By Cathy Grant
A few years ago I was asked by the Cerebral Palsy Association to come and give a short talk about goal-setting, specifically in how setting goals related to finding work. Initially I was taken aback; I’m good at many things but I’m hardly a poster child for finding a regular job. Still wanting to help, I agreed and started to put together an outline of what I was going to say. While doing this, my writing partner and I, hit upon yet another uncomfortable truth regarding disability. That being, in my opinion, at this time, a person with a disability has a better chance of success over the long term becoming an entrepreneur and starting their own business, than trying to find someone who would hire them.
The Circumstances around Starting a Business
Why do I think someone with a disability should start their own business? First and foremost, I believe it’s a smart choice because, you the disabled person, are in control of your own destiny; you are not beholding to someone else giving you anything. Second; starting and running your own business can be done on your schedule of when you function best, which is a big advantage over a job where you’re under someone else’s schedule which may or may not work with your body. Third; you can work with who you want not just a random Joe Blow off the street; and finally, there is nothing that says you can’t build a business while looking for a job at the same time. So why not increase your chances of success.
Despite these advantages, many people (a lot of them experts) believe that disabled people can’t or shouldn’t run their own business. To which I simply point to the many disabled people who run (or help run) their own individualized funding, either through a micro-board or CSIL. Those are businesses plain and simple, and are far more complex than a lot of other business opportunities out there. In fact, living with a disability confers many skills (such as advocacy, getting around bureaucracies, communication with those in positions of power, navigating complex systems etc.) that stand them in good stead as business owners.
About the only legitimate caution that many experts (and to be fair many people in general) have regarding starting your own business is; what sort of business? Now if you have an idea for a business that requires the investment of a large amount of money, I wish you luck. Far be it from me to stand in your way (especially in an article that advocates for you doing exactly what you’re doing). However, there are others business opportunities that do not require an arm and a leg to get started in. One of the first that comes to mind are the various multi-level marking opportunities out there. Now don’t make a face, while there are a lot of scams, there are also many legitimate opportunities as well. I know of one young disabled woman who has made several thousand dollars in commissions over the years with her business. Do your research, and don’t drink the cool aid the first meeting in the quest to find the right ‘fit’ for you. The internet can be invaluable in doing this research.
How to make it work for you
As well, the internet itself can be a source of business opportunities especially for those of a more artistic bend. Despite it leveling off recently there is still a major demand for eBooks of all sorts; and thanks to websites like Amazon and Smashwords independently publishing is surprisingly easy and free. YouTube can also be a money maker. They’re always looking for content and are willing to pay for it. Not to mention the phenomena of Kickstarter and Patreon as a means of both financing a project and securing long term financial support. As an added bonus to all this, the Vancouver Public Library has production facilities available free to produce this content (other public libraries might as well, I just don’t know about them). All that it requires is a lot of hard work.
And there’s the rub of this great idea. It takes A LOT of hard work to start your own business and get it to the point where you are turning a profit. It can also take money and a bit of luck, but hard work is a must. That’s why so many people fail in business, they’re not willing to make themselves uncomfortable; to push themselves hard enough to do the right kind of work to make it. This is why becoming an entrepreneur presents such opportunities to people with disabilities. Working hard is just a fact of life for many of us. Doing things that are uncomfortable is just a fact of life for many of us. Because we are used to working hard and doing uncomfortable things, this may be one of the few areas where people with disabilities actually have an advantage over the able bodied, we just need an idea and a means to exploit it.
So there you have it. The reasons why I think people with disabilities should seriously explore becoming a business owner. Is there a high chance of failure? Yes, yes there is. However, there is also a high chance of failure trying to find a job. At least with a business, you’re more in control of those chances (and who thinks that people with disabilities don’t need more control in their lives). Thanks to the internet those chances of finding a ‘fit’ between you and a business opportunity that you can exploit on your own time are growing. So check it out, what have you got to lose?