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Small Business Ownership and Whole Business Accommodations
Whole Business Accommodations - a key to success for entrepreneurs with disabilities.

Is Self-Employment a Cop-Out?
Is self employment and micro-enterprise being promoted because job development efforts have failed, or perhaps because the complex support needs of individuals are perceived to be too difficult to accommodate through wage employment?

Picture of Book - No More Job Interviews
Self-Employment Strategies
for People with Disabilities

Cover: Entrepreneurship, Self-Employment and Disabilities





Entrepreneurship, Self Employment
and Disabilities


Abilities Fund - Developer and financial institution targeted exclusively to advancing entrepreneurial opportunities for Americans with disabilities.
BOLD Business Consultants
(Businesspersons Overcoming Limitations from Disabilities) various entrepreneurial resources and services.
disabilityBiz.org - provides resources and counseling to people with disabilities who are starting or running their own business.
Disabled Entrepreneur - new online community.

Office of Disability Policy
summary information on self employment for people with disabilities.
Emerging Workforce of Entrepreneurs with Disabilities: Research paper: Preliminary Study of Entrepreneurship in Iowa
Self Employment in Rural Areas
Research and resources from the Research and Training Center on Rural Rehabilitation Issues.
Network for Entrepreneurs with Disabilities (Canada)
– Offers information, profiles and resources.
Small Business and Self-Employment Service - Information and advice on business development for people with disabilities.
PWD - Self Employment - Yahoo Discussion group on issues of self-employment for people with disabilities.


Small Business Ownership and Whole Business Accommodations

Alice Weiss Doyel
Alice Weiss Doyel

By Alice Weiss Doyel
BOLD Consulting Group, LLC

This article contains excerpts from No More Job Interviews! Self-Employment Strategies for People with Disabilities, by Alice Weiss Doyel (2000).  Used with permission of the publisher, Training Resource Network, Inc. 

Even when the economy was strong, three-fourths of the people with moderate to severe disabilities remained unemployed.  Not surprisingly, many people with disabilities see small business ownership as their chance for economic self-sufficiency. 

Self-employment is never easy, and there are increased challenges when the business owner has disabilities. Business owners with disabilities need to find ways to operate their businesses successful in a competitive environment.  A few years ago I saw my own disabilities become more severe.  I knew that I needed to find ways to run my company more effectively.  My years of experience as a small business consultant helped me develop the concept of Whole Business Accommodations.  I realized that as business owners with disabilities, we must create workplace accommodations which take into consideration the success of our entire business. 

Whole Business Accommodations permeate the full scope of the business. 

  • Operations planning should include accommodations for the owner's disabilities.  These accommodations are not just for the physical attributes of the office, e.g., access, furniture, equipment.  These accommodations should take into consideration the people who will be part of the business, or closely associated with it.  Whether they are business partners, associates, employees, vendors, family members or support providers, these people are an integral part of making the business work.  Their roles in supporting the business owner with disabilities must be integrated into their business functions through the business planning process.
  • Marketing capabilities are often affected by the owner’s disabilities.  Determining potentially effective marketing approaches during business planning will allow the company to test and determine the best ways to reach and sell to customers.  Some people with disabilities believe that an Internet website is the answer to their marketing challenges.  However, the Internet should almost always be used as a secondary marketing approach. There must be direct marketing either by the owner with disabilities, by other company owners or employees, or by sales representatives in order to create a successful marketing effort.
  • Financial planning is a challenge for business owners with disabilities.  Many people with disabilities have few assets of value to help secure a business loan.  They may have lived for years in poverty, unable to establish a sound credit record.  They may have poor credit due to an unexpected health emergency or accident that created large medical expenses at the same time that they were no longer able to work.  Micro-loan programs are a resource for small business owners with disabilities who have viable business plans for start up or existing businesses.  These programs will take into consideration disability-related financial limitations and credit problems.

