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Self employment: resources for entrepreneurs with disAbilities

by Mary Mazzoni on July 15, 2012

We recently heard from innovative self advocates who are forging new paths to careers they love.

One of those paths is self employment.

The idea of starting a business in a sputtering economy may give you pause. But wise entrepreneurs are finding niches of need that align with their passions, talents, and assets. They’re thriving.

How do they do it? By doing their homework, leveraging resources, and collaborating with a community of people who enjoy being part of the adventure!

Today we’ll look at resources that your child and her network can use to research entrepreneurship possibilities.

Sweet spot

A successful small business can grow at the intersection between a person’s passion, talents & assets and a real need of potential customers. That’s the sweet spot.

Once the sweet spot is identified, there are many resources to help develop and work a viable business plan. But first, we need to find the sweet spot.

Once again – we begin with your child. What are his passions, what are her talents, what networks, supports and other assets does he bring to the enterprise?

And then – thorough research of the market. Who needs the proposed product or service? Is the market big enough and ready to pay for what will be offered?

Next comes the business planning. For people with disabilities, resources to help include those used by all budding entrepreneurs – as well as resources specific to small business owners with disabilities.

So – where can you find information, resources and support to even begin considering entrepreneurship? START-UP/USA is a great place to start!


Self Employment Technical Assistance, Resources & Training (START-UP/ USA) is a partnership between Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) and Griffin-Hammis & Associates, LLC.

START-UP/USA is funded by the US Department of Labor (DOL), Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP).

Phew! Now that we’ve gotten all the acronyms out of the way – what do they do?

START-UP/USA offers technical assistance, resources and training for people with disabilities who want to run their own business.

START-UP/USA is a gateway – connecting people with all sorts of resources related to self employment.

This includes information and supports specific to people with disabilities (such as Vocational Rehabilitation information and information related to Social Security and PASS (Plan to Achieve Self Support), as well as resources available to all entrepreneurs, such as the Small Business Administration.


A wealth of information awaits you here. And you’ll have a chance to connect with people who can answer your questions and encourage you along the way.

You’ll meet people like Joe Steffy, owner of Poppin’ Joe’s Kettle Korn, whose parents were told by teachers that his Autism and Down Syndrome would prevent him from ever attaining employment. He and his Dad do presentations around the country telling how they launched a business that brings Joe joy and a network of relationships – with a sales goal of $100,000 for 2012.

Entrepreneurship isn’t for everybody. Sound planning, commitment, and hard work are needed.  Joe’s sales aren’t typical. Still, entrepreneurship has been life-changing for some young people and their families. Enriching their lives in ways they never expected.

The START-UP /USA site shows you why – and how- they did it.

Fact Sheets and Briefs

Here’s where you’ll find essential information on a wide array of topics – from feasibility and business structure, to funding and marketing – and much more. In user-friendly language.


A treasure-chest of information and contacts – from business case studies to small business resources, and  state Vocational Rehabilitation policies related to entrepreneurship.

The resources section is incredible – toolkits, checklists, links galore – and all really useful.


You’ll find archived and upcoming webcasts, seminars and courses on diverse topics.


Here is a list of amazing mentor-collaborators  - with bios and contact information.

Along with an incredible leadership network of entrepreneurs.

Information & Referral (I & R)

This page is where you can type in your questions and receive personalized information and referral to resources specific to your needs.

Your turn

OK. Deep breath. There’s a whole lot to think about here. Clearly, the START-UP/USA site is jam-packed with information. It’s meant to be tapped on an ongoing basis, not in one sitting.

So – if you are intrigued by the possibility of self employment, what’s your next step? Will you set aside some time to explore the site and develop questions to submit for more personalized guidance?

Remember  - whether your child’s goal is self-employment or traditional employment – it’s important to begin with identifying her interests, talents, goals and assets. “Person-centered planning” is a good way to do this. You can learn more about person-centered planning here.

Please share your thoughts or questions in the comments so we can all learn from one another along the way. Or send me an email if you like.

This is a journey – not a sprint. Let’s travel together.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Doreen Fulton July 16, 2012 at 8:17 pm

Thank you Mary. I just met with a wonderful benefits counselor who shared the PASS application process with me. The resources you have provided are icing on the cake and will help me to help my son launch his landscaping business. You are wonderful!!


Mary Mazzoni July 17, 2012 at 6:30 pm

Doreen, I’m delighted to know that you and your son will be tapping into these resources as he makes plans for launching his business. Especially glad you’ve connected with a benefits counselor about PASS. I look forward to hearing how things develop as your son pursues his goals! Thanks so much, too – for your encouragement. Best wishes on the journey!


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