Customized Self-Employment

Customized Self-employment is a viable and reasonable path for many people with disabilities and it is a vocational outcome authorized through the Rehabilitation Act. Yet it is an underutilized option in the vocational rehabilitation community. Even though people with disabilities are 25% more likely to choose entrepreneurship than people without disabilities, their self-employment rates remain low. This can be partially due to myths and misperceptions about small business survival as well as limited training, financial resources, support and encouragement.

Entrepreneurship may make sense for many more people with disabilities that are self-employed. Vocational rehabilitation professionals can provide the bridge to make it happen for them.

When VR gets involved, everyone wins!

The rewards of entrepreneurship can be significant for all parties. When people with disabilities succeed, they. . .

  • Demonstrate the effective investment of state resources
  • Increase their standard of living
  • Achieve greater financial independence
  • Contribute to the economic health of their communities
  • Help reverse pervasive stigma about entrepreneurship and disability

How do we increase the rate of self-employment among people with disabilities?

For many people with disabilities, entrepreneurship is not only possible, but achievable.

  • Just ask. If we are committed to supporting a person with a disability’s right to choose, then we should ask at the outset of the vocational counseling meeting: “Are you interested in working in wage employment or owning your own business?” Then, our advice and support are driven at the outset by a person’s expressed interests.
  • VR counselors cannot do it alone. If VRCs are to follow through on their intent to support people with disabilities as entrepreneurs, and possibly invest scarce VR financial resources, they must be able to tap into strong and sustainable partnerships with business planning and development and business financing agencies. Only by relying on experienced business planners, counselors and financial advisors can VR counselors and their customers have access to information needed to determine the feasibility and appropriateness of a self-employment rehabilitation plan.
  • Obtain tangible information. Many people may express an interest in starting a business, but hopes and dreams must stand the test of business feasibility. The job and career exploration and assessment processes that VR counselors help their customers conduct for wage employment are similar to those for self-employment. For example, in place of researching likely employers, the prospective entrepreneur would research the market for their products or services. In place of identifying worksite accommodations, the prospective entrepreneur would identify accommodations they need in operating their business. And, in place of developing a wage employment sustainability plan, the prospective entrepreneur will develop a business sustainability plan. Other planning crosswalks are also possible.
  • Focus on outcomes. Starting, sustaining and growing a business can be a complicated and risky endeavor. The prospective entrepreneur puts their own financial resources on the line as well as potentially those resources provided by governmental agencies. In assessing the potential for achieving business milestones that meet VR metrics, VR counselors, the prospective entrepreneur and partners like the SBDC must work together to identify timelines and expected outcomes of the business development process. When each is well informed and on track in achieving milestones and working as a team, then the path to business success is easier.

For more information, refer to TACE’s archived webinar series on Customized Employment.