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Disabled Entrepreneurs Are Rising in Numbers Despite the Barriers




Just about anyone can be an entrepreneur regardless of age, sex, or physical condition, as long as they have the right mindset and determination. Clive Collins, founder of Catsfield Christmas Tree Farm in East Sussex, took a great fall twenty-six years ago when he worked as a tree surgeon. The fall left him paraplegic. Twenty years later, he took full ownership of his Christmas tree business, which he started soon after the accident.

Not only is he handling just about everything he could do as an owner, he also takes care of the marketing and money management of the business. Although he was very successful, he decided to take on partners for his business four years ago. He also has about a dozen employees working for him.

Being able to cope with the ups and downs of a business is something all entrepreneurs need to deal with, but with Collins having a continuous impairment, it affects his workflow, including meeting with clients and planning for his business. Not only that, his spinal injury affects his overall health. He suffers from urinary tract infections, which also affects his feelings and self-esteem.

Another entrepreneur, Ben Wolfenden, the founder of digital marketing company Visibilis, is a thirty-three-year-old man with cystic fibrosis and diabetes. Although his complications are virtually invisible to most, he has to be put on heavy medications and requires frequent management.

Creating a plan to overcome certain barriers specifically for entrepreneurs with disabilities was vital to sustain his business.. Wolfenden was a freelancer before it became too much for his health. He decided to start a business. Wolfenden and his business partner molded the business in a way it could accommodate the adjustments that helped him work most effectively.

Wolfenden has a physical office at Visibilis, but he works remotely. Doing so means he has to work smarter at maintaining good relationships with his team as well as clients. Although the job has its tough times, he believes it’s a balancing act. He is proud that his business employed a new graduate who also has a disability. Wolfenden is determined to carve out a role in which that new employee's skill can get used.

Ambitions vary for a lot of entrepreneurs. There will be some who want to work solo and operate  a service based business. Kathy Sutherland, founder of START ability and equalities consultant, said even that can be a challenge for someone with a disability. She says it will be much more complex for them to create a business without much support.

Her business supports entrepreneurs that are disabled and battle a system that fails to recognize their needs. Sutherland adds there are a lot of barriers which are “distressing and inappropriate.” For example, getting a loan for your startup may be a challenge since there is a requirement to state your previous earnings. She says that many of those people who are disabled are likely to have little to no income, and it’s hard for them to attain or maintain a job. These qualities are looked at negatively and often count against those who want approval from a lender.

Finding resources on how to start a business is also hard to come by. Sutherland states that even if some can find opportunities like bidding for government contracts, those with impairments aren’t able to access them with the technology they are provided. George Bullen, a twenty-one-year-old who founded Team Insighting, and works to provide disability awareness training and team building services for business owners. She says that the government gateway is an extremely inaccessible website. For her, the website navigation is not user friendly, and has caused her to spend ages looking blankly at the screen.

She also thinks that finding the right support and information is essential for a disabled entrepreneur. Bullen fought to have BSL (British Sign Language) to be provided so she could understand her legal obligations, which would have hindered her from hiring employees.

One barrier she is still working on is the ability to drive, so she doesn’t have to rely on public transportation. Bullen adds it’s hard to do much in the winter because she is night blind and by late afternoon, she finds it hard to see anything. She can’t be as flexible with her client meetings, and it her impairment is something she has to constantly explain to her clients.

Nevertheless, all of these entrepreneurs wouldn’t trade their careers for the world. In fact, they’ve learned much about being in business. Collins says he’s learned more effective communication skills when negotiating with clients. He also says that because of his spinal injury, he had to communicate better to his employees. Bullen realizes that she uses a lot of energy to get simple things done. Nevertheless, these entrepreneurs wouldn’t change their careers for the world.

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