Some Whole Business Accommodations are free while others may be quite expensive.  All accommodations must meet the same financial test as any other business expense:

  1.  Can the Whole Business Accommodation be paid for?
  2.  Is this an effective use of limited company funds?

The following are specific examples of Whole Business Accommodations which are consistent with best business practices:

  • Creating an accessible office.  Many accessibility methods are free or inexpensive, e.g., arranging office furniture and equipment for the greatest ease of use, telephones with easy to read displays and/or large keys, speakerphones or head sets, open storage shelving for easy access, keyboard and mouse that fits the owner’s physical needs, free Microsoft accessibility utilities, and tables and desks with comfortable wheelchair access. Good office design saves time and energy that the business owner can put into the business.

  • Including alternative means of transportation in the business plan, e.g., hiring a part-time driver, finding volunteer drivers such as family members or friends, determining effective methods for using public transportation and/or taxi services, and teleconferencing instead of in-person meetings.  Business owners with disabilities can host meetings in their own offices, minimizing the need for transportation.

  • Using company business policies that protect business owners with disabilities from working in a manner adverse to their health. Developing these policies requires the owner to evaluate and determine the most effective means of running the business.  This analysis leads to more effective and profitable management of the entire company.
  • Creating a positive, supportive work culture for the business.  This includes a culture that values everyone’s abilities and supports the concept that disabilities do not decrease a person’s humanity or value . . . that for many people, the challenges from their disabilities are a means for personal growth. This work culture will be a positive environment for all employees who share these values. 
  • Hiring a full-time or part-time employee who does work that is difficult or not possible for the business owner.  This is a common practice in all businesses; however, here the focus is on assisting in the area of the business owner’s disabilities.  The same employee can serve other functions for the business, bringing more capabilities to the company.
  • Partners are often used to create a company where the owners have complementary business or technical skills. Business owners with disabilities can find partners with the skills, time, or energy to compensate for their disability needs. 
  • Creating alliances with other companies is often an excellent strategy for business owners with disabilities.  It allows them to provide a variety of services or products through their alliance partners, while limiting the size of their business and the number of employees they manage. 

In summary, business owners with disabilities report a wide range of positive experiences when they use Whole Business Accommodations to run their companies more effectively.  Whole Business Accommodations are powerful tools for success in business and for success in living a complete and satisfying life.

For more information on this topic, and for all your small business consulting needs, contact:

Alice Weiss Doyel
BOLD Consulting Group, LLC

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Is Self Employment a Cop-Out?
Carey Griffin & Dave Hammis, The Rural Institute at The University of Montana & Griffin-Hammis Associates, LLC

In 1979, we assisted in the start-up of a successful small business owned and operated by two individuals with developmental disabilities. We did the same in the early and the mid-eighties, again with folks with developmental disabilities, and also with psychiatric labels. But it was not until the mid-nineties that our colleagues began promoting business ownership as a legitimate option.

What took us so long? Mike Callahan, of Employment for All suggests, correctly we think, that those of us early adopters of supported employment feared a home-based business model arising from our dabblings in entrepreneurship and consciously decided to yield to our “inclusionist” values. Our fears of further isolating people with significant disabilities by having them produce products in their basements suppressed the growth of self employment. By the mid-nineties we realized that self employment, whether conducted from home or from a store-front, offers tremendous opportunities for inclusion because of the supplier and customer chains that all enterprises develop and rely on for success. Certainly our environment in the frontier West and on Indian Reservations contributed to the evolution of the self employment option as well, and the willingness of Vocational Rehabilitation Counselors and the State Work Force Investment office to fund small business was critical and integral to the effort. Our experience with job development is in large part grounded in rural communities, but in Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, and other rural states we discovered a paucity of trained staff and limited options for individual vocational choice, especially for individuals with the most complex support needs.

