700,000 Self-Employed Disabled Workers - Thousands Could Become Successful Entrepreneurs
Being an Entrepreneur takes determination, resilience, leadership, time management, adaptability and problem-solving skills, among other crucial attributes. These traits often come naturally to disabled people making many ideal candidates for the (oftentimes gruelling) entrepreneurship journey. So why is there still such a lack of funding and resources for disabled entrepreneurs?
Recently there was TV representation of disabled entrepreneurs in the Docuseries from the Emmy Award-winning creators of "Born This Way," Bunim/Murray Productions. The show "Born For Business" highlighted entrepreneurs such as: Lexi Zanghi of Always Reason, Qiana Allen of Culture's Closet, Collette Divitto of Collettey's Cookies, and Chris Triebes of The Congregation Presents. The show sparked conversations around the shocking numbers of disabled people that often have to find untraditional ways of making a living due to society's stuck stigmas, social barriers and the lack of accessibility. According to the American Community Survey, approximately 700,000 disabled workers were self-employed. Thousands could become successful entrepreneurs if they have access to crucial resources, assets and capital.
When exploring the reasons for the deficientcy of funding, it is hard to ignore the Charity Model of disability. According to the outdated and older model, disabled people are treated as objects of charity and pity. For example, non-disabled people may assume a disabled person will always need help, and the disabled person is considered a burden requiring charitable resources for support. An example of the Charity Model playing out in realtime is the outdated 1938 statute, called Section 14(c) which has not been amended in over eighty years and means thousands of disabled Americans legally earn a subminimum wage, averaging a shocking $3.34 an hour versus the federal standard of $7.25.
Another possibility for the absence of capital being distributed to disabled founders is the misconceptions that the popular "hustle culture" brings, which in a nutshell means constant working. There tends to be a myth that if you are not replying to emails at 2 am, you are not working hard enough. For disabled entrepreneurs allowing health to take a backseat is usually not an option - and nor should it be for non-disabled entrepreneurs.
Disabled entrepreneurs tend to create better work environments where employee retention rates go up and productivity increases, for example take Maayan Ziv who is the founder and CEO of AccessNow. AccessNow is on a mission is to “establish a go-to resource for accessibility information. We are building a connected platform to empower all people to discover a world of accessible opportunities, make better decisions and remove barriers. Leveraging our intelligent technology, we are learning how accessible the world is and mapping as many places as we possibly can.” When building her company, which has fifteen full-time employees and forty part-time employees, Ziv says, “Here are a few ways we build an inclusive workplace at AccessNow:
Flexibility - whether it be in work hours, format, work tools or anything else, it’s so important to be flexible and open to change. Understanding how people show up as their best selves, and learning how to support one another is an integral part of nurturing diverse lived experiences.
Empathy - Taking time to get closer to the realities that different people experience has been an important way our company learns to practice patience, extend kindness, and develop empathy.
Proactive communication - A really important way to establish a culture of inclusion is to proactively communicate and use inclusive language. This helps create a safe space for people to feel seen and not othered and is especially important when onboarding new team members as it really sets the tone for what we expect from each other on the team.
Accessibility - accessibility is at the core of everything we do at AccessNow. From the digital tools we use at work, to the language, content, plans, product, programs, events and more, we ensure everything we do is accessible and strive to always do more. Accessibility leadership is a journey, not a destination.”
The lack of data has a significant role to play in why disabled founders are missing out on VC money, for instance, in Morgan Stanley's annual survey of venture capitalists, they report findings based on four groups:
- White men
- White women
- Multicultural men
- Multicultural women
Their definition of "multicultural" in the survey was "Black/African-American, Hispanic/Latino, Asian, and all other nonwhite persons."
Disability intersects into all of those measurable statistic groupings. However, after hours of research, no data was found around how much venture capital is deployed to disability-owned businesses.
A successful Founder that has been vocal about his disability is Sir Richard Branson, who has Dyslexia, Branson says the condition made him a better business owner because it taught him how to "delegate tasks [he] wasn't so good at" and left him free to look at the bigger picture of growing the business, he wrote in Fortune magazine. Elon Musk, the billionaire behind Tesla and SpaceX, has also recently disclosed that he is disabled being on the autism spectrum. The common thread we see with the successful disabled founders tends to be their gender and ethnicity - with a obvious absence of intersectionilty. As mentioned by The State Of Women, "Intersectionality is the idea that different systems of oppression interact. Different types of oppression come as a package deal for an individual facing them. For example, white women face many obstacles and disadvantages compared with men, but Black women face marginalization from both racial and gender-based discrimination—and are therefore likely to be disadvantaged even more than white women."
Normalizing disabled people being experts in subjects beyond disability is crucial to improving the representation of disabled VCs within a firm and consequently more VC money invested in disabled entrepreneurs. It has been proven that women VCs are more likely to invest in women-led companies, and whilst speculation (due to the lack of data) it would likely be a similar situation with disabled VCs investing in disabled-led businesses.
Funding disabled entrepreneurs is not only the right move to make, but also the smart one, Disability is part of the human condition and makes up 15% of the population and according to Return On Disability, "people with disabilities (PWD) constitute an emerging market the size of China plus the European Union. Their Friends and Family add another 3.4 billion potential consumers who act on their emotional connection to PWD. Together, they control over $13 trillion in annual disposable income. The ageing population is adding to the number of PWD daily. As physical and cognitive realities change, their need and desire to remain active in society dovetails with the demands of PWD. Consumers that care about the disability market are increasingly directing their loyalty and their consumer spend to companies that demonstrate action that delights people with disabilities—as employees and as customers."