Building a business is hard enough, but what if you’re also living with a disability?

If you are living with disability, it’s likely you understand firsthand that your employment options are limited. For many, being self-employed or starting a business is a means to overcome the significant barriers to economic marginalisation and exclusion that exist for disabled people. However, starting and running a business presents its own obstacles and challenges in gaining access to the global marketplace for disabled people, including those living with a ‘hidden’ disability. In this article, Wayne Stickel, an ontological leadership coach who lives with disability, shares his entrepreneurial journey and how he created a purposeful business that caters to his condition.

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Sep 24, 2022

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6 mins read

People with disabilities have high unemployment rates, while those who successfully land jobs often find them unsatisfactory. Establishing a business is one strategy to overcome the significant barriers to economic marginalisation and exclusion that exist for disabled people. In my research, I discovered that if you are disabled, your employment and self-employment options are limited. In this article, I share how to make empowering choices when living with disability and how I created a purposeful business that caters to my disability.

According to a report compiled by the University of Technology (UTS) in Sydney, Australia, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) identified that people with disability had a 40% higher rate of self-employment and entrepreneurship than non-disabled people. Further research in the US and UK reflect similar outcomes. When correlated to statistical evidence, people living with disability experience high unemployment rates and low labour force participation rates. Consequently, self-employment is a strategy people with disability use to overcome the inequities they face. It is the strategy I have chosen to live a fulfilled life. 

The journey from employed to self-employed when living with disability

I was able to maintain regular employment for most of my life, despite living with a disability I inherited at birth. However, as my condition deteriorated over time, being self-employed seemed the best choice to live a life where I could realise my vision by discovering and tapping into my own unique value. This has enabled me to make a significant contribution to others in areas I care deeply about, such as relationships, wellbeing and authenticity, to name just a few. But the journey to get there wasn’t easy.

In Australia, we are blessed with an abundance of support when living with disability or starting a business. There is also a wealth of national assistance on offer for entrepreneurs and the self-employed as well as various state and territory program options. Some helpful sites worth visiting are listed below:

Includability.gov.au

Business.gov.au

New Business Assistance with New Enterprise Incentive Scheme (NEIS)

SelfStart

Moneysmart

the Employment Assistance Fund

However, while the assistance on offer is excellent and the information is beneficial for everyone, most of the online support avenues are designed for the general public. They are not easy to navigate when attempting to find specialised support for the unique challenges people with disabilities face. 

I also discovered that skills and intelligence alone are insufficient for anyone starting a new business or becoming self-employed, let alone someone with the added challenge of a disability. What is required is a healthy awareness of the unique value we each possess and the opportunity to manifest that uniqueness as a beneficial solution for others in the global marketplace.

Valuable questions to ask yourself if you intend to build a business or become self-employed include:

  • Who are the people I am going to serve? 
  • What are the burning pains and problems I am solving for them?
  • What other options do people have at their disposal to address their problems and concerns? 

These questions apply to anyone, disabled or not, who intends to create a business venture.

A new paradigm for entrepreneurship

In my self-employment journey, I have become aware of the concept of ontological venture building as a new paradigm for entrepreneurship. This paradigm is distinguished by the conception of your business as:

  • A vehicle for the expression of the unique value you possess,
  • A means to create a sustainable and thriving livelihood,
  • A way to pursue one’s life’s work or a long-term vision, and
  • A way to make an impact and create a legacy.

As a self-employed man with a disability, I have worked to create employment that suits my condition. I love my career as a leadership coach, supporting others to realise their life’s vision. Helping others achieve fulfilment in the face of adversity lights me up.

Naturally, living with chronic pain and physical limitations creates challenges for me. However, a healthy relationship with responsibility, courage, commitment and persistence enables me to effectively manage and respond to my challenges in a timely manner. The delayed gratification that being tenacious and holding fast to my vision has led to provides a sense of long-lasting fulfilment and joy despite experiencing chronic and sometimes debilitating pain.

Pursuing my vision by being self-employed and creating my own business endeavour has had a positive effect on my physical, psychological, and emotional wellness. It has encouraged me to build new relationships, partnering and collaborating to overcome the challenges we all face.

My evolving condition requires me to change plans with increasing frequency these days. Fortunately, I work with an excellent team of professional colleagues and carers who assist me during these times. My children also play an important role in being there to support me, which is a gift that keeps on giving.

Fearing failure, inadequacy, concerns for a sudden loss of ability, hopelessness, financial pressures, and the list goes on, there have been many times when I have wanted to quit and escape. Let me share with you a few critical factors that have supported me to keep going.

Critical factors to persevere on your business or self-employment journey
Care

What has worked for me is the belief that the most critical factor of all is how much I authentically care about the endeavour or enterprise I am creating. It has taken me several years of being committed to refining my vision (literally what I could see as possible) to uncover and discover my purpose. My intention is for my business, Mighty Ability, to genuinely contribute to the many problems of humanity by shining a light on this and other areas. This journey has made me very present to the barriers people with disabilities face. As a coach, I know that applying a transformational methodology has enabled me to move forward toward realising my vision while also supporting my clients and the community in the same way.

I have learned that persevering requires a high level of care: for yourself and others. You need care for yourself so you can be your authentic self in fulfilling your life’s vision. And care for others requires you to slow down and spend time uncovering what is really going on for them, which builds trust. 

Courage

It’s taken courage to push against the predominant narrative and perspective of disability that impacts 15% of the world’s population. It’s also taken courage to choose to be steadfast rather than being pulled from one vision to another, hoping for a magic bullet. In the past, looking for easy answers left me flat. I may have accomplished something, but I lacked fulfilment. Honouring the unique gift of life we each have in a way that serves, nurtures and grows humanity, enables us to express our authentic selves. It's also the access to perseverance when building a business, which will eventually lead to fulfilment, performance and results. It takes courage to walk that path.

Using the Being FrameworkTM for myself and my clients

As a coach, I work with the Being Framework Ontological Model and harness the power of its practical assessment tool, the Being Profile®. By developing myself this way, I have been able to apply the learnings to my own life and transform relationships, including my relationship with myself. I have done this simply by working on who I am being and how I relate to the unique qualities or Aspects of Being in the framework. In my business today, I apply the same approach with my clients.

The ongoing process of uncovering all our unique gifts and how they serve humanity is the access to joy and fulfilment beyond what we might currently conceive as possible. If you live with disability and are interested in starting your own business or are currently running your own business but lack fulfilment, I encourage you to inquire into how effectively you are expressing your unique value. Remember also that you are not alone. If you wish to speak with someone who has walked that journey before, I invite you to get in touch

EffectivenessAssertivenessCareCourageMotivation

Wayne Stickel

About The Author

A leadership coach with over 25 years' experience in leadership roles, Wayne knows what it takes to move forward and succeed. Like you, he knows the tough obstacles, challenging circumstances, and financial pressures. Importantly, Wayne has felt the exciting highs that are a result of intensifying your effectiveness. Accelerate your Mission. Wayne, who also has a medical condition - a rare type of Spina Bifida - is renowned for his empathy, compassion, inspiration and honesty. Drawing on his expertise in coaching and business and relationship development, Wayne incorporates The Being Framework, Being Profile® and the Transformational Methodology within his programs. The application of these world-class tools ensure you will expand your influence and impact in whatever you endeavour to accomplish.

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