Though the journey to becoming a business owner can be rewarding, there are also unique challenges and barriers individuals with disabilities might face on the way to becoming entrepreneurs. These may include:
- Limited access to affordable startup capital
- Scarcity of business support, services, and programs that are specifically designed for various disabilities
- Fewer business mentors who have had similar challenges due to disabilities
Entrepreneurship and self-employment, for anyone, can provide many meaningful benefits. Entrepreneurs can be creative and solve unique problems with their service or product. They can work on their passion and get paid to do so. They can hire employees and, in the case of business owners with disabilities, give more disabled people opportunities in the workplace.
Despite a disability, many disabled people are perfectly capable of becoming successful business owners. With the right accommodations and tools, anyone can become an entrepreneur.
If you’ve ever dreamt of starting your own business as a person with a disability, this toolkit provides resources you can use on your journey.
Connecting with financial resources
One of the biggest considerations for any entrepreneur is how to get business funding. While bootstrapping a business with one’s own finances, or getting investments from family members and friends, can be helpful, there’s a variety of other options disabled entrepreneurs can consider.
Private grants for people with disabilities and nonprofit opportunities
- National Disability Institute: The National Disability Institute is a nonprofit that provides low-interest technology loans to people with disabilities who live in New York or New Jersey.
- Association for Enterprise Opportunity: The Association for Enterprise Opportunity offers programs for microbusiness success. The myWay to Credit program provides options for small businesses that don’t currently qualify for financing, while the DreamFund provides funding options for business owners who wouldn’t have otherwise qualified for loans.
- Disability Opportunity Fund: The Disability Opportunity Fund provides financial support services to individuals and organizations that serve the disability market throughout the U.S.
Venture capital and angel investments
- Disability Angel Fund: The Disability Angel Fund invests in companies that provide products and services for people with disabilities. Disabled business owners who are launching products or services that meet category requirements may apply for investing.
- Backstage Capital: Backstage Capital provides venture capital funding specifically to women, people of color, and LGBT founders, including those with disabilities.
- CSD SVF: CSD SVF offers equity investments between $50,000 and $1 million to deaf-owned businesses in position to scale.
- DiverseCity Ventures: DiverseCity Ventures invests in pre-seed technology-driven companies, including business owners with disabilities.
- Impact America Fund: The Impact America Fund makes early-stage investments in tech-driven businesses that are owned by people of color, including individuals with disabilities.
- Kaleidoscope Investments: Kaleidoscope Investments provides venture capital for disability-led companies in any industry, at any stage.
- MaC Venture Capital: MaC Venture Capital supports seed stage technology companies that are “leveraging shifts in cultural trends and behaviors.”
- Precursor Ventures: Precursor Ventures invests in early stage businesses, with investments up to $4 million.
Grants for disabled business owners
Additional financial resources for business owners with disabilities
- Small Business Administration (SBA) 7(a) loans: 7(a) loans are the SBA’s primary business loans that provide financial assistance to small businesses. The SBA provides loans for up to $5 million.
- SBA microloans: SBA microloans offer up to $50,000 to help small businesses start up and expand.
- Accion Opportunity Fund: The Accion Opportunity Fund offers low-interest small business loans from $5,000 to $250,000
- USDA loans: The U.S. Department of Agriculture connects small business owners in rural areas throughout the U.S. with loan opportunities.
- StreetShares Short-Term Business Loans: StreetShares is a short-term lender providing business loans to service-disabled veterans.
Connecting with supportive resources
In addition to getting funding for your business, disabled business owners can find resources and support systems that can help them successfully launch a business and expand it. These include organizations such as the following.
- 2Gether Int.: 2Gether Int. supports disabled entrepreneurs with resources including startup meetup groups and cohorts for aspiring entrepreneurs.
- National Disability Institute: The National Disability Institute partnered with the SBA to create a small business hub for disabled entrepreneurs. The hub includes online training, small business guides, and state and industry-specific resources.
- Independent Visually Impaired Entrepreneurs: Independent Visually Impaired Entrepreneurs offers monthly publications, an annual conference, quarterly newsletters, monthly community calls, monthly book discussion calls, email discussions, networking and mentoring opportunities, and listings on the site’s business directory.
- SCORE: SCORE provides support for entrepreneurs with disabilities through the Ticket to Work program, which includes free webinars and resources for disabled professionals.
- Local disability organizations: There may also be local disability-specific organizations for entrepreneurs in your area. Do an online search of “[state] resources for disabled entrepreneurs” to see what comes up. Or, visit your local SBA office to get connected.
Government programs and incentives
- Job Accommodation Network: The Job Accommodation Network provides mentoring, consulting, and technical assistance for individuals with disabilities. You can get in touch with the organization online or by texting (304) 216-8189.
- Small Business Development Centers: Small Business Development Centers (SBDC) are powered by the SBA and provide assistance and counseling for entrepreneurs. You can find contact information for your local SBDCs by inputting your ZIP code in the search tool.
- USA.gov: USA.gov presents a complete guide on how to start and fund your own business. You can also call the hotline at 1-844-USAGOV1 with any questions.
- Office of Disability Employment Policy ODEP: ODEP’s mission is to influence employment-related policies and practices for persons with disabilities. The site includes professional resources and support for employers of disabled people.
