Monday, 20 August 2012

#Paralympics. #Parabusiness time to get real

The Paralympics show sport has woken up to disability, but not the politicians in the Guardian... supports the general thrust of my argument. I only found it having written the blog below.

So where are the businesses run by people with disabilities?

I would like to put forward an argument.

Business owners with disabilities are forgotten despite their huge potential.
• 19% of the working age population are people with disabilities
• Very few people with disabilities actually seem to run businesses despite the clear correlation between certain disabilities (dyslexia) and successful entrepreneurship

This wasted opportunity is a disgrace.

It is great to see the build up towards the Paralympics. But thinking beyond the athletic events, are businesses run by people with disabilities proportionately represented in the business community?

The Paralympics website talks a lot about diversity and inclusion and yet there is an absence of defining who is or is not a paralympic athlete. Very strange. Surely, the Paralympics celebrates the elite performances of athletes who are disabled or challenged. I think that is the case. It is difficult to know from the website. I had to go to Wikipedia to get a better understanding.

So, enough waffle. My point is pretty straightforward.

According to The Disability Living Foundation (, 19% of the working population are described as people with disabilities - that's 6.9 million people.

If 19% of the working age population is disabled, then, all things being equal, some 19% of small businesses should be run by people with disabilities. This is not the case.

You could round that figure down to 15%. In that case, I would like to believe that some 15% of the 4 million small businesses (ie 600,000 businesses) would be run by individuals with disabilities. Even that is not the case.

Some personal evidence. In the last 10 business seminar events that I ran I saw 1,000 small business people. I am only aware of maybe five individuals who had overtly recognisable 'special needs' (a requirement for disabled access, poor sight and poor hearing issues). So, we could add maybe another 10 or 20 to that number for those people attending who had less obvious needs. Even then we'd only have 2.5% and not the anticipated 15%. It seems that the population with disabilities and small business rarely go together.

I realise that some disabilities are less visible. There is a history of associating dyslexia with entrepreneurship. Articles such as Why Dyslexics Make Great Entrepreneurs argue that the 'disability' may actually be an asset. 

There's even a Top 30 of Dyslexic Entrepreneurs including Ford, Branson, Hewlett, Jobs, Wrigley, Spielberg, Hilfiger, Woolworth, Disney, Rockefeller, Watson, Edison, Roddick, and Bell… not a bad roster. 

Again, the man or woman on the street is probably not aware of what an impressive list this is. It contains six of my business heroes!!! So, some disabilities do go with entrepreneurship. However, I am not sure if being dyslexic qualifies you for the Paralympics.

And now for the big BUT…!!!

It is agreed that the real skill in running a great business is in the thinking, design and planning. Working on the business, not just in it. Spotting an opportunity… marshalling the resources and making things happen. Thinking outside the box. This is probably why dyslexics can make great entrepreneurs. So, leaving out all the possible excuses, I still don't understand why there are not more businesses run by people with disabilities.

In fact, with all this fuss about Paralympics, why isn't there a fuss being made about businesses run by people with disabilities? An opportunity? Certainly opportunities that are being ignored everywhere else...

So much for the Equalities Act and the rest of the rhetoric, it is time for someone to represent and lobby and fight for the opportunity for people with disabilities to run their own businesses.

RELATED ARTICLES - where you can your comments


Unknown said...

Most of the commenting has taken place on the original articles in the links in the blog posting. Comment here or look at what others have said on the various platforms...

Unknown said...

A post sent by email by someone who wanted their comment posted:

“How many business people regard themselves as disabled? How many of these people actually admit to being disabled? Most people who are not business entrepreneurs but employees, housewives/husbands, family members, lovers and carers, to name but a few, will not admit to having a disability unless it is obvious. Why do people think that business people will be any different? The majority of people have a hidden sense of guilt when it comes to disability. I know lots of business people who are disabled but who will not admit it to their peers because they think that they will be seen somehow as “weak” or less capable in their colleagues’ eyes. As many small businesses are ‘one man bands’, admitting that they have a disability will not enhance but may destroy the image they are trying to create.

In the last census in 2001, (I have not seen any figures yet for 2011), there were 11.7 million people in this country with a disability. Only 3.6 million of those were wheelchair users, the most obvious ‘in your face’ disability and of course we must not forget those who have a facial disfigurement. The majority of disabled people are those with a hearing impairment (8.7 million). There were approximately 1 million sight impaired people at the 2001 census.

Disability is like an iceberg, 5% above the surface, and 95% below. Those who have a hidden disability fall into many categories such as diabetes, cancer, Alzheimer’s, dementia, learning difficulties and mental health issues. These disabilities are managed everyday by a large number of people and to look at them you would not realise that they have a disability, so to come right out and say “I have a disability” is a huge statement when you are running your own business and especially if you are a start up an d need people’s custom. That is probably why there are insufficient statistics to inform the business world about the numbers of disabled business people.

I have a disability. I don’t mind people knowing because it helps me with my business, as I am an Equality, Diversity, and Disability Consultant. It is part of my job, but for a lot of people it is not in their job description.

Any admission may not assist them in getting contracts or picking up business if they admit that they have a weakness in whatever form it may take. Admission of a disability has to be a cultural change and the Paralympics will go a long way towards helping people come out of their shell, but until business people themselves accept that this is not a taboo subject, it will always be difficult to recruit, employ and retain staff or win contracts. It means a sea change in attitudes that I fear will take a long while to instigate. After all, disability has been in the public domain since it was first raised by King Charles 1st back in the 1600’s! After that, it has been down to wars to bring disability to the fore, and it has taken a long while to be recognised by some in the business world that disabled people are useful members of society providing they are given the tools and the environment in which to work productively.

This view has yet to reach the majority. Maybe the Paralympics will change all that but I won’t hold my breath when money means more to Company Directors and their shareholders than retaining staff who are loyal, work hard and have an interest in the company and its’ future development.”

Susan Pattrick