Disabled Community and Entrepreneurs Unite!

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Why supporting others with disabilities entrepreneurship benefits us all.

Imagine if Jennifer is a business owner and she has a disability. She is making scarves, and we all were able to find her online store via a listing of disability-owned companies or via a network that shared her site. If we liked her scarves, we would be sure to share them within our own social media circles, and if we could, we bought them for ourselves and others as gifts.  We would be sure to join her mailing list so we knew when new styles came out, and would continue to support her work as a repeat customer.

Her business grew because of all this community support, and she was now able to support herself financially, as well as her children. She could buy the medical equipment, custom lightweight wheelchair, and supplies that she needed, and not have to depend only on Medicaid or Medicare allowances.

In turn, she was now in a position where she could support other entrepreneurs and charities. She could, for example, (shameless plug alert) do a custom photo shoot with PhotoAbility.net (a company I own), and they could then hire a model with a disability, and maybe even employ a Photographer with a disability to shoot the model.  Or she could buy a stock image from the site, and maybe even hire another self-employed person with a disability who is a Photoshop expert to place her scarves onto the models in the photos for use on her website and marketing emails.

A Scarf designer could use a stock photo like this one to photoshop their products onto. Model Bethany by Stephen Carter

She could also buy her medical supplies through one of us who works for a medical supply company and gets a commission on the sales. When the holidays come around, or perhaps for a special occasion, she could buy handmade cards  or custom jewelry or art made by another entrepreneur.

She could even now afford to take a vacation, and in doing so, support one of the specialized tour companies run by people with disabilities to plan a trip. When more of us are seen in the street and spending money on travel, the tourism industry will take notice that we are valuable consumers, and will see the benefit of making their venues more accessible.  There will be no excuse that they “never see people with disabilities, so why build the facilities to accommodate them”.

Let’s say her business grows even more, and now she could hire an accountant, a virtual assistant, and other people with disabilities to do her graphic design, public relations, social media, editing and writing, website design, and to do her bookkeeping.

As you can see, the cycle of putting more consumer income into our community benefits all of us.  Jennifer’s success then leads to the success and income for others, who can then continue to return the favor.

We, as a community of people with disabilities, have a great deal power when we unify.  If we all worked together to build the success of our community members, this success builds on itself, and the money and power that comes with it strengthens us all.

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How can we begin to support this type of community empowerment, which has already been done successfully by groups such as the Gay Alliance, The Rainbow Coalition, the NAACP, and the Jewish Federation?

  • We can start by sharing links on social media to other entrepreneurs with disabilities companies, small businesses, nonprofit advocacy groups, and charitable organizations. We often see links that are asking for donations for our mobility equipment and basic needs such as health care expenses and wheelchairs. We are encouraged to share and enter contests that pit us against each other to win one Van (while providing free advertising to the Van Company). We can work together to ensure that we don’t lose our benefits and our health care, that we can all THRIVE instead of merely survive.
  • We can support and share the movements such as PhotoAbility and the Raw Beauty Project that will get the advertisers and the publishers to use imagery that reflects more accurately who we are, and doesn’t only depict us as burdens and charitable cases. This important, positive perception will make it easier to continue to fight for our rights, as we will be seen as equal and integral parts of society, beautifully and authentically depicted in mainstream media.
  • We can support the blogs, websites, YouTube channels, and online magazines of those whose writing and work you respect and enjoy. This helps them to bring more of what you want to see and supports their efforts with view counts.

Many may feel like they don’t need others with disabilities as support, as they went to school or have a skill that enabled them to get a job working for a corporation, company, or public entity, and work successfully. That may be the case for many of our peers, but, obviously, there are still issues for others due to the many misconceptions and barriers yet to overcome in the mainstream workforce that can prevent the opportunity to find success there. Just recently, a woman leader and successful, able bodied business woman informed me that it cost her money to hire a person with a disability due to accommodations that would be required, but it doesn’t cost her money to hire someone who is gay. Really? I didn’t have the time or opportunity to educate, but this is the type of thinking we are up against folks.

Also, people tend to hire those who they are comfortable with, and as anyone can attest (just go out in public), too many are still not comfortable around those with disabilities. Let’s face it; if they’re afraid to date us, they may also be afraid to hire us. So what is the alternative to being broke and single? Unity, self-determination, and all the choices that come with it.

Even if they were going to hire us, the reality is that many of us need flexibility in the workforce, and being able to work for yourself allows you to accommodate your own specific needs. It can take us longer to go the bathroom and to get dressed. Being sedentary requires us to pay special attention to what we eat to be healthy, to plan our meals for getting the proper nutrition, to exercise daily, whether it is standing or biking or any type of cardio. We could get tired more easily, or may need to lie down and put up our feet, and it might be easier for us to work nights rather than mornings where blood pressure is lower. Yes, I know some of us are super-crips and can leap tall buildings in a single Push, and can give any able-bodied the run for their money in the corporate rat race. For others, this environment is just not conducive, and they can be more productive and successful working at their own pace and timeline.

