New Entrepreneurship Course for People with Disabilities

Published: 13 Jun, 2022

Almost 13.5% of the Irish population has a disability, but Ireland’s employment rate for people with disabilities is 35% compared to the EU average of 52%.

[1]In 2020, research from Technological University Dublin (TU Dublin) highlighted the role entrepreneurship could play in addressing the many barriers people with disabilities face in accessing employment, but in the last census, just 52,115  people with disabilities had their own businesses. In response, TU Dublin has introduced a new course to assist people with disabilities in starting their own businesses and developing their business skills. The course will be launched today during a webinar about entrepreneurship for people with disabilities hosted by the Open Doors Initiative, an early supporter and co-founder of the programme.

Supported by AIB, it will be the only customised entrepreneurship programme for people with disabilities in Ireland designed to address the additional and distinctive challenges faced by people with disabilities when starting their own business. Taking place fully online, the AIB & TU Dublin Entrepreneurship for People with Disabilities Programme aims to provide participants with the skills and knowledge to become self-employed and help them overcome the challenges of creating their own job. Each participant will also receive a business mentor through the Local Enterprise Office network.

International research has repeatedly found that the loss of income from social security benefits or supplemental disability programmes is considered the biggest barrier to self-employment. Difficulties in obtaining start-up capital due to poor credit ratings, frequently caused by low-income employment or unemployment, are also considered another major barrier to self-employment. Previous research by TU Dublin found that there were also low levels of self-awareness as many people with disabilities would not “see themselves” as potential entrepreneurs, while promotional material supporting entrepreneurial activity usually does not reflect people with disabilities.

According to Professor Tom Cooney, who designed and will deliver the programme: “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 flexibility than can be found in paid employment. However, despite the benefits, there is limited awareness of self-employment as a career option for people with disabilities within their own community and within enterprise agencies and disability advocacy organisations.”

Helen Dooley, Group General Counsel at AIB, said: “Ireland is behind the curve when it comes to the number of people in the workforce with a disability, and we must do all we can to break down any barriers they face. AIB is delighted to support Ireland’s first course aimed at assisting those with a disability to start their own businesses, providing them with the crucial skills required to do so. Entrepreneurship is a vital part of our economy and provides people with a chance to shape their own careers, and AIB has long backed this sector in many different ways.”

The new course follows a pilot programme delivered last year that Pobal and the Open Doors Initiative supported. The course was a huge success, with six of the 20 participants either starting or planning to start their own business. In addition, almost all participants talked about the course increasing their self-esteem and how it gave them greater confidence to find employment if they did not start a business.

One participant of the pilot programme supported by the Open Doors Initiative and Pobal, Niamh Malone, capitalised on her training in cognitive behavioural therapy and positive psychology to develop an app providing coping strategies to people experiencing gaslighting, a form of emotional abuse that makes a person question their beliefs and perception of reality. “I have always been interested in technology and was convinced my app had the potential to help many people, but starting my own business and safeguarding my Intellectual Property (IP) seemed overwhelming. This course helped me to develop the value proposition for my business, carry out market research and provided me with a step-by-step guide to forming a new company. A few months later, I am working with TU Dublin Hothouse to bring my business idea to market.”

Welcoming the launch of the AIB & TU Dublin Entrepreneurship for People with Disabilities Programme, Jeanne McDonagh, CEO of the Open Doors Initiative, which provides pathways to education, employment and entrepreneurship to some of the most marginalised members of our society, said, “We were delighted that the first course we helped develop has had such success and will continue to grow and reach new participants. We supported this process from the outset and believe that entrepreneurship is a key way for people with disabilities to enter the workforce and develop their skills and in turn, hopefully employ others. We will continue to partner with this process and encourage its expansion to help others looking to start their own business”.

Other AIB & TU Dublin Entrepreneurship for People with Disabilities Programme supporters include SimVenture, the Local Enterprise Office, MicroFinance Ireland and  

Applications for the new course are now open, and details can be found on the TU Dublin website. The course is available to anyone who self-identifies as having a disability and has a business idea, but a person who has already started their business is not eligible since the focus of the course is on pre-start-up activities. 

[1] Cooney, T.M. and Aird, B. (2020) – Pathway to Entrepreneurship for People with Disabilities in Ireland – TU Dublin, Dublin.