The Center for An Accessible Society Disability Issues Information









Why do people with disabilities start their own businesses?

Feb. 13, 2001 -- Over four out of 10 respondents to the first-ever national study of people with disabilities who are self employed said they chose the entrepreneurial route because they "needed to create their own job." A similar number also said they'd chosen self employment with its flexible hours and working conditions "to accommodate a disability."

And more than half of respondents made initial investments of less than $10,000, say researchers -- over half used personal savings to start th eir businesses; only 16% got help from Vocational Rehabilitation.

These are just a few of the findings from a study conduced by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research's Research & Training Center on Rural Rehabilitation Services, connected with the Montana University-affiliated Rural Institute on Disabilities.

"Research has shown that there are nearly as many people with disabilities who own their own business as who work for Federal, state, and local governments combined," says Rural Institute director Tom Seekins. "When you consider the extraordinary difficulty that people with disabilities have had finding employment, starting one's own business makes good sense."

The study's major findings are online at .

Figures from the 1990 Census show that self-employment is more prevalent in rural than in urban areas (in 1990, 10.2% of the rural population was self-employed versus 6.0% of the urban population) and that people defined by the Census Bureau as having a "work disability" are self-employed at a higher rate (12.2%) than people without disabilities (7.8%).

The Chartbook on Work Disability in the United States reports that:

  • Nearly as many people with disabilities report being self-employed as report working for federal, state, and local government combined.
  • 14.6% of men with a work disability are self-employed, compared with 9.6% of women with no work disability.
  • 9.0% of women with a work disability are self-employed, compared with 5.6% of women with no work disability.

Respondents to the survey were members of the Disabled Businesspersons Association (DBA) and/or individuals who had sought assistance from state Vocational Rehabilitation agencies; thus, say the researchers, it's likely their responses aren't representative of people with disabilties as a whole. They call the survey "an opportunity to compare self-employed people with and without disabilities." and said that what was needed was for "general research on self-employment and business ownership to include questions about the disability status of respondents."

Contact Nancy Arnold, Ph.D. at for specific information about this report.

More about entrepreneurs with disabilities is available from The Research & Training Center on Rural Rehabilitation Services, connected with the Montana University Affiliated Rural Institute on Disabilities. Of particular interest is "The Emerging Workforce of Entrepreneurs with Disabilities: Preliminary Study of Entrepreneurship in Iowa" by Peter David Blanck, Leonard A. Sandler, James L. Schmeling, and Helen A. Schartz. The paper can be downloaded at










Read the EEOC's Primer for Small Business on complying with the employment provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act




Expert sources

Disabled People Start Own Businesses: Study

The case against sheltered workshops

About The Center for An Accessible Society