New Report Highlights Entrepreneur Opportunities for People With Disabilities

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The National Center on Self-Employment, Business Ownership, and Telecommuting has issued a report identifying ways Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) agencies can enhance business-ownership and self-employment opportunities for people with disabilities, especially those categorized as having the most significant disabilities.

About 9.6 percent of individuals with disabilities are self-employed, nearly double the rate of those without disabilities – 6.4 percent. However, only 1.7 percent of participants in VR programs achieve self-employment as a form of successful, competitive integrated employment.

“Self-employment is one of the most customizable employment strategies for employing people with disabilities. Self-employment is well-aligned with current economic trends in the U.S. – including the gig economy. It also offers vocational rehabilitation agencies a creative and flexible way to increase the employment of people with disabilities, including those categorized as having the most significant disabilities.”

-- Joseph Jones, executive director for The Harkin Institute for Public Policy & Citizen Engagement at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa.

The Harkin Institute authored the report, Understanding the Provision of Self-Employment for People with Disabilities in the United States, on behalf of the Center for Self-Employment and Griffin-Hammis Associates, a leading international expert on training and technical assistance around disability employment.

For the study, researchers gathered and summarized self-employment policies from 73 state VR agencies representing all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The report found that broad differences in policies and implementation strategies among VR agencies has led to unequal barriers to access to critical services needed to create economic self-sufficiency for people with disabilities.

“Despite the powerful opportunities associated with self-employment, historically it has been significantly underutilized throughout State VR Agencies. This paper offers critical insight and concrete recommendations to open the door for more VR participants to explore these options across the country -- regardless of their background or disability label." 

-- Beth Keeton, Executive Director of Griffin-Hammis Associates and Principal Investigator for The Center on Self-Employment, Business Ownership and Telecommuting.

The report identified four key opportunities that VR agencies can pursue to increase equitable access to self-employment services, including:

  • Implementing self-employment tools and guides that allow for more nuanced, individualized exploration of self-employment possibilities, realities and risks.
  • Ensuring access to technical assistance to identify business concepts, conduct market research and develop business plans as a component of the Individualized Plan for Employment.
  • Providing training and technical assistance for VR counselors overseeing self-employment cases.
  • Developing self-employment funding policies that meet federal regulations and better align with those for wage employment services.

This paper was produced through U.S. Department of Education funding under the Innovative Rehabilitation Training program, PR/Award #H263F200005. In the current fiscal year, Griffin-Hammis Associates received $450,000 in Federal funds and provided an additional $50,000, or ten percent of total project costs, in non-Federal contributions under this program.

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