A new report published by TU Dublin highlighted some of the obstacles that can stop entrepreneurs with disabilities from starting their own businesses.
TU Dublin has published a report highlighting the need for tailored supports for people with disabilities who want to start their own business.
The report found that 13.5pc of the Irish population has a disability, but the country has one of the lowest employment rates for people with disabilities in the EU, at 26.2pc. The report has presented a “sustainable, systemic approach” that aims to encourage interested individuals to move from unemployment to starting their own enterprise.
Entitled the Pathway to Entrepreneurship for People with Disabilities in Ireland, the report was written by Prof Thomas Cooney (TU Dublin) and Brian Aird (Team Work Cooperative in Canada), with the goal of providing policymakers with a clear blueprint for developing the entrepreneurial potential of people with disabilities.
The proposed framework
The report recommends using existing enterprise supports, but also adding a small number of new elements to ensure that people with disabilities are given appropriate mentoring and other forms of tailored assistance. The researchers behind the report said that the cost of doing so would be “quite low”, while the potential benefits are substantial.
One of the biggest obstacles preventing people with disabilities from setting up their own business, according to the report, is the potential loss of income from social security benefits or supplemental disability programmes. The report highlighted that in addition to this, people with disabilities may have trouble obtaining start-up capital due to poor credit ratings caused by low-income employment or unemployment.
‘Single initiatives by individual organisations are valuable, but they will not solve the issue on a national basis’
– THOMAS COONEY
Another obstacle highlighted in the report was that there may be low levels of self-awareness. Many people with disabilities would not “see themselves” as being potential entrepreneurs, it said, as marketing material does not always include people with disabilities.
Cooney said: “Self-employment helps people with disabilities to participate socially and economically; it also allows them to choose their own hours or work remotely, providing more elasticity in coping with a disability than can be found in paid employment.”
One individual who spoke to Cooney and Aird for the report was Eddie Hennessy, a self-employed photographer from Cork who experienced a stroke in 2011. Hennessy said: “During my recovery, I developed a keen interest in photography.
“Because I couldn’t get a job, I decided to set up my own business. To start the business, I had to change my social welfare payment to partial capacity benefit (PCB), which meant a reduction of €50 per week. But I persevered.”
Hennessy noted some distinctive business challenges he faced as a photographer with a disability. He said: “I need to employ a person to carry all of my equipment and undertake the tasks that I cannot do myself due to the nature of my disability.
“However, I recently received the news that my PCB payment will be reduced by a further €50 a week. Broad start-up supports are available to the general population, but I do not meet the required criteria for financial aid. Supports are available to businesses to employ people with disabilities, but not to employ oneself.”
Hennessy said that his costs can be 30pc higher compared to other people in the photography business. This includes higher insurance premiums, higher costs of travel and many other hidden costs.
“I will be left with no choice but to lay off my employee and close the business in the near future if the Government and its agencies cannot provide me with appropriate supports as a disabled entrepreneur,” he said.
A holistic approach
Cooney said that Hennessy’s experience underlines the need for a “holistic approach” to address the needs of entrepreneurs with disabilities. “Single initiatives by individual organisations are valuable, but they will not solve the issue on a national basis,” he added.
“We need to present a clearly communicated pathway to self-employment that provides tailored business support, appropriate financial backing and disability awareness training for business advisers. Policymakers also need to identify ways of reducing work disincentives and address labour market disadvantages if people with disabilities are to be truly encouraged to start their own business.”
Following the publication of the report, a half-day seminar will be held at TU Dublin’s Aungier St campus on 2 April, entitled Business Start-up for People with Disabilities.
The event will feature entrepreneurs with disabilities who will discuss their experiences leading start-ups, as well as speakers from enterprise agencies and financial institutions who will discuss the supports that are available.