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close this bookSelf-Employment for Disabled People - Experiences from Africa and Asia (ILO, 1989, 100 p.)
close this folder3. Disabled entrepreneurs: Case studies
close this folderThe sample
View the document(introduction...)
Open this folder and view contentsGroup I: Enterprises still receiving assistance
View the documentCommentary: Group I
Open this folder and view contentsGroup II: Enterprises which received assistance
View the documentCommentary: Group II
Open this folder and view contentsGroup III: Independent entrepreneurs
View the documentCommentary: Group III
View the documentNote

Commentary: Group III

The foregoing case studies show that some disabled people are able to achieve a dramatic level of business success with little or no official assistance. They have so convincingly overcome their disability that they are far more successful than most entrepreneurs who have not had to labour under a physical handicap, as well as all the difficulties which affect anyone starting his or her own enterprise.

An attempt has been made to present these last case studies in ascending order of success. We started out with Joscasla, whose watch repair business might appear very successful to some other people, but who is dissatisfied because it compares so unfavourably with the lucrative job which he enjoyed before he was disabled. Lamin Sambou, the Senegalese tailor, appears to be one of the few people whose physical condition has been a major problem since he started his business. Most of the entrepreneurs who are described became disabled either in childhood or later in life and their condition then stabilised. Lamin lost first the use of one leg and then the other, and although he has successfully changed to a hand-operated sewing-machine, the experience has clearly moderated his enthusiasm for tailoring.

The Zimbabwean watch repairer has successfully integrated his religious affiliation with his business, but technological progress threatens to destroy the basis of his enterprise. The last four case studies describe people who appear to have found personal fulfilment as well as economic independence through business ventures, and are also sharing their good fortune with others.

It may be coincidental that the most successful businesses, such as the miniature musical instrument factory, George Karasa's shops and the Waysonics Electronics School are those that have received the least outside assistance. None of the people described in this last set of case studies has been constrained by inappropriate assistance, like some of the earlier examples, but these last three do demonstrate quite clearly that some disabled people are able to achieve reasonable business success, by any standards, without receiving any help from outside their family.

One characteristic of many successful entrepreneurs is that they do not ascribe their success to luck or good fortune, but to their own efforts. Anyone who is disabled is very unlucky, by most people's standards, and George Karasa, for instance, lost his sight, his job and his wife in a short period. It might be suggested that he was “lucky” in that his father was willing to lend him Z$50 and that the empty butcher's shop was available, but these are scarcely dramatic examples of good fortune. Like all entrepreneurs, he made the best of whatever was available rather than blaming bad luck and doing nothing.

Both Joscasla and Nazir Hakim owed their physical rehabilitation and the idea for self-employment through watch making and auto-rickshaw driving to the institutions which assisted them after they were disabled. They both made the best of these ideas and of the other facilities that were offered. Rehabilitation, whether it is combined with assistance for self-employment or not, involves a subtle process of gradual transfer of responsibility to the patient so that he or she eventually takes charge of the whole process. In the examples of Hakim and Ocasla, this process appears to have been effectively carried out. Hakim's case, in particular, demonstrates how self-employment is not only the result of enhanced confidence but also contributes significantly to it. It is not suggested that self-employment should be seen as a means to rehabilitation in that it is worth while even if the business fails. It is hard to imagine, however, more cogent evidence of rehabilitation than the ability to become self-supporting through self-employment. This demonstrates to the disabled person and to the world at large that the process is complete.

Family support, particularly in the early stages, was vital to all the people described. The extended family still plays a major role in most developing countries and compensates in part at least for the lack of institutionalised social security systems. Unlike professional social workers or disability benefits, family support is clearly attuned to the needs of the individual. It may indeed be ideal when the family and the institution combine to provide a complete package of support, such as that which was available to Joscasla.

It is significant that four out of the five most successful of these entrepreneurs, that is Mutetsa, Hakim, Tan and Mang Tibong, not only intend but are already helping other disabled people by assisting with their training or by employing them. Official regulations which require organisations to hire a certain minimum proportion of disabled people are often honoured more in the breach than in the observance, and employers who are able-bodied often find it very difficult effectively to integrate disabled people into an organisation so that they can make a proper contribution. It is perhaps natural that those who are disabled themselves are more able to understand and thus effectively assist other disabled people, and it may be that some able-bodied people would be unwilling to work for a disabled boss.

Nevertheless, it is on the face of it paradoxical that disabled entrepreneurs, who have the possibility of hiring the most productive workers, in fact prefer to employ disabled people. This may be ascribed to sympathy in the genuine sense of suffering with someone and thus being able to understand and assist them effectively. It may also be that disabled people who have succeeded in re-establishing themselves through self-employment realise from their own example that disability does not necessarily mean low productivity. If they can earn their own living and support others when so many able-bodied people cannot, they may be right in selecting other disabled people to work with them purely on the basis of financial viability.