Self employment holds the promise of financial equity, contains unique opportunities under the Social Security Act, and presents options for personalized accommodations not easily found in wage employment. These factors, coupled with the desire to expand the possible range of employment choices allowed self employment to grow. Of course, the rehabilitation literature notes that self employment as an option for people with disabilities has existed for some time. However, self employment for individuals with disabilities is traditionally grounded in the competitive employment approach including the “train & place” readiness model, vocational evaluation of a person’s suitability for business ownership, and a bias against serious intellectual deficits as measured through IQ testing and psychometrics. Self employment of yesterday, and still today, is reserved primarily for individuals with physical disabilities.

Our experience in supported employment for people with complex needs, along with the economic and geographical environment of the West made self employment an attractive consideration. Business ownership is only one of many vocational nuances and should remain so. Our approach remains person-centered and we gently nudge more people away from self employment than into it. Why? Simply because in many cases the necessary supports, both natural and rehabilitative are not available to support a business, because no market can yet be developed for the product or service idea, or because self employment is being considered only because competitive or supported employment has not worked or appears to be too difficult to achieve. And therein lies the rub.

Is self employment and micro-enterprise being promoted because job development efforts have failed, or perhaps because the complex support needs of individuals are perceived to be too difficult to accommodate through wage employment? It appears that self employment in some cases is being utilized for exactly these reasons. Recently we have witnessed several poverty-level businesses, often based on arts and crafts ideas, or on the six-deadly sins of supported employment (food, flowers, filth, filing, folding, and fetching). These businesses may well be based on person-centered approaches, but they struggle to account also for a good match with business supports and market development. In these cases, the businesses flounder, generate wages low enough to rival those earned in a sheltered workshop, and squander perhaps the one true opportunity the individual has to break free of the system; or they are only slightly removed from selling pot holders and trinkets made in the day-activity center in creativity and symbolism. Some of these attempts, as well meaning as they are, do not employ business methods that assure profitability; underutilize the rehabilitation and generic business development systems that can adequately capitalize and stabilize enterprises; and often ignore the impact and opportunities of Social Security Work Incentives. In short, some of these businesses allow people (both owner and staff people) to look incompetent in the community and do not use the forethought necessary for long-term success.

Self employment is not a good substitute for proper job development, systematic instruction, and natural support. Using these techniques, people experiencing the most significant developmental, psychiatric, brain injury, behavioral, and physical disability labels can work and prosper. One has only to look at the successful employment generated by such folks as Wehman et al., Jo-Ann Sowers, Gary Bond, Robert Drake, Mike Callahan, Ellen Condon, Pat Rogan, and others, to know that anyone can work when proper supports and techniques are used. Fear of the community, poor job development technique, limited vision when facilitating supports, and misunderstanding of funding streams appears to be driving self employment in just a few cases. Our inability to master and employ proven rehabilitation techniques, and our discomfort with the business community should NEVER influence the vocational choices of people we serve. And, traditionally, most business owners in the United States labored in wage jobs long before starting their own companies. Wage employment teaches people valuable lessons and creates a vital social and business network. This established network is often a critical ingredient for success when the employee launches their new enterprise. Wage employment is certainly not a pre-requisite to business ownership, nor should it be seen as readiness. Many people will, and should, start successful small companies without experience.

All ideas contain the seeds of their own destruction. Supported employment in many instances was poorly implemented and half-heartedly maintained, and still it remains the single most powerful, efficient and cost-effective method of employment for individuals with significant disabilities. Done correctly, supported employment allows the natural capacity of the community to address unemployment by drawing upon the less brutal aspects of capitalism and competition. We have the opportunity to make business ownership a truly individualized option, let’s not use it as a cop-out because we are fearful of employers and the communities they help to build. Job development is challenging, and assisting an employer in hiring and supporting someone with multiple needs can be difficult, but building communities of economic cooperation demands that we get smart and work hard to emancipate people from lives of poverty and isolation within the social services system.

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A Difference of Ability A Difference of Ability:
why job-seekers with disabilities and employers have difficulty connecting effectively - and how that can change.
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goal-oriented staff development program of best practices in supported employment
Open Futures - Career Exploration for people with disabilities. Open Futures
Set of two videos and a CDROM help students with disabilities to set their sights on career goals!







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