Business owners with disabilities often have challenges with visibility.
Often times, this can stem from years of fear of being identified only through a disability or being seen as an equally able business person. The myriad of reasons are actually quite long and personal.
Whatever the reason, this can create a vicious cycle. They are less likely to be seen as entrepreneurs, leaders or successful.
They’re also less likely to be seen as examples of what is possible and role models for aspiring disabled business owners (and people with disabilities more generally).
Media & Society Play Roles In Perceptions
The media plays an important role in these perceptions.
When it comes to coverage of disability issues, the focus tends to fall on negative narratives (like stories about violence against people with disabilities) while positive stories fall through the cracks.
At best, we see tokenized coverage that treats individuals with disabilities as subjects rather than individuals who might have something interesting or valuable to say about their lives and experience with disability rights issues—or perhaps even something novel or innovative!
Our society also lacks role models who show how well-adjusted their lives can become after physical limitations arise or worsen over time.
Instead, it seems like most successful disabled people are either inspirational figures (such as singer/songwriter Stevie Wonder) or athletes like Paralympians who have overcome tremendous odds despite their conditions but have yet been able to reach full celebrity status.
Everyday Heroes Among Us
Yet, as a society, we are missing out on the everyday people who live with disabilities and do remarkable things for themselves, others, and their community.
Highlighting Olympic athletes that are disabled is remarkable, but it is also incredibly difficult to achieve. Even without disabilities, competing in the Olympics is not what most of us aspire to do or can achieve. We need heroes that we can look up to no matter if they are abled or disabled. We need everyday heroes doing everyday things, especially in business!
Heroes are those who face challenges every day and keep going. They may have a disability, or be a veteran struggling with PTSD. They may be fighting for equality for marginalized groups.
Our heroes don’t have to be famous.
They can be our friends, family, or even strangers. We encounter heroes every day.
DEI (Diversity/Equity/Inclusion) Workplace
We are talking a lot about DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusivity), especially in the workforce and business and I need to stand up and stress the importance of those rights for the disabled.
Some of your favorite businesses may be owned by people who have disabilities and you may not even know it.
It is important to remember that disabilities are not always visible. Being “disabled” means many things. It includes people with any significant physical, mental, or seeing conditions that effects and impacts their everyday lives.
Also, disability isn’t a hermetically sealed, singular experience. People of all races, genders, sexual orientations, nationalities, religions, incomes and social classes have disabilities.
As a disabled business owner myself, I tried to hide this part of who I was as a person and business owner. It was defeating having to hide the truth of who I am but I felt ashamed at times of my disability and did not want to be identified as disabled.
In fact, I thought that being successful meant never showing any sign of weakness or vulnerability when one is managing a business and life.
I had to learn that being a “disabled business owner” was not something to be ashamed of, but rather something to celebrate.
Over years of exploring my identity as a disabled person, I have come to terms with where I am.
Today, I am a proud disabled business owner who is so thankful for entrepreneurship because it has given me the flexibility I need to maintain the ability to work and care for myself and my needs around my disability.
Plus many other disabled business owners feel the same, as they come into acceptance and fight for visibility in business ownership.
They also find encouragement in the flexibility to work around their personal challenges and be considered a vital and vibrant part of the world of business.
To help bring awareness to disabled business owners in Oregon, we just launched the Oregon Disabled Business Owners Association which is a directory of self identified disabled business owners in Oregon as well as resources.
If you would like to be a part of the directory, get in touch (firstname.lastname@example.org).