Cover Image
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

The position of the disabled

The reader may already have picked out from this general survey of the advantages of new small enterprises those aspects which are particularly relevant to the disabled in a positive or negative sense. It is fairly clear that disabled people are more likely to be poor than others from the same socio-economic level, if only because they have had few opportunities to save money from previous earnings. Since disabled people often have no capital at all, the choice for them is not between starting a large capital-intensive enterprise or a small one, but between starting a small enterprise, trying to find a job or continuing to be totally dependent on family, charity or public assistance.

In respect of capital, therefore, the disabled are at a grave disadvantage; this partly explains why those enterprises which they do engage in tend to be those which require the very lowest amounts of capital, as for example petty vending or personal services such as massage or shoe-shining.

Disabled people are also less likely than others to have received an adequate formal education. There is very little evidence that higher education, or even advanced secondary education, is necessary or desirable for successful entrepreneurs, but basic literacy and numeracy are useful, if not essential, as countries develop and the communications infrastructure becomes more widespread. Those without these basic skills become more and more disadvantaged.

In addition, many disabled people are used to a sheltered and protected environment where they have little or no opportunity to make decisions and are expected to acquiesce quietly and cause a minimum of trouble. Excessive humility is a poor basis for enterprise; if people expect a disabled person to be helpless, it is all too easy for him or her to satisfy their expectations.

Most obviously, of course, disability means what it says. People who suffer from the loss or impairment of one function, whether it be sight or hearing, or who cannot use their hands or legs as effectively as others, are disadvantaged. Other faculties may become exceptionally well developed as a form of compensation but disability frequently means less ability to do the very job one is best suited for. Since self-employment requires ability of a high level, a disabled person may be less competitive in his performance than a non-disabled person.

There are some reasons, however, why self-employment may be more attractive to disabled people than to others who may in any case be able to find work in existing enterprises. Finding a job usually means going out and looking for it, queueing at a labour exchange, rushing quickly to building sites at the rumour of work or travelling extensively within the country or even abroad. Disability almost always implies some loss of mobility; it is easier, if potentially less remunerative, for a disabled person to start some form of enterprise at home or very close to home than to travel in search of work.

Family support is also even more important for the disabled than for others without work. Although some forms of disability, such as leprosy, may lead to ostracism by the community and even the family, it is usual for a family to accept responsibility for disabled members, as they do for other family members who cannot support themselves. If disabled people have to leave home to find work, they will not only find it difficult to travel but will also be deprived of the family's support. Those who can work at or near their homes can move gradually from total dependence towards independence, as far as is feasible, while still enjoying a certain degree of support from their families.

Mohamed Kagbo, a Zimbabwean shoe repairer, with his wife and child