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Supporting Entrepreneurs with Disabilities

June 28, 2024
Source: Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP)

June Business Sense Newsletter

This month marks the 25th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Olmstead v. L.C. that people with disabilities must be afforded the freedom to live and receive services in their communities. The Olmstead ruling helped transform disability-related policy and practice in many arenas, affirming that disabled people have the right to forge their own paths in life—including through work.

For some disabled people, this path may involve entrepreneurship, small business ownership or self-employment—options that sometimes offer more opportunity and flexibility than traditional employment. In fact, after being released from institutionalization, one of the two plaintiffs in the Olmstead case—the late Lois Curtis—was able to pursue her passion for painting and establish her own art business.

Entrepreneurship and self-employment offer many benefits—the chance to fulfill one’s passion, as in Lois’s case, implement an innovative idea, or experience greater professional freedom and flexibility than in a traditional job. But for disabled people, entrepreneurship may hold important added advantages, such as work and tax incentives that can be used to provide business capital and help reduce disability- and work-related costs. U.S. Census Bureau labor-force data bear out the fact that people with disabilities are significantly more likely than nondisabled people to be self-employed. In 2011, for example, according to the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey, disabled people (11.8%) were nearly twice as likely as nondisabled people (6.6%) to be “self-employed unincorporated” workers (e.g., freelancers). That gap has persisted but steadily narrowed over the years. In 2023, it remained significant, with disabled people still being more likely to be self-employed than their nondisabled peers (8.4% vs. 5.9%, respectively).

Whatever the reason for pursuing entrepreneurship, all people who choose this path can access ODEP’s Job Accommodation Network (JAN) for entrepreneurship resources that will help them get started and grow their business over the long term. JAN provides free individualized consultations for self-employment and small business development on topics including business planning, financing strategies, marketing research, disability-specific programs, income supports and benefits planning, e-commerce, independent contracting, home-based business options and small business initiatives for disabled veterans. JAN also offers a number of resources that can help small businesses, whether disability-owned or not, foster a disability-inclusive work culture.

Whether working independently or creating companies that generate jobs for others, disabled entrepreneurs play an important role in their communities and in America’s economy. They also embody the spirit of self-determination at the heart of Olmstead—and ODEP is committed to supporting their success, every month.

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