Academic journal article The Journal of Rehabilitation

Microenterprising and People with Disabilities: Strategies for Success and Failure

Academic journal article The Journal of Rehabilitation

Microenterprising and People with Disabilities: Strategies for Success and Failure

Article excerpt

Over the past decade, economic and societal trends have converged to impact the policy and practice of self-employment as a vocational rehabilitation strategy. One such trend is the move from a predominately industrial economy to that of an information and service economy. This post-industrial transformation of the global economy continues to shift work from large, manufacturing facilities toward smaller service-oriented worksites. "Forty years ago, in the 1950's people who engaged in work to make or move things were still a majority in all developed countries. By 1990, they shrunk to one fifth of the work force" (Drucker, 1993, p. 40). The 1990's have seen a rise in small businesses that can "accommodate emerging consumer values such as convenience, customization, variety, quality, and reasonable cost" (Ryan, 1995, p. 9).

A second trend involves the rise of a self-help, empowerment philosophy in the field of rehabilitation. This trend signals a change in the way decision making occurs during the rehabilitation process. Consumers increasingly make informed decisions concerning their rehabilitation (Kosciulek, 1999). The shift within rehabilitation and transition service delivery models gives consumers increased influence in decision making and greater control over planning their own futures (Thomas, 1999).

A third trend impacting the rehabilitation of people with disabilities is the successful application of the microenterprise model. Microenterprise Fund for Innovation, Effectiveness, Learning, and Dissemination (FIELD) defines a microenterprise as:

   a sole proprietorship, partnership or family business that has fewer than
   five employees, does not generally have access to the commercial banking
   sector and can initially utilize a loan of under $25,000. This definition
   is somewhat broad as most of the microenterprises that programs work with
   are in fact much smaller, generally with under three employees. Many
   microbusinesses, perhaps the majority, are operated by the owner alone,
   which has led to the frequent use of the term self-employment (Langer,
   Orwick, & Kays, 1999, p. xii).

This model evolved as an anti-poverty strategy in developing economies such as some areas of Asia and Latin America. In the past few years, the microenterprise strategy has been applied to displaced workers (Sonfield & Barbato, 1999), low-income U.S. communities (Himes & Servon, 1998), and people with disabilities. In 1998, Americans for Community Co-operation (ACCION) released the results of a comprehensive U.S. study of individuals who engaged in microenterprise and who were offered a micro-loan. The study revealed that take-home income increased for those who received a loan and started a microenterprise.

The convergence of these three trends promises to create opportunity for people with disabilities who choose to develop a microenterprise (which is often self-employment). Microenterprise may enable many of the 49 million Americans with disabilities, for whom the unemployment rate is 50% (World Institute on Disability, 1999), to compete in the marketplace. The authors of this paper seek to explore the barriers to successful application of microenterprise in vocational rehabilitation. Barriers identified are (a) those cited in the literature and (b) those noted by people with disabilities who call the Job Accommodation Network to gain information about microenterprise.

Two major barriers to the enterprising opportunity of people with disabilities emerge from these sources. One is the "low" readiness levels of people with disabilities and community-based organizations to engage in entrepreneurial enterprises. The other barrier is unrealistic expectation of traditional business resources toward people with disabilities. Metts and Metts (1999) noted a report of the business community's "disrespectful attitude" toward entrepreneurs with disabilities. …

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