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Entrepreneurship and Individuals with Disabilities

Greg Smith, 34, is the founder of On A Roll, the first and only live weekly syndicated commercial radio talk show on life and disability. He has had muscular dystrophy all his life. He is an expert on disability issues and a recognized leader in the disability community.

After earning his BA in Broadcasting from Arizona State's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism, Greg worked as a key member of the marketing team for Pulitzer's KTAR/K-Lite radio stations in Phoenix. He served as Research and Sales Promotion Director, where his primary activities involved sales presentation material, ratings analysis, coordination of contests and events, and audience promotion through newspaper, outdoor, television and direct mail campaigns. From 1990 to 1992, Greg was the host of "Cardinal Talk," a call-in program that aired after all of the NFL Cardinals games on KTAR and across the Southwest.

Greg wanted more from broadcasting. He resigned from Pulitzer and started On A Roll as a local Phoenix Arizona program in 1992. It is now aired live on 34 radio stations across the country and on the Internet worldwide. This explosive growth has given On A Roll household name status within much of the disability community. He has developed working relationships with the National Council on Business & Disability, the Presidents Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities and top corporations such as Microsoft and The Hartford in an effort to promote corporate America's shift toward equal employment opportunities for people with disabilities.

Self-Employment

In recent years, increasing numbers of individuals with disabilities have pursued self-employment or entrepreneurship as a means of achieving self-sufficiency and career satisfaction. In fact, people with disabilities are self-employed at almost twice the rate of the general population (14.7% compared to 8%).

Self-employment has many advantages for individuals with disabilities.

  • Self-employment can provide solutions to many of the employment barriers such as difficulties with transportation, workplace discrimination, and the absence of available jobs in which the individual is skilled.

  • Self-employment can mediate many of the needs of individuals with psychosocial or health disorders, such as flexible scheduling and emergency leave for medical or mental health treatment.

  • Self-employment can provide the most direct route to achieving the individual's career goals.

  • Self-employment can provide a sense of achievement and satisfaction that might not otherwise come from other employment options.

Success with a new business requires not only a marketable service or product, but also having business skills and knowledge, such as in marketing, research, and management. New business owners quickly find that their customers, not themselves, are "the bosses." They must be prepared to work long hours getting and keeping customers, while their income can fluctuate greatly from month to month. Being a business owner requires persistence, patience, and a drive to succeed. Self-employment also involves financial risk, since most new businesses require start-up loans and other commitments, as well as the potential loss of governmental supports.

Facts and Figures

One commonly held assumption is that the failure rate for new businesses is very high. Thus, self-employment has been viewed as an uncertain option and possibly more risky for individuals with disabilities. However, evidence does not support this assumption. As reported in the July 1995 issue of Entrepreneur Magazine, a 1994 Dun & Bradstreet census of 250,000 businesses found almost 70% of all businesses started in 1985 were still operating in 1994. Urban Miyares, founder of the Disabled Businesspersons Association (DBA) reported in the DBA Newsletter that the failure rate of all businesses started today is 20%, and only 10% for those that start with a researched business plan.

Support

A key to developing business ownership is to incorporate business supports from public and private sector resources. A number of self-employment assistance projects have been established to assist persons with disabilities in becoming self-employed or in operating their own businesses. Some of these have been private endeavors, such as advisory projects started by the Disabled Businesspersons Association (DBA) and the Network of Entrepreneurs with Disabilities (NEWD). Others have been publicly funded by the federal governments of the U.S. and Canada. The Self-Employment Assistance Pilot Project (McIlraith, 1996) is funded by the Canadian Council on Rehabilitation and Work. Assistance is available in the U.S. through the Small Business Administration (SBA).

Vocational Rehabilitation agencies in the several states have initiated self-employment programs that provide some of the start up monies needed and training in developing business plans. The Social Security Administration will allow an individual on Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) to develop a business while keeping his or her benefits for up to four years. Through these projects, thousands of individuals have been assisted to become self-employed.

For More Information:

On a Roll: Greg Smith