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February 11, 2002
Freelancing For Disabled Workers
by Sherril Steele-Carlin

Self-employment is becoming one of the most popular employment options for disabled workers. Many workers with disabilities are starting their own companies that specialize in products for other disabled workers, like Don Dalton, president of Assistive Technologies. Dalton formed the company in 1990 to help disabled people find ways to work and contribute to society more effectively. He knows from experience the problems faced in school and work -- he's been paralyzed from the chest down since an accident at age 26. He formed Assistive Technologies to bring the technology to others, after he learned how to use speech-recognition software in his own business. His company provides voice recognition software and hardware to schools around the country.

Dalton is just one of a growing number of business owners with disabilities. According to the Denver Business Journal, "The latest statistics from the U.S. Department of Commerce report the self-employment rate for Americans with disabilities is 15 percent, or nearly twice that of employees who are not disabled." This is a viable new resource for a segment of the population that has largely been ignored by business and industry. An article in Entrepreneur Magazine states, "The non-employment rate of adults with severe disabilities is around 70 percent, according to the Presidential Task Force on Employment of Adults with Disabilities."

Many groups now see the viability of preparing disabled workers to work at home in their own businesses. With the many advances in technology, and the Internet, new frontiers have opened up for people who might once been thought of as "unemployable" in the traditional job market. For example, the Denver Business Journal continues, "In 1998, the National Organization on Disability/Harris Poll of Americans with Disabilities (a nationwide survey) concluded 42 percent of disabled people who were not working believed that attitudinal barriers kept them from working." Clearly, creating their own home business is a much needed alternative for these workers.

Gene Van Grevenhof is another example of a disabled worker who took his future into his own hands and began his own business. Van Grevenhof worked for over 20 years as a truck driver, but broke his back one day when he picked up a small package at work. After his disability ran out, he formed his own business called "Eagle Communications, a small business in Fort Dodge, Iowa that remanufactures laser printer cartridges, makes an effort to hire disabled workers," according to an article by Jane Applegate on her web site. She also lists several links that can help fund new businesses started by disabled owners. Van Grevenhof started his business with two grants that cater to workers with disabilities.

Lynne Swackhammer created a web site
for disabled entrepreneurs who would like to work online. She says there are many reasons people with disabilities are turning to the Internet for their businesses, including: "You are just like anyone else from your website - no staring. Ha. You can work from home, no special vans or chairs required. You can work when you want to, and take a break when you need to. You can make a WHOLE lot more money in your own business than you can assembling widgets or saying 'would you like fries with that?'"

There are also many funding alternatives available for disabled business owners. Some information on special funding available can be found at: with information for disabled veterans, and at, which lists several different funding programs available for disabled entrepreneurs trying to start their own businesses:

This interest in entrepreneurship has spread around the world, and there are support groups in Asia, Africa, Canada, and Europe that help train and finance people with disabilities so they can work on their own.

For more information, disabled entrepreneurs are encouraged to contact the Disabled Entrepreneurs Network at: You can also contact the Disabled Businesspersons Association (DBA) in San Diego at (619) 594-8805.

Sherril Steele-Carlin is a full-time freelance writer from Reno, Nevada. She's published numerous articles in print and online publications. She's also the author of the new e-book
"How to get a Life by Living and Working in a National Park."
"How to Break Into Casino Jobs."
Visit her web site at

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