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close this bookSelf-Employment for Disabled People - Experiences from Africa and Asia (ILO, 1989, 100 p.)
close this folder2. Self-employment - An option for disabled people
View the documentDefining the terms
View the documentSelf-employment is not for everyone
View the documentWhy self-employment?
View the documentThe position of the disabled
View the documentDiscouragement from self-employment
View the documentMotivation for self-employment
View the documentWorking together

Defining the terms

For the purposes of this book, we shall adopt broad and deliberately imprecise general guide-lines. By a disabled person we mean anyone who experiences significant limitations in one or several functions because of a physical, sensorial or mental impairment or deficiency. On account of these limitations, and of the negative societal attitudes which often go with it, the person who has a handicap will most likely experience restrictions in the ability fully to develop his or her potential and to earn a living. Disability may or may not affect the ability to work, but a disabled person will usually have to cope with many more problems than would a non-disabled person. However, it is a misconception - suggested by the term disability and nourished by common prejudice - that disability means inability to work.

The decision as to whether a particular person does or not fall into the category of “disabled people” is clearly affected not only by physical condition, but also by living conditions and the availability of artificial aids. A strong pair of spectacles, an artificial limb or even a wheelchair might move someone out of our definition, and a person living in a remote rural area with no roads which can be used by wheeled vehicles may be more “disabled” than someone with the same or greater physical disability who lives in a town and is well served by public transport. The disabled people referred to in this book are therefore ordinary people who are fit for work, ready to become entrepreneurs and able to earn a living for themselves and their families. The special handicap with which they must cope could be their private affair. However, as a disability often goes hand in hand with discrimination and the denial of equal opportunities in education, training and employment, disabled people do require positive and supportive interventions on their behalf.

“Self-employment”, “small enterprise” and such terms are similarly fraught with definitional problems. Here again, we shall select a meaning which is appropriate for our purpose regardless of any lack of precision or alternative views. Our concern in this book, as reflected in the case studies, lies mainly with the very smallest type of enterprise that employs few workers, maybe only the owner.

Larger enterprises are outside the scope of this book because once an enterprise has reached the stage of employing a significant number of employees, it is unlikely to need the same kind of support as one which is just being started, whether or not its owner is disabled; and this book is intended principally for those concerned with identifying ways in which disabled people can become self-sufficient, rather than with helping those who have already achieved this.

It is important to distinguish self-employment from subsidised and protected employment such as sheltered workshops or income-generating schemes funded by assistance agencies. Many severely disabled people may always need a degree of employment assistance, whether in the form of voluntary or otherwise subsidised management, an especially protected market, supplies of raw materials, provision of workshops or other forms of shelter from the pressures of the competitive world of business. The exclusion of a “business” of this kind, except as a route to what we call genuine self-employment, should not be interpreted to mean that it is not an appropriate solution. For some people, a sheltered environment will remain the only way of partaking in productive activities and of experiencing a certain degree of economic independence and recognition. However, such an enterprise can be considered as self-employment within the terms of reference of this book only if the employees themselves take over and manage it on a self-sustaining basis.