Disability no barrier to entrepreneurship

Despite the perceived physical limitations, it has been revealed that persons with disability have the potential to fare well as self-employed workers and entrepreneurs if given the proper tools and opportunities.

The UTS Business School’s Entrepreneurs with Disability report, the first study of its kind in Australia, shows that for many with a disability working for themselves and / or starting their own business is only avenue open to them.

“While there’s been little research on self-employment and entrepreneurship done in Australia, there is rising awareness that people with disability’s aspirations and needs simply aren’t being met, particularly in terms of traditional employment models,” report co-author and Professor of Management at UTS Business School, Simon Darcy, said.

Many people with disability interviewed by Darcy and report co-authors, UTS Professor Jock Collins and Dr Megan Stronach, found it made sense to work for themselves rather than to hit their heads against a “brick wall” of negative misconceptions. Others explained that they had set up their own business because disability can make it impractical to work standard hours in a standard office setup.

“A lot of people feel disgruntled. They face blocks to getting a job that they want, they face blocks to progressing their career, and, given the discriminatory stereotypes and attitudes towards disability out there, they also often face serious blocks getting a job in the first place,” Darcy said.

The study found people with disability are, on average, more than 40 per cent more likely to be self-employed than their non-disabled counterparts.

“Our research found transport and commuting are significant structural and economic barriers, particularly where reliance on taxi or wheelchair accessible taxis are needed,” Darcy noted. “On the flip side, people were passionate about their business ideas and were attracted by the opportunity to play out their vision, be their own boss and do work that was flexible to their needs. Many we talked with also wanted to give back in some way, whether that be by employing others or acting as a mentor and giving others a hand up.”

The study also implied a need in incorporating educational opportunities for self-employment or supports required under the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). It also stressed that new business accelerators and incubators should be able to deliver their services in a more inclusive manner- from education, funding, mentorship, or networking opportunities so no one can be left behind.

“The UTS research illustrates how entrepreneurs, when provided with the right support and education, can overcome barriers and be set on a path towards meaningful self-employment and, importantly, the security and stability that comes with it,” UTS alumna and Settlement Services International CEO, Violet Roumeliotis, said. “Programs designed to facilitate business creation…play a significant role in helping people achieve independence and a sense of inclusion.”

And Head of Employment and Workforce Innovation at National Disability Services, Kerrie Langford, added, “The spectrum of employment supports for people with disability needs to expand to enable the entrepreneurial spirit and innovation this ground-breaking research reveals. If we are to shift consistently poor employment outcomes for people with disability in Australia, then options such as inclusive start-up support, business incubators tailored to the specific needs of people with disability, and evidenced-based programs for school leavers should all be priorities for investment”.

The research project was supported by the Australian Research Council Linkage Program and industry partners Settlement Services International (SSI) National Disability Services and BreakThru People Solutions.

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