Leveraging assistive technology and accessibility
Both at work and online for customers, accessibility impacts how successful a disabled person-owned business will be. Assistive technology tools and accessibility in digital platforms can help a person with a disability grow their business.
Assistive technology tools
Various types of assistive technology tools can help entrepreneurs with disabilities achieve their professional goals. These include:
- Mobility aids
- Hearing aids
- Cognitive aids, such as computer or electrical assistive devices that help with memory or attention challenges
- Computer software and hardware, such as voice recognition and screen enlargement applications
- Closed captioning
- Physical building modifications
- Adaptive switches
- Accessible business tools, including accessible point of sale (POS) systems
This technology helps business owners complete tasks and support their teams. The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders has a comprehensive guide on assistive devices available for people with hearing, voice, speech, or language disorders. Entrepreneurs can also connect with their local SBA office to learn about access to assistive devices in their area.
Accessible website and digital marketing
An accessible online presence helps business owners keep tabs on the content of their website, as well as ensures customers of all abilities can learn about and engage with a business. In 2022, only 3% of the world’s websites were completely accessible to those with disabilities.
Without accessibility, businesses lose out on potential customers who abandon a website they can’t interact with. To make accessible websites and content, the Web Accessibility Initiative presents a web developer guide that explains criteria to make websites accessible to individuals with disabilities. The site breaks down tips for web designers, content writers, developers, evaluators, and testers to ensure every page is accessible.
Overcoming challenges and staying resilient
For any business owner, sustaining a business long-term can be difficult. There are a lot of responsibilities to juggle, and being disabled can compound basic business challenges. To stay resilient, disabled business owners can implement strategies to overcome bias and remain motivated on their journeys as business owners.
Addressing discrimination and bias
Unfortunately, disability bias continues to exist in modern society. However, that shouldn’t discourage people of any ability to pursue their dreams of entrepreneurship. Disabled entrepreneurs can self-advocate for their abilities and businesses to overcome discrimination and bias in the following ways.
- Find a mentor. Research shows having a mentor can lead to increased opportunities, career and salary advancement, increased productivity, and enhanced professional development. Find a business mentor you can go to with questions, to get support, and to learn advice on how to overcome various challenges.
- Connect with other business owners. Networking can help any entrepreneur grow their business. Attend local networking events, join industry groups, and meet other entrepreneurs who can share their wisdom with you.
- Spotlight customer testimonials. Customer testimonials on a website, on review sites, and through word of mouth provide social proof your business is worth considering. According to BigCommerce, 72% of customers say positive testimonials and reviews make them trust a business more. As you collect happy customers, think about ways to get them to spread the word about your business. You can also create a referral program that rewards existing customers for bringing new ones to your business.
- Use online marketing. Online marketing methods, such as search engine optimization (SEO), help improve the visibility of your business online. Partner with digital marketing experts like SEO specialists and social media managers to help you grow your online presence.
There are countless stories about successful disabled business owners and professionals. Whenever you need some inspiration, check out success stories like the following.
- Propel: Zach Cutler, CEO and Chairman at Propel, has a physical disability called CMT, which requires him to use a mobility scooter due to weakness in his legs and hands. Cutler hasn’t let that stop him, as he has become a business owner backed by a top venture capital firm that’s raised more than $5 million and surpassed more than $1 million in recurring revenue. His public relations software Propel serves customers including Microsoft and NPR.
- Collettey’s: Collette Divitto is a leader among young entrepreneurs with disabilities. She was born with Down syndrome and founded Collettey’s, a cookie company that ships nationwide. The founder states on her website, “I was not only determined to show everyone how capable people with (dis)abilities are, but my mission is to open production facilities across the country and employ thousands of (dis)abled people!” Her nonprofit leadership program offers mentoring, workshops, and training throughout the country.
- No Limits Café: No Limits Café is a small business for disabled persons to grow their careers. The café employs more than 30 employees with intellectual disabilities and offers a variety of food, drinks, and sweet treats available for dine-in and take-out.
Being a business owner can be challenging, as there are multiple tasks to keep track of, people to manage, products/services to develop, and customers to serve. Connect with a mentor who can help you navigate challenges.
It’s also important to prioritize self-care by pursuing stress-relieving hobbies. Exercising, eating healthy foods, and getting the proper amount of sleep can help you feel your best and better manage stress.
Setting your business up for success with accessibility partners
The business world becomes better with more diversity. Everyone should feel empowered and included in the entrepreneurial landscape.
If you’re a person with a disability and a dream of owning your own business, there’s a variety of tools and resources available to you. People with disabilities can research federal, local, and private funding and grant opportunities. You can also research local business groups in your area to network with other business owners and find more local resources.
Any business can also improve its offerings for customers of all abilities by using accessible tools and business strategies. Business owners can use the resources in this guide to learn how to make their products, services, websites, and tools more accessible to more people.
Clover proudly supports an inclusivity mission that involves making our restaurant POS solutions and quick service POS systems accessible for all customers. Whether you need an advanced employee management tool to schedule shifts, a retail POS system to handle in-store transactions, or a POS system to run your service business, Clover’s POS solutions can help you do it all with one sleek, accessible, user-friendly tool.
Why wait? Elevate your business, and get started with Clover’s POS systems today.
This information is provided for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal, financial, or tax advice. Readers should contact their attorneys, financial advisors, or tax professionals to obtain advice with respect to any particular matter.