|Self-Employment for Disabled People - Experiences from Africa and Asia (ILO, 1989, 100 p.)|
|2. Self-employment - An option for disabled people|
Success in self-employment, as in any other endeavour, is more a function of psychological factors and motivation than it is of physical resources. Everyone can think of numerous examples of people who have enjoyed massive support and every possible advantage and have failed, while there are others who have had to overcome overwhelming disadvantages and have enjoyed no external support but have nevertheless succeeded. We should therefore examine the possible effects of disability on the motivation of the disabled in order to identify those characteristics which may or may not be conducive to self-employment.
In many, if not most, societies, people who are disabled are regarded as just that. Even if their disability relates only to one faculty, such as sight, hearing or use of the arms or legs, there is a tendency for others to believe that they cannot do anything at all, or at least as well as those who are not disadvantaged in the same way.
Most human accomplishments require a subtle combination of faculties. A pianist must read the music, hear what he or she plays, use both hands on the keyboard and both feet on the pedals, and must also be able to sit upright in order to play. People are amazed when a blind person becomes a talented or even a virtuoso pianist, as many have. Sighted people cannot understand how the pianist has developed his or her other faculties in order to overcome the lack of sight since they do not have to do it themselves, and there is a tendency to admire what we cannot understand.
This admiration is a function of our expectation that disabled people will not be able to perform as well as others. It is well known that people who are not trusted tend over time actually to become untrustworthy, and that children whom their teachers expect to perform well do in fact perform well because of the teachers' expectations. In the same way, if a person is expected by those around him, including his family, fellow students and most people with whom he is in daily contact, to be less capable than others, he will in due course actually behave as expected.
The decision to become self-employed is as much as anything else a function of self-confidence, and the same may be said of success in self-employment. If a person's confidence has been continually eroded by the expectations of those around him or her, the effect on actual performance will be more serious than for a potential entrepreneur who has a support network of colleagues and superiors.
Reference has already been made to the ways in which leprosy patients are ostracised in that people are unwilling to have any physical contact with them or even to touch anything they have touched. This is clearly an extreme case - although such behaviour is not based on medical evidence - but disability is often regarded as a curse so that contact with disabled people is avoided at all costs. People who have been disabled since childhood are often hidden away by their families as objects of shame or because they may damage the marriage prospects of other family members; they may therefore come to perceive themselves as a burden to their families and of no value to society.
Ostracism, or even a milder version of deprivation of social contact, is even more disadvantageous to someone who is self-employed than to someone who is employed by others. An employee can work in isolation as a carpenter, a computer programmer or on an assembly line, more or less independently of contact with others, but someone who is self-employed must have regular and sustained contact with suppliers and, most importantly, with customers.
New small enterprises usually operate in highly competitive markets. If there are ten or more vegetable vendors selling similar produce at similar prices, many customers may avoid buying from the one whom they have been conditioned to avoid since childhood. This is particularly likely to be the case when the disabled business person actually comes from the community where he or she is working. We have already seen that the relative immobility of the disabled makes self-employment at home particularly attractive, but doing business in your own community may mean having to sell to people who have hitherto avoided you and tended to deny that you existed. This social disability also extends to finance, purchasing, licences, permission to operate and all the other resources which a self-employed person needs and which require personal contact and perseverance.