woman working on laptop with coffee nearbyFor some individuals with disabilities, self-employment or starting a small business may offer the best path to career success. In this guest blog, the Job Accommodation Network (JAN) highlights the various supports they offer for disabled individuals seeking self-employment.


Self-Employment – An Alternative Work Option for People with Disabilities

Mar 30, 2023

woman working on laptop with coffee nearbyBy: Kimberly Cordingly, Ph.D.

Equity and inclusion in employment opportunities for people with disabilities encompasses a wide spectrum of work options. While competitive integrated employment is the work goal for many, for some individuals with disabilities, self-employment or starting a small business may offer a path to career success. Starting a business is not for everyone; this is true of those with or without a disability. However, inclusion in employment includes all sectors of economic activity, and for some, business ownership may be a viable choice.

One of the advantages of entrepreneurship is the ability to incorporate accommodations into the design of the business. At the Job Accommodation Network (JAN), we assist individuals with all types of disabilities who are interested in self-employment. We can also help customers identify accommodation solutions that can help the success of their business.

Some popular business trends from JAN customers in 2022 include:

  • Online or home-based businesses
  • For-profit businesses with a social component
  • Administrative support and writing services

JAN customers have pursued a wide variety of businesses this year, but the trend towards online and remote businesses has remained strong. Below are three examples of JAN business situations and solutions.


Situation: Alice contacted JAN with an interest in expanding her art business by making her projects more widely available online and in her community. She shared her diagnosis of a psychiatric condition that can make social interaction and concentration difficult at times. She struggles with conversations in person and on the phone.

Solution: We helped connect Alice to relevant business and disability resources in her area, and we also made some accommodation suggestions. A project-based business would enable her to work from her home studio on days she feels most productive. Online communication would likely be the best way for her to interact with customers, because limiting in-person and phone conversations reduces her anxiety. For assistance with business development skills, we directed her to free online training at her local Women's Business Center (WBC) where she could access services and limit social interaction. We also discussed finding a mentor or coach with whom she could develop a more comfortable, in-depth relationship and receive ongoing support.


Situation: Terry contacted JAN with an interest in developing a consulting and public speaking business with a social media component. He wanted to provide coaching and peer-support services to individuals like himself who have experienced a brain injury. As part of his business model, he wanted to sell t-shirts featuring empowering phrases with some proceeds going to programs supporting people with brain injuries.

Solution: We provided Terry with business and disability resources, including referrals to assistance with Social Security Benefits Counseling and information about Work Incentives and self-employment. While working on his coaching credential, Terry encountered challenges with concentration, memory, organization and time management. We directed Terry to information on JAN's website that discusses accommodations for difficulties with concentration and organization. Terry was also interested in information about business planning, so we referred him to step-by-step training in his community. We provided materials in electronic, print and audio formats as an accommodation.


Situation: When Sharon contacted JAN, she was interested in transitioning from the non-profit sector to her own business as a grant writer. With multiple disabilities including diabetes, depression and heart disease, she felt self-employment would help her better manage her work environment and daily health issues. She sought resources that could help her market her business, develop contracts for her services and set up a home office.

Solution: JAN provided Sharon with an array of small business and disability referrals, including law school clinics that help entrepreneurs with legal documents such as contracts. We familiarized her with State Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) agencies and how they can assist with self-employment. Sharon planned to contact them for support in setting up an ergonomic home office. We also referred her to organizations that certify women-owned businesses so she can network and market her services.

While the pandemic tested some small businesses, changes in the economy offered other small businesses an opportunity to innovate. Creativity and adaptation are at the heart of entrepreneurship and are also central to making accommodations. For some individuals with disabilities, self-employment provides the opportunity to do both and map a successful future.
For more information and ways to contact JAN, please visit the JAN website.

Author bio:

Kim Cordingly is a Lead Consultant for the Job Accommodation Network (JAN), the leading source of free, expert, and confidential guidance on workplace accommodations and disability-related employment issues. Kim has been with JAN since 1985. She provides consulting and technical assistance to individuals with disabilities who are interested in entrepreneurial options such as self-employment, small business development, or starting a non-profit organization. Kim has a Ph.D. in social/economic geography with research interests in disability and employment, microenterprise development, and gender studies. JAN is a service of the U.S. Department of Labor's Office of Disability Employment Policy/ODEP.

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