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Is self-employment: the better option for people with disabilities? 

Employment and disability has always been a contentious area. The employment statistics for people with disabilities have shifted very little over the last few decades, despite employment legislation that enshrines disability rights within the workplace, and the greater visibility of people with disabilities within society generally. Employment discrimination continues to be a huge issue for many people with disabilities, and one which prevents them from living the full, independent lives that everyone aspires to.

Young woman smiling looking at her laptop

One area where there has been greater employment progress is in the increasing number of people with disabilities setting up their own businesses and entering self-employment. Self-employment offers obvious advantages for many people with disabilities. This is becoming increasingly self-evident as the number of disabled entrepreneurs increases and their achievements are becoming more widely known and celebrated.

Building a flexible work-life balance

A significant advantage of self-employment, for able-bodied and disabled people alike, is the flexibility this form of work offers. The ability to choose the hours that you work, or to work a flexible schedule at short notice, is something that is becoming increasingly valued by a younger generation looking for greater work-life balance. This can be particularly vital for someone with a disability, who often has to balance work with managing a chronic health condition, and who may also need to manage medical appointments, often at short notice.

For people with certain types of disability, their condition precludes working a typical nine to five business day, but they can work effectively and productively over shorter periods of time. They can also work from home, and potentially on a part-time self-employment basis, which gives them the opportunity to devise their own working schedule and business goals. The ability to work from home can also circumvent problematic rush-hour commuting, with all of the issues surrounding public transport and access that this raises.

Working where you feel comfortable

For many people with disabilities who are currently in employment, the work environment is a hostile place. They face constant struggles, not only with the physical layout of the building they work from (lack of lifts, ramps, disabled toilet facilities, none or only limited adjustments to their workspaces), but also with the attitudes of managers and colleagues.

Many people with disabilities have described experiencing hostility at work as a direct result of their disability. There is often the sense amongst able-bodied peers that they are somehow receiving preferential treatment, getting away with doing less or taking advantage of disability employment legislation. As a result many people with disabilities feel constantly under pressure in the traditional work environment, often feeling they need to strive harder to prove their worth and be believed.

Many also report managers not being duly diligent to their needs, or not fully understanding how to work with someone with a disability. This is particularly shown to be the case in a work environment where the majority of staff have not received any sort of disability awareness training. Under these circumstances, traditional work can be a frustrating and alienating place.

In contrast, self-employment for many people with disabilities, provides the opportunity to work to their strengths. They can also work with, and for, likeminded people; they can be judged for the skills that they have, the work they do and the services they provide, rather than for their disability. Is it any wonder that, increasingly, people with disabilities are choosing the route of self-employment?

For more information, visit our Be Your Own Boss course page.

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