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10 Opportunities to Start a Business for People With Disabilities

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Read Time: 12 min

Today is International Day of People With Disability, an annual celebration of the achievements and contributions of people with disability.

The theme for 2018 is: 

“Empowering persons with disabilities and ensuring inclusiveness and equality”

What could be more empowering than starting your own business? It’s a chance to follow a long-held dream, be your own boss, achieve financial success, and so much more.

So in today’s tutorial, we’ll go through some ideas on how to start a business for people with disabilities. We’ll include some examples of successful disabled business owners and discuss what you can learn from them.

Of course, there are many different types of disabilities, so your situation may vary, but there are lots of ideas here to get you started on running your own business. So if you’re ready, let’s get started!

1. Don't Limit Yourself

Let’s start by acknowledging that people with disabilities can start and run a huge variety of businesses. As entrepreneur Kirk Keating told American Express:

“Begin your search for an opportunity just like anyone else would; don’t have the knee jerk reaction of thinking about everything in terms of your disability. Do what fits your style and matches your skill set.”

Indeed, a report by the U.S. Department of Labor gives examples of disabled small business owners thriving in a range of arenas, from occupational therapy to dog breeding, and from automotive repair to photography. 

In addition, data from the European Union Statistics on Income and Living Conditions (EU-SILC) shows that in the EU: 

“People with disabilities are as likely as those without disabilities to be self-employed." 

So don’t limit yourself by thinking that because you've got a disability, you need to pursue a certain type of business and discard other ideas. Although particular disabilities may make particular business ideas difficult to pursue, in most cases, you can follow any good business idea you like.

So what counts as a good business idea? How do you refine that idea and turn it into a successful business? You can learn more about that in these tutorials:

2. Use Your Disability to Your Advantage

Although, as Kirk Keating said, you don’t have to think in terms of your disability, sometimes it can be a good idea. After all, living with a disability gives you a world of experience that other people don’t have. Many entrepreneurs have used this to their advantage to start successful businesses using the special knowledge that they’ve gained. 

For example, Rob Smith, founder of UK-based business Active Hands, spoke about his disability in an interview with HSBC:

“It gives me a competitive advantage because I understand, mix with and have contact with our customers or people like them. I understand their needs and can empathise more easily than a person without a disability. Without my accident, I probably wouldn’t have started my own business.”

Smith’s accident took place when he was just 20 years old. Falling down a cliff left him with a high-level spinal cord injury and partial paralysis in all four limbs. One of the things he struggled with as a result was picking up and gripping things, which made everyday tasks much more complicated.

So, with the help of his mother and her sewing machine, he started making his own gripping aids—simple sleeves that he could pull over his hand and tighten to help him make a fist and grip items.

When some of his wheelchair rugby teammates wanted to use them too, he realised he had a business idea and founded Active Hands, which is now a thriving family business selling to people all over the world.

Active Hands websiteActive Hands websiteActive Hands website
Active Hands website

So think about what you’ve learned from your disability. The best business ideas often come from frustrations or pain points, so try to identify those and then, as Rob Smith did, come up with solutions that could work both for you and others.

3. Search for Funding

When you’re starting a small business, funding is often a big hurdle to overcome. You need to invest in the business, but how do you do that if you don’t have a rich family or a big pool of savings to draw on?

You can find lots of ideas in our comprehensive series on funding a business, which covers everything from small business loans to crowdfunding and angel investors.

And as a disabled small business owner (or an aspiring one), you may be able to access even more opportunities. Many countries have disability small business grants or business loans for people with disabilities, and you can apply for those to give yourself a great start in business life.

For example, in Canada, the Opportunities Fund for Persons with Disabilities “helps persons with disabilities prepare for, obtain, and maintain employment or self-employment.” Applications for 2018 are closed now, but you can keep an eye on the website for information about future applications.

Because this site has a global audience, I can’t go into detail for each country, but you can search online or call the relevant government department for information about the opportunities where you live.

Also don’t forget about non-profit organisations, which often have schemes to help with loans or business grants for people with disabilities. For example, in the UK, disabled small business owners can apply for the Stelios Award for Disabled Entrepreneurs in the UK, which offers £10,000 to each of its five finalists and an extra £20,000 for the best business idea. That kind of funding can really help you get your business off the ground or take it to the next level.

4. Learn From Others

The prospect of starting a business can be quite daunting, and many people are discouraged by the high levels of competition and the prospect of failure.

But there are so many disabled business owners who have achieved success, and you can learn from them as you embark on your own entrepreneurial journey.

You could start by reading this great post by Jon Morrow: 7 Life Lessons from a Guy Who Can’t Move Anything but His Face. In it, he writes about the enormous challenges he’s faced and what he learned as he overcame those challenges to become a millionaire through his online magazine ventures.

Your own situation may be very different from his, of course, and you may not apply the same strategies he used. The point of reading articles like this isn't to replicate someone else’s path, but to take some lessons that you can apply to your own life as you follow your own path.

From breaking the rules to dealing with pain, there’s plenty you can learn from Jon Morrow. And that’s just a single article by a single entrepreneur. If you search for other examples, particularly in the field you’re interested in, you’ll find plenty of inspiration and useful lessons to help you get started.

5. Work With Partners

As I mentioned at the start, there are many different kinds of disability, so this one may not apply to you. But with certain kinds of disability, there can be associated health issues that may require some adjustments.