So what if we could all look into our individual passions and start our own businesses, get incorporated, set up a website and social media presence, and get to work? Would you be supportive?

The point here is not to like people with disabilities or their companies or support them simply because they are like you.  We are all unique, and connect with those who we feel are admirable, are relatable, or whose work we respect.

Let the true market dictate what survives, but if you like something, by all means buy it, and if you can buy it via a fellow person with a disability, why wouldn’t you do that?  If you can’t buy it or don’t need it, you can still share and be supportive.

Let me be very honest.  When I started my company, PhotoAbility, I really thought I would be receiving a lot of accolades and help from my community, yet, while there were some notable individuals who went above and beyond to provide help and guidance, and New Mobility Magazine honored me as “Person of the Year for 2014,” I actually found it very difficult to get off the ground. In the beginning, people wouldn’t return my emails or my calls. Some people promised to do things and never come through with them, which wasted my time and resources. Some people would actually talk negatively or say things that were simply untrue or distorted based on lack of knowledge of my business. Worst, some people criticized me for actually wanting to make a profit! They believed we should be a charity, or free just because our business had the word “disability” in it.  Yes, really.

New Mobility named Deborah Person of the Year in 2014

New Mobility named Deborah Person of the Year in 2014, a great honor, but it was still a challenge to build community support.

I am not the only one who felt this way, as I also heard about similar experiences from other business owners with disabilities. Apparently, when it comes to people with disabilities, it’s actually pretty common that we can be our own worst critics. A computer programmer friend told me he found it to be like crabs in a boiling pot. When one starts to attempt to crawl out of the water, the others try to pull him back down to be in the boiling water with them.  Right now, overall, as people with disabilities, we are all somewhat in boiling water. Our benefits are being stripped (see United Spinal’s Advocacy to Save our Wheelchairs), our medical expenses are higher (though many now are able to get coverage through ObamaCare), and our ability to work and get jobs may be diminished due to age, accessibility or health issues. It was emotionally exhausting and physically and mentally taxing work, not to mention a great financial investment to build a photo library. It would be wonderful to be able to spend more time creating new imagery and selling them via marketing with a whole community sharing and promoting the work of our models. Creating and running a business is difficult and many fail, think of how much further would we all be if we had this kind of broad based support that would give businesses that deserve to succeed a fighting chance?

Support means not making a commitment to a business or charity and not following through.

Support means not making a commitment to a business or charity and not following through.

I started a private Facebook group in an attempt to create this type of support network for all of us, and called it Crip Entrepreneur’s United. The concept is that we share our business and projects, ask for an advice, find others to support or hire, get great tips, and generally learn from each other.  For some reason, it didn’t really take off in the way that I had hoped.  Maybe people are uncomfortable asking for support when it comes to their own work, or they are too busy! I hope we can change that, and if anyone’s interested in being a part of the group, you can message the group your business or non-profit information. There are other groups you can join as well, so feel free to recommend any you feel is making progress in our comment section.

We also have a listing of Disabled Businesses, artists, blogs, websites, etc. on the Pushliving.com Resources page that you can add your own business to, or recommend another via the “Suggest a Link” form.

Let’s all work together and see the joy you can receive when you give back. I still believe that the best way to become successful is to help others to become a success.  We can all work together to make this community stronger, wealthier, and wiser through unity and mutual support.

Deborah Davis

Deborah is a Speaker, Disability Inclusion Consultant, Entrepreneur, Writer and Business Owner of Wheelchair Lifestyle Enterprise Push Living Inc.

She was a Former Dancer, Accident Survivor (C 6-7 Spinal Cord Injury resulting in incomplete Quadriplegia 1985), College grad (BBA Finance 1991 U of Miami), with a background in Sales and Marketing and Non Profit Development and Management.

She is now embarked on new path creating a market for Disability Inclusive Stock Images with the creation of PUSHlivingPhotos.com and publishing an online enterprise: PushLiving.com. The mission is to create Inclusion for people with disabilities through stock images for advertising, marketing and editorial uses, providing accessible properties for travel, swap or purchase, publishing an online magazine for improved health and well-being, providing information and opportunities for Accessible Travel, and operating an online store with products that improve lives.

She is most passionate about building a network of people with disabilities who are empowering, supporting and creating a more inclusive world. Personally, she is a mother of two beautiful, wise and exceptionally bright young women, and residing in South Florida.

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