Wall Street Journal Says Disabled Entrepreneurship Is on Rise

Thanks to the recession and higher unemployment rates, more people with disabilities are trying to go out on their own, and a few good programs are providing them with much-needed support.

Today, the Wall Street Journal published the article, For Disabled, a Job Hunt Alternative, leading with the story of New Mexico’s David Shunkey, an autistic man who runs a dog-treat business with an $850 state grant. The story does a great job talking about the opportunities as well as the hurdles that face disabled entrepreneurs. While loans are available, they’re harder to get. And in Mr. Shunkey’s case, his difficulty with communicating and running a business has potentially hurt his sales.

A key program that WSJ mentioned is one I’ve written about in the past on my website, abledbody.com, is the Entrepreneur Boot Camp for Veterans. This excellent, week-long workshop is designed to give veterans with disabilities an MBA-style crash course in being an business owner. Six schools are participating, including founder Syracuse University: Here’s how to apply.

Another program that didn’t receive mention — perhaps it was too new to be considered — is the U.S. Business Leadership Network’s Disability Supplier Diversity Program. The program offers businesses that are 51% owned by an individual with a disability, including service disabled veterans, an opportunity to obtain certified disability-owned business status and get access to supplier networks in major corporations and federal agencies. It’s the disability version of being a women- or minority-owned business. My company, abledbody, successfully obtained certified disability-owned status on April 30, and I’m on of 16 other small businesses that hope use this certification to do business with private-sector companies including Ernst & Young, IBM and Walgreen’s.

In fact, many people with disabilities who start businesses go to great lengths to ensure that they’re using their strengths, not their disability, to make an imprint. (Abledbody offers writing and communications services.) Other companies in the program sell products and services that cater to the disability market — such as Braille signage or ADA consulting — and for these enterprises, business can be a windfall. Let’s hope another article shows up in mainstream media that highlights these success stories, too.

– Suzanne Robitaille