Disabled Entrepreneurs: Success Against All Odds

Disabled entrepreneurs are taking over the industry like never before. Read this guide to understand what contributes in their success.
disabled entrepreneurs

In 2022, 21.3% of people with a disability were employed, up from 19.1% in 2021. In entrepreneurship, this group is doing even better, with approximately 25% of entrepreneurs being disabled or neurodiverse. Growing and thriving in competitive fields has its challenges. For instance, 37% of disabled entrepreneurs report having been discriminated against owing to their disability.

What’s more, 69% did not obtain any support when starting their business, and 84% feel they do not have equal access to the same opportunities and resources as non-disabled business owners. To understand the obstacles faced by entrepreneurs, and how some are overcoming them and defying the odds, it helps to take a few real-life stories into account.

Chris Triebes: Necessity Is the Mother of Invention

Many disabled entrepreneurs have started a business out of necessity. While there is help for people with disabilities—including Medicaid and Medicare, two government health programs covering disability needs in the medical realm. Disabled people may also be entitled to social security disability insurance, but only if they are unable to do work and engage in substantial gainful activity. For many young people who don’t qualify for benefits, the situation can be dire.

Chris Triebes is an excellent example of how necessity propels many disabled people to try their luck at starting a business. In this case, the need arose from the fact that Chris was a single dad who needed to provide for his daughter. This inspired him to self-fund his business idea—that of booking and planning events for musical acts. Chris has the edge over others in the industry—he visits event sites himself to make sure they are wheelchair-friendly and identify any pitfalls for organizers.

He states that prior to becoming an entrepreneur, he was called for a host of job offers but never go the job, despite feeling like he’d nailed it. His experience is backed by statistics, which show that people with disabilities are self-employed at a rate nearly twice that of their non-disabled counterparts.

Tiffany Yu: Exclusion is Tougher Than Disability

Tiffany Yu, the founder of Diversability (an award-winning enterprise that seeks to power people with disabilities) recalls the time when she was at school and P.E. was mandatory—she was always the last kid to get picked. She notes that exclusion hurts everyone—both disabled and non-disabled. “Exclusion is disabling, not the disability itself.”

She states that it took her 13 years before she spoke about the accident that gave rise to her disability. She is a former investment banker and techie who sees her greatest role now as that of inspiring teams to see the value that disabled people can add to their team; to focus on what they can do by grounding themselves in humanity and inclusion.

Josh Sundquist: Chasing the Sun

Josh Sundquist is an American Paralympian ski racer, motivational speaker, and entrepreneur who lost his leg to cancer as a child. Like Tiffany Yu, one of Josh’s biggest challenges was overcoming discrimination and getting others to see past his disability.

From a young age, he was determined to prove that anything is achievable with self-belief. By the age of 16, he was already a motivational speaker, and today, his client list includes The White House, Wal-Mart, Boy Scouts of America, and Children’s Miracle Network. Josh’s greatest allies were his own creativity, initiative, and fierce ambition.

Most disabled entrepreneurs become their own bosses out of necessity. As found by Chris Tiebes and reported by Tiffany Yu, getting hired can be difficult if recruiters harbor biases—either conscious or unconscious. While the “go-getting attitude” of entrepreneurs like Josh Sundquist is undoubtedly inspirational, it is also important to advocate for political and social change. Companies need to see past disability and analyze the true value that potential employees can bring to their business.

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