Fact: Self-employment is a more popular choice among people with disabilities than it is with the general population. The Small Business Administration reported that 12.2 percent of the general population chose self-employment, and 14.3 percent of people with disabilities started businesses.
Business.com has put together a complete guide for people with disabilities that want to become an Entrepreneur. Identifying what type of business they want to start can be their first challenge. Here are a few links that might help:
- Joe Steffy’s Story as Told by His Parents to Start-Up/USA – The full story of Steffy’s rise to successful business owner. He is a young adult with Down syndrome and autistic spectrum disorder.
- Self-Employment Q & A: Discovery – A guide to the Discovery/Customized Employment process.
- Q & A on Customized Employment: Self-Employment as a Customized Employment Outcome – Clearing up doubts and misconceptions about self-employment, especially among people with disabilities.
The PASS program
Usually, federal supplemental security income (SSI) payments are reduced or eliminated once the recipient finds a job. With the PASS (Plan to Achieve Self-Support) program, SSI recipients wanting to start a business can continue to accumulate SSI payments while they work and use the money to fund their startup.
PASS money can be saved up and set aside to pay for the following:
- Transportation to and from work
- Tuition, books, fees and supplies needed for school or training
- Attendant care
- Supplies to start a business
- Equipment and tools to do the job, and
- Uniforms, special clothing and safety equipment
The Social Security Administration will not count money set aside under this plan when they decide on an SSI payment amount, so recipients may end up getting a higher payment. However, they won’t get more than the maximum payment for the state in which they live.
To qualify for PASS, the intended recipient can’t have a net worth exceeding $2,000 or $3,000 for couples. However, assets or equipment to be used for the business don’t count toward this amount.
PASS participants must get their plan approved by the Social Security Administration. Examples of businesses that have been approved include a carpentry business, a music production business and a candy vending business.
To qualify, recipients must complete paperwork, including the creation of a business plan. Here’s more about the PASS program:
- Starting a Business Under PASS – A broad overview of the basic requirements for PASS acceptance.
- PASS Application – Initial paperwork required by the Social Security Administration.
- Plan to Achieve Self-Support (PASS) – General information about the PASS program from the Social Security Administration.
Writing a business plan
Creating a business plan is a requirement of applying for PASS. It’s a vital step for any business owner.
A business plan outlines the goals of the business and details the steps needed to achieve them. The plan will include specifics like equipment needed, how the business will be promoted, and anticipated revenue.
For business owners with a disability, the plan may also include specifics for their unique situation, such as flexible work hours, assistive technology services and devices, bookkeeping services and transportation.
The Social Security Administration advises that a business plan should include, at a minimum, the following elements:
- The type of business (for example, a restaurant, a print shop)
- Where the business will operate (for example, rent a store, share space)
- Hours of operation
- Who customers, suppliers and competitors will be
- How the product or service will be advertised/promoted
- Items and services are required to start the business
- What these items and services will cost, and how they’ll be paid, and
- Expected earnings for the first four years of business
The goal of a business plan isn’t to force a person to prove their idea will work. It’s to start them on a path to success, and there are many supportive people and organizations who’ll help.
In addition to PASS, potential business owners with disabilities are eligible for many other forms of funding from government loans to private investment. A business plan is required for all.
- Self-Employment Q & A: Developing a Business Plan – Answers to the most basic questions people with disabilities have about writing a business plan, plus additional resources.
- How to Write a Business Plan – This is a free course from the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Learning Center.
- Helpful Hints: How to Fill Out a Winning PASS Application – Uses the story of Danielle, an SSI recipient, to illustrate the key components of a successful PASS application.
The PASS program is a terrific way to stockpile SSI payments for a business venture. But people with disabilities who want to pursue self-employment can also take advantage of additional forms of funding.
A local Small Business Development Center is the best place to start. Managed by the U.S. Small Business Administration, these centers employ folks with local expertise on successful business ventures and available loan programs.
There are thousands of loan programs for small businesses ranging from loans given out by the federal government to loans offered by counties and towns. There are also loans for specific groups: veterans, women, people with specific disabilities, and many others. That’s why it’s worth talking to the experts at a Small Business Development Center. They can save weeks of research by identifying the best loan resources for a particular person and their business.
