Fund - Developer and financial institution targeted exclusively to
advancing entrepreneurial opportunities for Americans with disabilities.
Consultants - (Businesspersons Overcoming Limitations from
Disabilities) various entrepreneurial resources and services.
- provides resources and counseling to people with disabilities who are
starting or running their own business.
Disabled Entrepreneur - new online community.
of Disability Policy summary
information on self employment for people with
Emerging Workforce of Entrepreneurs with Disabilities:
Research paper: Preliminary
Study of Entrepreneurship in Iowa
Employment in Rural Areas Research and resources from the
Research and Training Center on Rural Rehabilitation Issues.
Entrepreneurs with Disabilities (Canada) Offers information,
profiles and resources.
Small Business and Self-Employment Service -
Information and advice on business development for people
PWD - Self Employment - Yahoo
Discussion group on issues of
self-employment for people with disabilities.
Ownership and Whole Business Accommodations
Alice Weiss Doyel
By Alice Weiss Doyel
BOLD Consulting Group, LLC
This article contains
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.
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
Some Whole Business
Accommodations are free while others may be quite expensive. All
accommodations must meet the same financial test as any other business
- Can the Whole Business
Accommodation be paid for?
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
- 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:
BOLD Consulting Group, LLC
Employment a Cop-Out?
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
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
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.