For example, Clive Collins, a British entrepreneur who runs a Christmas tree farm, told The Guardian that his paralysis has led to repeated urinary infections that caused stress when he ran the business by himself. Dealing with unexpected health problems affected his work and client relationships. He said that bringing in partners to share the workload was “a huge psychological boost.”

Similarly, Ben Wolfenden, founder of digital marketing company Visibilis, has prospered since taking on a business partner and employing staff to help manage the workload. As a solo entrepreneur, his health issues caused problems, but now he can be as flexible as he needs to be.

“Whenever as freelance you have to move a deadline you know [the client] might not come back. It’s a balancing act. That’s why I’m so appreciative of the team I’ve got, that they can jump in.”
Visibilis websiteVisibilis websiteVisibilis website
Visibilis website

So if you need that kind of flexibility, consider working with partners, hiring freelancers, or doing whatever else you need to do to manage the workload that comes with running a small business.

6. Leverage Technology

Recent technological advances have opened up new avenues for disabled entrepreneurs. As we’ve already discovered, people with disabilities are doing everything from repairing cars to selling Christmas trees. Even if you've got mobility issues, you can pursue a wide range of business ideas—you don’t need to be restricted to a home-based business.

Nevertheless, for some disabled business owners, working from home on an online business is ideal. Jane Binnion spent years juggling a part-time office job with part-time self-employment before deciding to become a full-time social media and ethical sales trainer online. She writes:

“It is only with home working that I feel I have understood that it is possible to create a healthy balance in my life. I have overcome the need to push myself when days are a struggle. If I just take some time out I am quickly back to full ability.”

So consider online businesses if this would fit with your needs and ambitions. With the wide range of assistive technology available today, you can do anything you want to online. Read these tutorials for some ideas:

7. Get Financial Advice

We’ve already covered the funding side of starting a small business, but there can sometimes be another consideration. In his “Life Lessons” article, Jon Morrow mentions being caught in something of a Catch-22 situation. He was dependent on Medicaid, the U.S. government-run health insurance, to pay about $120,000 per year in medical bills, but he would lose it if he made more than $700 a month:

“It seemed like a hopeless situation. If I got a job, I would lose my health insurance. If I didn’t get a job, I’d be forced to live in poverty forever.”

He found a creative way out of this trap, as you’ll discover if you read the article, but it’s something that many potential entrepreneurs may worry about. If you’re starting a business while on disability, search for advice on what you can do.

The rules vary widely in different places, and often there are misconceptions about what is or isn’t possible, so find a local non-profit or governmental organisation that can advise you. As Kath Sutherland, a development officer with the Disabled Entrepreneurs Network (DEN), told The Guardian:

“There's a lot of misconceptions, like you can't get Access to Work [a practical advice and support service for disabled workers] assistance, which you can, and also that you can't be self-employed if you're on incapacity benefit. Actually, it can be allowed as permitted work.”

So make sure you know the score about starting a business while on disability in your part of the world. Government programs can often be bureaucratic—and sometimes unintentionally punitive, as in Morrow’s case—but there are often solutions available too.

8. Design Your Own Workplace

One of the advantages of being an entrepreneur is that you don't have to rely on an employer to make the workplace accessible; you can make the adjustments you need yourself. 

For example, Yiota Michaelidou is a Cypriot entrepreneur who runs a baking and confectionery workshop called Paradosiakes Dimiourgies. After the onset of Startgardt’s Disease, which affects her vision, Michaelidou continued working at confectionery shops but felt mistreated due to her disability. So she started her own business.

Michaelidou had a special workshop constructed in her parents’ house with everything designed to meet her vision needs, such as extra-large numbers and contrasting colours on the stove and mixing bowl. Her business is now thriving and expanding, and she’s working on a cookbook.

Being an entrepreneur puts you in control of your own workplace, so work out what you need and install it yourself. The expense needn’t be lavish: as we saw in last year’s article on hiring disabled employees, the cost of making a workplace accessible is much lower than most people think.

9. Get Training

In many areas, you can take advantage of special training programs for aspiring entrepreneurs with disabilities. In Canada, for instance, the Entrepreneurs with Disabilities Program offers business information, training and development, mentoring and one-on-one counselling services. It can also provide small business loans for disabled entrepreneurs.

Similar projects exist in many parts of the world, such as the Chicagoland Entrepreneurship Education for People with Disabilities (CEED) project in the U.S.

Chicagoland Entrepreneurship Education for People with Disabilities CEED project Chicagoland Entrepreneurship Education for People with Disabilities CEED project Chicagoland Entrepreneurship Education for People with Disabilities CEED project
Chicagoland Entrepreneurship Education for People with Disabilities (CEED) project

So search for some training opportunities in your area, and pick up the skills you need to succeed.

10. Reach Out for Support

There are so many networks and organisations around the world that offer useful resources for disabled business owners and those who want to start a business. I’ve already alluded to some of them in this article.

So find out what’s available in your area, and check out what’s available online too. Here’s a quick roundup of some good starting points:


In this article, we’ve celebrated International Day of People With Disability by discussing ten ways for people with disabilities to become successful entrepreneurs. 

International Day of People With Disability posterInternational Day of People With Disability posterInternational Day of People With Disability poster
Source: International Day of People With Disability website

We’ve covered a range of ideas, including examples from disabled small business owners who have achieved success. As you’ve discovered, there are many ways you can become a successful entrepreneur, so all that remains is for you to pick your own path and start following it.

If you want to learn more about starting your own business, please read through our huge library of entrepreneurship articles here on Envato Tuts+.

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