individuals with disabilities. Vocational Rehabilitation programs were created to assist individuals in obtaining the skills, education, and resources needed to successfully join the workforce.

The internet also provides a number of websites devoted to helping disabled people find the resources they need to support themselves. I have listed a number of good websites below.

While challenging, self-employment has been successful for many disabled individuals. As more and more of the businesses they start succeed, this will become an important growth area of our economy. And, it is time. People who are disabled or have chronic health conditions have a lot to offer to the world. Their talents and skills have often been hidden. Through self-employment many will, hopefully, be able to take their place as leaders and contributors to economic growth.