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by Cary Griffin

Lately, the national Vocational Rehabilitation system has increased attention to small business development and helps start over 5,000 enterprises annually.

Traditionally, people with the most significant disabilities have been overlooked as candidates for self-employment. However, we are beginning to learn that support systems, similar in concept to those utilized by the best Supported Employment practitioners, can help many people operate their own businesses, limited partnerships, and/or businesses within businesses. The key here is the availability of support that provides the entrepreneur a chance to compete in the open market. The myriad of supports necessary for a small business owner typically include:

  • accounting services,

  • business planning,

  • access to capital (loans),

  • marketing consultation, and

  • training in product or service production.

The same needs are evident for individuals with disabilities, but sometimes the manner in which they are accessed is different. For instance, a typical entrepreneur has a credit history that a bank officer can review in structuring a start-up loan. In many cases, small business hopefuls with disabilities have little credit available and few savings due to long term reliance on Social Security. Support from rehabilitation personnel may be necessary to access Vocational Rehabilitation resources, determine useful assistive and/or universal technology, apply for local low interest loan funds, or to develop a Plan for Achieving Self-Support (PASS) through Social Security in order to self-finance.

Effective rehabilitation staff need many of the traits required of entrepreneurs in order to identify and facilitate supports required by an entrepreneur with significant disabilities. The Hagberg Consulting Group recently completed a ten year study of 400 entrepreneurs. Dominant personality characteristics of entrepreneurs studied by Hagberg that may be advantageous in rehabilitation personnel who serve entrepreneurs with disabilities include being:

  • Aggressive, competitive, and in control;

  • Action oriented;

  • Impatient for results;

  • Positive, up-beat, cheerleaders;

  • Opportunistic and calculated risk-takers;

  • Values-driven, with a strong sense of what they consider right and wrong;

  • Impulsive in their quest for results and solutions;

  • Tenacious and focused;

  • Emotionally resilient and sometimes emotionally distant;

  • Autonomous, anti-authority, and non-conforming.

Creating a place for such individuals in our organizations may scare more conservative and traditional rehabilitation managers. But, the market is changing. More and more individuals with disabilities are expressing the desire to self-direct their careers. Hiring staff who are entrepreneurial in nature will challenge organizations with frozen corporate cultures, but it just may be the thing that prepares Community Rehabilitation Programs (CRPs) for the turbulent consumer-directed next millennium.

The Community Rehabilitation Programs need to study this national phenomenon and gear-up through staff development, re-engineering consumer services, hiring new personnel with entrpreneurial instincts, and becoming more closely aligned with the Small Business Assistance Centers, Microloan programs, Chambers of Commerce, Business Incubators, and local entrepreneurs.

For More Information Contact:

Cary Griffin
The Rural Institute
52 Corbin Hall
The University of Montana
Missoula, MT 59812

Hagberg Consulting Group
950 Tower Lane
Seventh Floor, Suite 750
Foster City, CA 94404


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