By Trish Robichaud

Group of people of various backgrounds, abilities and race sitting at a table for a networking meetingWith rates of unemployment among disabled people double those of the able-bodied population, self-employment can be a great way for disabled people to enter the workplace and forge a satisfying and financially rewarding career. Indeed more disabled than able-bodied people are self-employed. According to a government report 18% of disabled men and 8% of disabled women are self-employed, as compared to 14% and 6% respectively of able-bodied men and women.

However, setting up a business can be hard, with much to organise - everything from office insurance to furniture needs to be thought about. When setting up a business, some disabled people will find they face extra challenges, as compared to able-bodied business people. What all of them may find is that the journey into self-employment can be a lonely one. How can disabled entrepreneurs and would-be entrepreneurs find ways to make that journey less lonely?

Why Network?

Businesses work when their owners are able to make plenty of contacts, both in order to pursue potential business opportunities and to gain useful advice and tips. For disabled entrepreneurs, business networking can be particularly valuable, as it can be a way to get real support from people who understand the challenges disabled people can face.

Networking can take many forms. It can be small, local groups which are focussed on a particular industry. It can be location based, such as events organised by a particular town's business association or chamber of commerce. It can be based on a particular demographic, such as women or disabled people. It can be both in person and online. If you're a disabled entrepreneur and you haven't dipped your toe into the networking waters yet, it's time to investigate your options.

Breaking Down Barriers

There are many specific barriers to entering self-employment for disabled people. Disability can make access to many of the business support and information networks that able-bodied entrepreneurs take for granted much more difficult.

These include access to business premises; to business support information online; to training and development programmes; to financial support; and to networking. The ability to network could help entrepreneurs overcome many of the other barriers, so overcoming the networking barrier could be the key to success for many.

All of the things that disabled people often find hard to access can be hard to access for the able-bodied too. Sourcing good business premises at an affordable price, in the right location is often hard for new businesses. Disabled entrepreneurs face the extra problem of needing to find accessible premises, and/or to pay for adaptations.

Anyone who is not already well-informed may find it hard to locate the business support information they need online, but some disabled people will be unable to access many useful websites at all, even if they can find them.

Finding relevant training support is often challenging, but disabled people may find that they have access problems with the programmes that are available too.

Financing (especially in the current economic climate) is often hard to get, but disabled people often have higher costs so need to raise more money, and sometimes face unfair judgements on their credibility.

How Networking Can Help

Effective networking can help disabled entrepreneurs make contact with people who have already overcome the barriers that they are facing, and know how to help others do the same.

The difficulty is, of course, that there are often barriers to networking in itself. Access difficulties can make some networking groups impossible for some people to join. Sometimes disabled people may even face negative attitudes which also act as a barrier.

Where to turn? Networking groups set up specifically for disabled entrepreneurs are a great starting point. They offer a friendly, supportive environment and a level of understanding that will help new entrepreneurs gain both contacts and confidence.

It can be difficult to find out about local groups, although local chambers of commerce should have some information on any groups that do exist, or events that are coming up.

The benefit of networking groups is that they bring entrepreneurs of all levels of experience together, so those who have already set up a successful business are able to help inform others how they managed to overcome barriers.

Every entrepreneur's personal journey will be different, but mutual support will go a long way to helping most people find their way through.

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Trish Robichaud - headshotTrish Robichaud is a woman with a disability but she is NOT a disabled woman. She is also a multiple award winning Disability Awareness Coach, Maximum Life & Business Coach, Author, Advocate & Motivational Speaker. Trish teaches people living with chronic illness or disability how to honour and accommodate their health while striving for optimal health, work/life balance and entrepreneurial success. To learn more, go to www.MyOptimalHealthClub.org and signup for a free Silver MOH-Club membership.