During the fall and summer of 1999, the Research and Training
Center on Rural Rehabilitation Services surveyed people with disabilities
who were self-employed to develop a profile. Participants were randomly
selected from two main sources: people reported closed to self-employment
by selected state Vocational Rehabilitation agencies between 1993 and
1997, and members of the Disabled Persons Association as of March 31,
1999. The survey was available in several alternative formats including
large print, brailled, on diskette, and on tape, or a business owner
could participate by telephone or by e-mail. A total of 1059 surveys
were mailed: 459 VR surveys and 600 DBA surveys, 205 surveys were undeliverable.
A total of 408 surveys were returned: of them 71 were blank and 33 respondents
were ineligible. A total of 316 surveys were used for conducting analyses.
What was the demographic profile of business owners?
In general, the business owners were middle-aged (average age
was 51), were Caucasian (88%), and were men (65%). Sixty percent of
the business owners had completed one or more college degrees.
What was their disability and did it affect their business?
Most (57%) had a mobility or restricted activity impairment.
Their disability was moderate to severe (83%) and about half said it
substantially affected how they operated their business.
How was their health?
They were in good to excellent health (84%).
Why did people open a business?
People wanted to work for themselves and they needed to set
their own hours because of their disability. People also wanted to own
a business, to work at something they enjoyed, and they saw a need for
their business’s product or service.
Did most develop a business plan?
No, 60% did not develop a plan, 40% did. But people who worked
with a VR agency developed a business plan at a higher rate: 47%.
What kinds of businesses did people with disabilities open?
With few exceptions the businesses are the same as those opened
by others who are self-employed. When compared with people who are self-employed
in general, people with disabilities opened a higher percentage of agricultural
and manufacturing businesses and a lower percentage of construction,
transportation & communications, and service businesses.
Type of Businesses
Building, Heating, Refrigeration, Engineering
Office Supply, Food, Marketing,
Real Estate, Auctioneer, Mail Order
Bicycle Shop, Clothing, 2nd Hand,
Financial, Engineering, Social, Geology
Boat Builder, Taxidermist
Automotive, Small Engine, Auto Body, Air Conditioner, Piano Refinishing
Childcare, Hairstyling, Massage,
Therapy, Dog Training/Breeding/Grooming
Security, Ironing, Home Inspection
Tax Preparation, Bookkeeping
Art & Entertainment:
Photography, Graphic Design, Jewelry,
Art & Craft, Painting, Writing,
Sales, Repair, Building,
Landscaping, Greenhouse Operator, Weed Abatement
Are there certain types of businesses appropriate for people
based on the severity of the disability?
There was no observed pattern or correlation between the severity of
disability and the type of business owned.
How many hours did they work?
Business owners worked an average of 39 hours per week.
How many businesses had quit operation and why?
65 people closed their business: 19 because the business was
undercapitalized and 16 because of the person’s disability.
How many businesses had the survey participants owned?
The average was 1.9 businesses: 52% had owned one business
and 45% had owned more than one. Women owned an average of 1.6 businesses;
men owned an average of 2.1 businesses.
How much money did they spend to start their business?
Half (51%) of the businesses were started with less than $10,000,
36% used less than $5,000, and another 15% used between $5,000 to $10,000.
Women opened their businesses with less money than men.
Where did the money come from to start and initially operate
Most people (56%) started their businesses with personal savings.
People also used credit cards (29%) and borrowed from a family member
(24%). Sixteen percent used funds from a Vocational Rehabilitation agency.
Women were more likely to borrow from friends or use VR funds to start
a business; men were more likely to use funds from a bank loan or bank
line of credit.
How much money did state VR agencies contribute towards starting
VR agencies contributed an average of $6,133. The minimum was
$0 and the maximum was $200,000. VR agencies contributed almost twice
as much to women-owned than to men-owned businesses.
Was there a difference in sources of start-up funds if the
person worked with a VR agency?
Yes people who did not work with a Vocational Rehabilitation
agency used personal savings at a 20% higher rate, a credit card at
a 15% higher rate, and retirement funds at a 9% higher rate.
How much money did the businesses make?
For the previous 12 months of operation 55% of the businesses
grossed $20,000 or less, 21% grossed between $20,000 to $100,000, and
21% grossed over $100,000.
How adequate was this income?
Businesses contributed an average of 37% towards the owner’s
What were other sources of household income?
One-third of the business owners reported other household income
was supplied by a spouse and one-third reported it came from Social
Security Disability Insurance.
How satisfied were people with their businesses?
The business owners enjoyed their current or most recent businesses,
were satisfied with their businesses, their businesses exceeded their
expectations, and they felt their businesses were somewhat successful.
This held true for business owners who reported their income was inadequate
and for those whose businesses grossed $20,000 or less.
Business ownership contributes to the owner’s quality of life
in more than a financial way.
How many people were employed by these businesses?
The average was 4.7 employees. Forty-five percent had no employees
but the business owner, 55% had from 1 to 75 employees.
What benefits were provided by the business for the owner and
One third of the businesses did not provide any benefits for
the business owner or for employees.
When benefits were provided most often they were flexible hours, pay
that is higher than minimum wage, time-off without pay, and a family
Eighteen percent of the businesses provided health insurance. Twenty-four
percent of the business owners said they did not have health insurance.
Thirty-one percent reported Medicare as their source of health insurance.
Who provided the business owners with advice on running their
Business owners most often consulted with family members and
friends, followed by other small business owners and owners of similar
businesses. Women were more likely to seek advice and support from family
members and from a business consultant. Men were more likely to seek
advice and support from a banker.
Were the business owners connected to their communities?
Most business owners (75%) felt connected to very connected to their
community. Sixty-four percent of the business owners belonged to a civic
organizations or volunteered for one. Half also joined or volunteered
for disability organizations.
What would the business owners do in a different way if given
the opportunity to open another business?
Forty-one percent of the business owners would start with more
capital. Twenty-nine percent would not do anything different.