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People with disability turn to entrepreneurship


2 June 2020 at 4:55 pm
Maggie Coggan
Researchers say entrepreneur and start-up communities must be more inclusive 


Maggie Coggan | 2 June 2020 at 4:55 pm


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People with disability turn to entrepreneurship
2 June 2020 at 4:55 pm

Researchers say entrepreneur and start-up communities must be more inclusive 

Self-employment could help people with disability overcome barriers to work, but the current system is falling short on fostering entrepreneurial skills in the disability community, new research suggests. 

The joint report from the University of Technology Sydney (UTS), National Disability Services, Settlement Services International, and Break-Thru People Solutions, found that people with disability were 40 per cent more likely to be self-employed than their able-bodied counterparts.  

Lead researcher Professor Simon Darcy said this was because people with disability felt they had no choice but to start their own business in order to work, setting their own flexible hours and working conditions was attractive, and it was an opportunity to give back to their community in some way. 

Taylor, an interviewee with an acquired brain injury who runs a business helping others to get their lives back on track after similar injuries, said they did not have anything else so they needed to believe in themselves. 

“What else do I have? Belief in myself. Pig headedness. I’m not willing to let the bastards get me down,” Taylor said. 

Despite a growing acknowledgement that people with disability’s needs and aspirations are not being met in traditional work, little research has been carried out on how to encourage self-employment and entrepreneurship. 

The report analysed Australian Bureau of Statistics data on disability and workforce participation in Australia, and interviewed more than 50 entrepreneurs with a disability and surveyed 160 people nationally about their experiences. 

It found that the current system was short on inclusive programs, mentors, tailored networks and educational opportunities for people with disabilities to start their own businesses. 

Kerrie Langford, head of employment and workforce innovation at NDS, said the only way poor disability employment outcomes could be improved was to shift investment priorities. 

“Options such as inclusive startup support, business incubators tailored to the specific needs of people with disability, and evidenced-based programs for school leavers should all be priorities for investment,” Langford said. 

Darcy also said that a shift in thinking among the startup and entrepreneur community was urgently needed, otherwise many people with disability would miss out. 

“We need to make sure government, employers, Chambers of Commerce and the mainstream Australian startup community understand that people with disability need support from their programs,” Darcy said. 

“You really need to make them inclusive.”

This was illustrated in the report by one visually impaired participant, who said it was often hard for them to network at start-up events.  

“It’s a lot harder to just get out and market and to network. If I’m not networking with someone, I just stand in a corner because I can’t see people, engage them, read name tags,” they said. 

The report was launched via Zoom on Friday by the Australian Disability Discrimination Commissioner Ben Gauntlett, in a bid to raise awareness of the issue. 

The full report can be found here. 


Maggie Coggan  |  Journalist  |  @MaggieCoggan

Maggie Coggan is a journalist at Pro Bono News covering the social sector.

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