At almost every event or conference I attend, one of the questions I’m frequently asked is, “What kind of businesses do people with disabilities start?” My response to the question tends to reframe it, because almost any type of business you can imagine a person without a disability might want to start, is just as likely to be a business idea we’ve consulted about. I’m continually amazed at the creativity, vision, and resourcefulness these aspiring entrepreneurs reveal in their ideas.
Choosing self-employment or starting a small business in many cases enables an individual with a disability to build workplace accommodations into the design of their business. This ability to customize is one of its key benefits. At JAN, we can address both inquiries about the business development process, as well as specific accommodation questions.
While all information provided to JAN is confidential, and people are understandably protective of their unique business ideas, I’d like to share in general terms some of the business ideas JAN callers have contacted us about over the years. All the names used in the examples are pseudonyms.
WELDER/ARTIST – “Ken” had extensive experience in welding as a technical career, but also wanted to develop his artistic side. His plan was to contract out his welding services while also producing works of art using welding techniques and leftover metal materials.
PET SUPPORT FOR SENIORS – “Nellie” wanted to provide support services to seniors and their pets – specifically handling those tasks a senior may no longer comfortably be able to do such as walking the dog, taking the pet to vet appointments, and so on.
BOOK ILLUSTRATOR – “Angela” had extensive experience in the publishing industry, but preferred to do the work as a contractor on a project to project basis. In such a specialized field and with a background in specific types of detailed illustrations, this made for an excellent self-employment transition.
EVENT PLANNER/WEDDING SITE – “Alex” owned beautiful rural property conducive to a wedding venue, so wanted to build on this asset and develop additional wedding services to compliment the use of the site.
PROFESSIONAL SCIENCE WRITER – “Margaret” had extensive academic training in the sciences and wanted to parlay this into a professional writing career. In particular, she was interested in writing about environmental topics of importance to her.
BOUTIQUE/COTTAGE FOOD PRODUCTION – “Paul” had family recipes he felt were delicious, regionally unique, and marketable. With the growth of farmer’s markets and a focus on buying local, he believed customers would be very interested in his products.
TECH SUPPORT – “Keith” had been providing tech support to friends and friends of friends for years, but was now ready to turn it into a business where he would be compensated. He also wanted to focus on providing computer support to small businesses in his community who may not be able to afford their own IT person.
COUTURE WEDDING GOWNS – “Cathy” had over the years developed great design and sewing skills and was interested in a business making one-of-a-kind, couture wedding gowns for her clientele.
MOBILE AUTO DETAILING – “Donna” planned a business where she would go to people’s homes or businesses and detail their cars. No need to drop their car off – she would go to them.
BLUEBERRY FARMER – “Carl” was a savvy farmer who had over the years developed a blueberry bush that could withstand variable climates and soil conditions. He planned to sell them across the U.S. via mail order catalog and online.
FOOD TRUCK VENDOR – “Mike” saw a need for a food truck vendor at kids’ baseball games, local flea markets, and other community events. He wanted to offer a delicious but healthier alternative to french fries and cotton candy.
ALTERNATIVE ENERGY CONSULTANT – “Tom” had extensive experience in the alternative energy sector and wanted to consult with small businesses and homeowners on how to make their building more energy efficient and better for the environment.
RV AND CAMPSITE OWNER – “Sandy” and her family wanted to turn their property on a lake into a RV park and campground that would focus on the accessibility of the site for vacationers with disabilities.
ONLINE TUTOR – “Alice” was a former teacher with an excellent math/science background who wanted to tutor secondary school age adolescents in these disciplines. She would also help prepare students for college entrance exams.
RECORDING ENGINEER (CONTRACTOR) – With the proliferation of sophisticated computer and audio technology, “Sam” would use his skills and his own equipment to work with independent musical artists to create sound recordings.
JEWELRY DESIGNER – “Sue” designs nature-inspired jewelry and wanted to expand her business beyond her local market to include online sites such as Etsy. This would also allow her to do more specialized custom design work.
COACHING/CURRICULUM DEVELOPER – “Naomi” wanted to use her extensive oratory experience to work as a private coach for clients who had difficulty with public speaking, constructing effective presentations, and general assertiveness training in the workplace. She was also interested in developing an online training curriculum on these topics.
Job Accommodation Network (JAN) – Entrepreneurship
Office of Disability Employment Policy, U.S. Department of Labor
Self-Employment & Entrepreneurship
Making Self-Employment Work for People with Disabilities (2nd Edition, 2014)
Cary Griffin, David Hammis, Beth Keeton and Molly Sullivan
Disability.gov’s Guide to Self-Employment and Starting a Small Business