“I’m not willing to let the bastards get me down”: Discrimination is driving people with disabilities to entrepreneurship

Sole traders with disabilities

People with disabilities are about 40% more likely to be self-employed, according to a new report from UTS Business School, leading to calls for more entrepreneurial support services.

According to the Entrepreneurs with Disability Report, about 53% of people with a disability are employed, compared to 82.5% of the general population.

However, while about 10% of the general population is self-employed, among people with a disability that figure is 13%.

The report included an analysis of Australian Bureau of Statistics data, as well as surveys of 160 self-employed people with a disability. The teams also directly interviewed 50 people.

Typically, respondents said they see entrepreneurship as a way to overcome environmental and social barriers to employment, and to overcome discrimination.

Many also cited a desire to achieve economic and personal independence.

Others simply said their disability makes it impractical to work traditional hours, or in a traditional office setup.

At the same time, many survey respondents and interviewees said they were attracted by the flexibility self-employment offers, but also by the opportunity to give back to their community.

The study reveals troubling barriers to employment for people with disabilities.

Simon Darcy, professor of management at UTS Business School, and a co-author of the report, said the findings suggest the needs and aspirations of people with disabilities are not being met by traditional employment models.

“A lot of people feel disgruntled,” he said in a statement.

“They face blocks to getting a job that they want, they face blocks to progressing their career, and, given the discriminatory stereotypes and attitudes towards disability out there, they also often face serious blocks getting a job in the first place.”

One interviewee said it was easier to strike out on their own, rather than facing the ‘brick wall’ of misconceptions.

“What else do I have? Belief in myself. Pig headedness. I’m not willing to let the bastards get me down,” the respondent said.

But, the findings also suggest a need for more inclusive startup support and education programs, such as accelerators and incubators, as well as for more focus on funding, mentorship and networking opportunities for people with disabilities, the report said.

Kerrie Langford, head of employment and workforce innovation at National Disability Services, said the employment support available should expand “to enable the entrepreneurial spirit and innovation” of people with disabilities.

“If we are to shift consistently poor employment outcomes for people with disability in Australia, then options such as inclusive startup support, business incubators tailored to the specific needs of people with disability, and evidenced-based programs for school leavers should all be priorities for investment,” she said in a statement.

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