Our recent series of articles on the employment rates and work challenges experienced by persons with disabilities paid only a glancing look at perhaps one of the most viable employment options for persons with disabilities—that of self-employment. According to the US Census Bureau, people with disabilities are almost twice as likely to be self-employed as persons without disabilities (14.7% compared to 8%). Although the challenges of creating and sustaining a small business may seem daunting to most of us, self-employment actually can make sound sense for many workers with disabilities. It really needs to be part of the discussion in the "transistion process" albeit typically it is not.
For many persons with disabilities, 9 to 5 full-time employment is simply impossible or not practical. Transportation, decreased stamina, lack of accommodations, poor social skills, or a myriad of other issues can all create virtually insurmountable barriers to full-time employment for some persons. Self-employment, or entrepreneurship, however, can eliminate many of these barriers by allowing the individual to set his or her own schedule and accommodate his or her own unique needs.
Small businesses overall are more and more occupying a larger share of the employment market. The Small Business Association defines a small business as a business having 500 or fewer employees. In the United States, there are almost 28 million small businesses. Of these, more than 22 million are self-employed (have no additional payroll employees). Of these small businesses, 52% are home-based. Additionally, 65% of new jobs since 1995 have been generated by small businesses. Thus, a lot of people in this country are either working for or starting a small business.
As said, the challenges of starting a new business can be daunting. Persons with disabilities may lack financial resources, credit history, or the basic knowledge needed for creating a new business. Yet there are many resources, including training and financial aid, of which the disabled can avail themselves. Simply put, people with disabilities don’t have to go it alone or re-invent wheels.
The federal government offers several programs to the disabled that assist with training or start-up costs that will not affect SSI or disability payments. The Ticket-to-Work program connects beneficiaries of SSI and SSDI with Employment Networks for training and other support. The Plan to Achieve Self-Support (PASS) permits persons with disabilities to set aside money and other necessary items needed to achieve work goals, including self-employment without jeopardizing benefits. Information on both these programs is available through local social security agencies. Financing is available to persons with disabilities through the Abilities Fund or the Alternative Financing Technical Assistance Project. Additional technical assistance, consulting, and mentoring services can be found from the Office of Disability Employment Policy’s (ODEP) Job Accommodation Network (JAN) or through START-UP (Self-Employment Technical Assistance, Resources, & Training/USA). A critical element that is needed is a business plan that the Small Business Administration website has interactive template to create that plan.
START-UP/USA ran pilot projects in Alaska, Florida, and New York to develop research-based policies that would enable individuals with disabilities to become self-employed. Although the pilot projects are now ended, successful participants included a visually impaired OT who started her own pediatric therapy center, a woman with limited strength who started a dog breeding and grooming business, a woman with lupus who began a restaurant, a man with an undisclosed disability but a passion for fishing who sold handmade fly fishing equipment, and a man with mental illness who parlayed his love of photography into a business that met his needs. And the list goes on.
I am particularly proud that my son Cole, who is a person with physical challenges, is running his web-based business go-somewhere.org. Go-somewhere.org is dedicated to providing reliable first hand reviews of restaurants and other entertainment venues from the perspective of person with disabilities. The focus is not so much on "how is the food", but on criteria related to ingress/egress from the premises, bathroom access and attitude of staff towards people with disabilities among other considerations. When you go out, you have a right to expect a fun and comfortable experience. This business has not generated income to date, but we are hopeful over time as we gather data and develop more reviews this will work into an income generating enterprise. In the meantime it is source of real pride and engagement for him.
This blog is by no means exhaustive, but hopefully it offers new ideas for employment for its readers through its many links. Again, self-employment may sound overwhelming, particularly for those who need to begin at the ground up, but there is assistance out there. Hopefully many of the links attached to this blog will provide some of the first steps for those who believe that self-employment presents a viable option for them. This blog should be shared with your school team to hopefully open a new and innovative line of inquiry as you and your student move through the transition process and into adulthood.