Start Your Own Business -- Resources for Workers with Disabilities


People with disabilities often dream of starting their own businesses. Going solo allows them to bypass transportation problems and office politics, and their homes often are already adapted for them.

And workers with disabilities often make great entrepreneurs. "We have learned to be very focused," says Urban Miyares, president of the Disabled Businesspersons Association. "We prepare. We understand our limits, and we use our talents well." Of the people his organization helps, 72 percent are still in business five years later. The Small Business Administration (SBA) figure for all new businesses: 30 percent.

Moreover, people with disabilities are seizing entrepreneurial opportunities. They are almost twice as likely to start their own businesses as those without disabilities, says author and disability-awareness educator Laura Gillson. The Disabled Businesspersons Association reports people with disabilities operate 40 percent of all home-based businesses, and 14 percent are self-employed, compared with 8 percent of their counterparts without disabilities.

These startups are diverse, according to the University of Montana's Research and Training Center on Rural Issues for People with Disabilities. The organization lists a wide variety of businesses operated by men and women with disabilities, ranging from accounting services, air conditioning repair and counseling to piano refinishing, real estate and welding.

Feeling inspired? Many resources are available to help you stop dreaming and start operating your own business.

Determine Your Goals

Kim Cordingly, a consultant with the Job Accommodation Network (JAN), a program of the U.S. Department of Labor's Office of Disability Policy, first asks clients why they want to start a business: Is it to supplement their disability income or to open a potentially successful business? Has their disability forced a career transition, or is starting a business something they always wanted to do? Their answers to these questions help Cordingly recommend appropriate resources and training programs.

Review Your Finances

"We get lots of questions about financing and health insurance," Cordingly says. "If a person has been out of work because of a disability, how do they get access to working capital? Each person is different and has different needs."

Aspiring entrepreneurs should consider their current income and benefit sources, including Social Security, disability programs, and Medicare or Medicaid. How will business ownership affect your income and program eligibility? JAN directs callers to specific state programs, such as those run through the SBA and microloan organizations, as well as traditional funding sources like banks, credit unions and finance companies.

In addition, the Ticket to Work program connects Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Income (SSDI) beneficiaries with employment networks for training and other support services. The Social Security Administration's Plan for Achieving Self-Support (PASS) program allows SSI beneficiaries to save money and resources for specific work goals, including self-employment.

The U.S. Department of Labor's Employment and Training Administration One-Stop Career Centers also assist people considering the solo life. More than 1,100 Small Business Development Centers offer free or low-cost counseling, training and technical assistance. And the Service Corps of Retired Executives' 10,000-plus counselors at nearly 400 offices nationwide provide free small-business startup advice via individual counseling, group workshops and online resources.

Prepare to Make Accommodations

Along with the freedom of entrepreneurship come new challenges. Cordingly emphasizes that you still need to make accommodations for your disability. If a chronic illness makes you most productive at night, you'll need to devise an appropriate business schedule. If you have a cognitive disability, try to minimize paperwork.

After all, the business world won't necessarily change to accommodate you. "Depending on your disability, you may have to change your work style," Miyares says. "You might have to hire someone to do certain tasks for you. If you rent space, you may need more than the 90 to 100 square feet that is the average for an office employee to accommodate a wheelchair or other equipment. And if you've got an obvious disability, promoting yourself as the spokesperson for your business might not be best. That's reality; the general public does not always react well to disabilities."

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