A new report published by Technological University Dublin (TU Dublin) today has highlighted the need for tailored supports for people with disabilities that want to start their own business.
Almost 13.5% of the Irish population has a disability, but Ireland has one of the lowest employment rates for people with disabilities in the European Union at 26.2%. The report presents a sustainable systematic approach to encouraging interested individuals to move from unemployment to starting their own enterprise.
Pathway to Entrepreneurship for People with Disabilities in Ireland was written by Professor Thomas Cooney (TU Dublin) and Brian Aird (Team Work Cooperative in Canada). It provides policymakers with a clear blueprint for developing the entrepreneurial potential of people with disabilities. The proposed framework 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 additional cost of introducing the new framework would be quite low, while the potential benefits are substantial.
According to the report, 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, is regarded as another significant barrier to self-employment. The report also found that there were low levels of self-awareness as many people with disabilities would not “see themselves” as being potential entrepreneurs and marketing material does not reflect people with disabilities.
According to Professor Cooney, “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”. The report highlights that despite these positive effects, there is limited awareness of self-employment as a career option among people with disabilities, enterprise agencies and disability advocacy organisations.
One of the highlights of the report is the story of Eddie Hennessy, a self-employed photographer from Cork who explains how the current system can affect an existing business. “I suffered a stroke in 2011, and 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 and won ‘Wedding Photographer of the Year’ in 2018”.
Even though Eddie’s work gained an international reputation, he soon learned of the distinctive business challenges that arise because of his disability. “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.”
Eddie believes that his costs are approximately 30% higher than other people in the photography business due to the nature of his disability. The additional costs include higher insurance premiums, higher costs of travel and many other hidden costs that only come to light when running a business as a person with a disability. “I will be left with no choice but to lay off my employee and close the business in the near future if the government or its agencies cannot provide me with appropriate supports as a disabled entrepreneur.”
Professor Cooney says Eddie 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. 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.”