When we as a society think about employment for people with disabilities, we rarely think about self-employment. In fact, in can be difficult for anyone’s family and friends to imagine their family member or friend as an entrepreneur. Yet self-employment can be a wonderful opportunity for people with disabilities.
How do you know if self-employment is the right option for someone with a disability? How does anyone make the decision to become an entrepreneur or self-employed? Perhaps they want a flexible schedule or more control over their work. Maybe they like to take charge or maybe they have a driving passion for their work. During the discovery process, where a person explores their interests, skills, preferred environments, and ideal working conditions, certain factors may become evident to suggest that a person will benefit most from self-employment. Other times, the person will just fall into an opportunity that highlights their strongest skills.
Successful entrepreneurs are often people who like to be in control and like to schedule their own hours. They also have a passion for their particular business. And of course, they need to have good people skills to promote their business and network. However, it’s also important to keep in mind that few business owners, regardless of ability, do everything for their business. They typically delegate some responsibilities, whether it’s hiring an accountant or an employee. It’s important for the person’s circle of support to know that starting a business does not mean the person needs to do everything.
When we’re talking about self-employment, however, we’re talking about a person with a disability owning their own business in the community. We are not talking about a business run by a group of people with disabilities. There seems to be a trend in the media to highlight these types of group-run businesses. However, the problem is that businesses run by groups of people with disabilities still congregate people with disabilities in one spot rather than truly integrating them into the community among their non-disabled peers. In terms of the workforce, they are not part of the community. The ultimate goal is to create an integrated workforce, not a segregated one.
Keystone Human Services has supported several people to open their own small business. Because these entrepreneurs love what they are doing, they often develop new skills. For example, when they first open their business, they may only dress in business casual, but after a while, they may begin dressing as a business professional. For people who may have struggled to get out of bed in the morning, owning their own business provides the motivation to get up and go to work. They have a passion and something they love doing. And their businesses have grown.
Below are some resources for parents, providers, and people with disabilities who are interested in more information about starting a small business.
- Griffin-Hammis Associates
- Institute for Community Inclusion
- U.S. Small Business Administration
Making Self-Employment Work for People with Disabilities, Second Edition by Cary Griffin, David Hammis, Beth Keeton, Molly Sullivan