State vocational development or vocational rehabilitation offices are also good resources for identifying little-known forms of business funding for people with disabilities.
Business training and education
The first step to starting a business may be additional training and education. This can take the form of anything from vocational training to support a business dream, or a traditional business education to acquire entrepreneurial skills that will last a lifetime.
State vocational development offices are the best resources for local skills training. The same skills training that attracts employers could give someone the skills to start a business.
Federal law requires that people with disabilities have equal educational opportunities. So nearly all colleges and universities have an office of disability services to ensure compliance.
Students seeking additional business education can get resources and support before and during their college career.
- College Scholarships and Financial Aid for Students with Disabilities – An exhaustive list of financial aid opportunities, including some that support vocational education.
- Emerging Leaders Internship Program for College Students with Disabilities – Places top college students with disabilities in fulfilling internships.
- Students with Disabilities Preparing for Postsecondary Education: Know Your Rights and Responsibilities – Basic information about getting and maintaining disability accommodations at colleges.
Listed below are resources for people living with specific disabilities who are interested in self-employment.
Resources for people with visual impairments
With business marketing and communication increasingly taking place online, people with visual impairments face obstacles to business success that didn’t exist a generation ago. Speech-accessible computers can help.
Prospective business owners who are visually impaired should also consider reviewing these resources:
- Independent Visually Impaired Entrepreneurs, An Affiliate of the American Council of the Blind – A national organization for people with visual impairments who are business owners or who are interested in entrepreneurship.
- Hadley Institute for the Blind and Visually Impaired Business Directory – A full picture of the diverse range of businesses owned or operated by individuals with visual impairments.
- Randolph-Sheppard Vendors of America – Support people with visual impairments who oversee vending machine operations, cafeterias, military troop dining contracts, snack bars, gift shops and other retail businesses.
- The Scent of Small Business Success for Owners Who Are Visually Impaired – The story of married business owners, Barry and Debra Carver, who run a successful fragrance products company.
Resources for people with hearing impairments
Video relay services have revolutionized person-to-person communication for business owners with hearing impairments. The technology is improving and so is adoption in public areas like airports. Many how-to videos include easily accessible captions. Still, business owners with hearing impairments face unique challenges.
These resources provide support:
- Gallaudet Innovation and Entrepreneurship Institute – Support, motivation, and networking for future business leaders.
- DeafBusiness.org – Organizes workshops and conventions at major cities around the U.S.
- Communications Services for the Deaf Social Venture Fund – Makes major investments in businesses owned by people with hearing disabilities.
Resources for people with developmental disabilities
Studies show that more than 80 percent of people with disabilities don’t work, and of those who do, 80 percent work in sheltered workshops. Over the past 30 years, an increasing amount of nonprofit and government funding has been employed to improve these outcomes.
Many states have launched loan and special mentorship programs to support “self-directed employment.” Self-directed employment supports people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in choosing a career path that fits their individual interests – often this process suggests that self-employment is the most viable path.
- Successful Business > Successful Life: One Entrepreneur’s Success Story – The story of Bernie Klundt, who was institutionalized for 31 years before finding comfort in his own apartment and small business.
- “Doing my own thing”: Supported Self-Employment for Individuals with Cognitive Disabilities – A research paper with in-depth descriptions of small businesses started by people with cognitive disabilities.
- Self-Directed Employment for People with Developmental Disabilities: Issues, Characteristics, and Illustrations – An explanation of the characteristics of successful outcomes for people with developmental disabilities starting their own business.
Resources for people with mobility issues
The rise of the internet has led to a golden age of home-based businesses. For people with mobility issues, eliminating the need for a daily commute is a powerful incentive to consider self-employment. Of course, working in the digital world can present obstacles to people with mobility issues as well.
- Home-Based Business Resources from SCORE – A collection of articles about home-based businesses compiled by the nation’s largest network of volunteer, expert business mentors.
- Shortcut – Human interface device designed for people wearing a prosthesis.
- VELA Tango Chairs – These chairs can be configured in endless combinations to satisfy multiple situations and requirements.
Business.com also includes some specific examples of people with disabilities that have successfully started their own businesses. Here is a link to their article: https://www.business.com/articles/resources-business-disabilities/