People with Disabilities: Exploring Self-Employment as a Career Option

by Greg Wimer

The Small Business and Self-Employment Service (SBSES), located at the Job Accommodation Network, is a service of the Office of Disability Employment Policy of the U.S. Department of Labor which provides comprehensive information, counseling and referrals about self-employment and small business ownership opportunities for people with disabilities.

Career counseling clients in general may seek out counseling for a number of reasons. There are various career barriers that anyone may experience such as employer downsizing, changes in economy, relocation issues, or limited or inappropriate training and education. People with disabilities frequently experience additional barriers such as transportation issues, work schedule flexibility, and other medical and health related issues that might make job performance difficult. Self-employment may reduce or eliminate many of these barriers by offering the benefits of working from home, ability to build effective accommodations into the design of the business, creating employment opportunities in areas of the country where unemployment is high, and the opportunity to make one's own work-related decisions.

Career counselors should be aware of these benefits, but must also be cautious of the potential challenges for entrepreneurs with disabilities. Some of these challenges include, but are not limited to, medical coverage issues, financing/credit issues, agency cooperation, health challenges, and financial risks for those transitioning off of benefits to self-employment, and other general risks of going into business for oneself. A career counselor needs to have the appropriate information for consumers with disabilities, or know where to direct the consumer, enabling them to weigh the pros and cons and to make an informed decision about starting a small business. There are a variety of resources that can assist in this process.

One valuable resource designed primarily for vocational rehabilitation counselors is also helpful for career counselors who serve individuals with disabilities. The University of Montana Rural Institute offers a variety of training resources to professionals who serve potential entrepreneurs with disabilities. An example of one of Montana's training resources is an on-line publication for vocational rehabilitation counselors that can be ordered or downloaded for free. It is called Steps for Vocational Rehabilitation Counselors: Helping a Consumer Start a Business .

Another resource that could benefit career counselors who serve people with disabilities in the area of self-employment is a book called Making Self-Employment Work for People with Disabilities by Griffin and Hammis (2003).

Career counselors, their clients, or anyone else interested in promoting or seeking information about self-employment options for people with disabilities can contact the Small Business and Self-Employment Service. SBSES can direct callers to resources and information that can help potential entrepreneurs with disabilities learn how to develop a business plan, what options might be available for health insurance, how to use vocational rehabilitation as a resource, and how and where to seek funding for self-employment and for other small business development. SBSES consultants can provide a variety of other appropriate case specific information and resources to facilitate the self-employment process for aspiring entrepreneurs with disabilities.

Greg Wimer has a Master's Degree in Counseling from West Virginia University and is a National Certified Counselor. He currently works as a Clinical Instructor at West Virginia University and is a consultant for both the Job Accommodation Network and the Small Business and Self-Employment Service, which are services of the Office of Disability Employment Policy of the U.S. Department of Labor. He has prior experience as a consultant for a Social Security Administration vocational rehabilitation project assisting people on social security benefits transition to work and off of benefits. Greg can be reached at wimer@jan.wvu.edu.

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