There is absolutely no reason why young entrepreneurs with disabilities shouldn’t find as much fulfillment and success in business as their non-disabled peers. In fact, growing up with a disability – mental, physical, or behavioral– might be an edge for you! You already know what it’s like to face challenges and detours others can’t possibly imagine. Setbacks? You laugh at those. Failure? Not in your vocabulary. Young entrepreneurs need perseverance to succeed. And you have perseverance to spare.
->Entrepreneur Richard Branson grew up with dyslexia
->Actor Daniel Radcliffe has dyspraxia
->Actor Milly Bobby Brown is deaf in one ear
->Singer Lady Gaga has fibromyalgia
->Singer Justin Timberlake has obsessive-compulsive disorder and ADHD
->Scientist Stephen Hawking had ALS
->Award-winning musician Stevie Wonder is blind
->Children’s author Dav Pilkey has ADHD and dyslexia
->U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was paralyzed from the waist down due to polio
You get the idea.
We’re not saying you need to be an inspiration. We’re not saying you need to “overcome” anything. Your relationship to your disability is your private business. However, we understand that having a certain disability might make it more challenging for you to become a young entrepreneur. Here, then, are 7 resources that might help level the playing field.
1. INDEPENDENT VISUALLY IMPAIRED ENTREPRENEURS (IVIE)
For: Young entrepreneurs with visual impairments
What they do: IVIE is an organization devoted entirely to helping entrepreneurs who are visually impaired. You can join for just $15, though their online resources are free. This includes a list of member businesses around the United States, as well as a list of resources to help get your business up and running. They also have events around the country and a newsletter.
2. THE GALLAUDET INNOVATION AND ENTREPRENEURSHIP INSTITUTE (GIEI)
For: Young entrepreneurs with hearing impairments
What they do: Gallaudet is a private university for students with hearing impairments. Their Innovation and Entrepreneurship Institute is designed especially for hearing-impaired young entrepreneurs like you! All classes are taught in both ASL and English. The program includes:
- Incubation for your business
- Co-working spaces
- Pitch competitions
- Classes in entrepreneurship
- Field trips
- Networking opportunities
3. DISABILITY: IN NEXTGEN LEADER INITIATIVE
For: Any college student who identifies as having a disability
What they do: For college students (including grad students, law students, and recent graduates), Disability:IN NextGen offers a program that helps you see your disability as an asset in business, develop professional skills, meet and engage with fellow students, and network with business leaders who can offer guidance and mentorship.
This program is part of Disability:IN, a larger organization that partners disabled professionals with companies, businesses, and individuals who have committed to greater diversity and inclusion.
4. “BORN FOR BUSINESS” DISABILITY ENTREPRENEURSHIP TOOLKIT
For: All young entrepreneurs with disabilities
What it is: From the website: an inventory of existing materials, advice and guides for those jobseekers with disabilities ready to become self-employed, launch a new enterprise, or develop their entrepreneurial skills.
This toolkit includes absolutely everything you need to start your own business as a person with a disability. There are state-specific resource links, information on getting Disability-Owned Business Enterprise (DOBE) certified, and info on the docuseries of the same name.
5. THE AMERICANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT
For: All young entrepreneurs with disabilities
What it is: As you start your own business, score an internship, or consider a summer job, make sure you look at the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This important piece of legislation spells out your rights as an employee or potential employee with disabilities. Even if the site seems overwhelming, click around, watch some videos, and read some of the FAQs. It’s always a good idea to know your rights – and your employer’s responsibilities – when it comes to your workspace.
6. THINK COLLEGE: COLLEGE SEARCH
For: College-bound high school students with intellectual disabilities
What it is: An ever-growing database of American colleges that offer programs specifically for students with intellectual disabilities. Search filters include specific states, housing options, and high school programs.
For: College-bound high school students with any disability
What it is: The Kantner Foundation has been awarding scholarships to young entrepreneurs like you since 1987. But we recognize that as a twice-exceptional student, you may need more help for college! That’s why we’re listing this online database of dozens of scholarships just for disabled students. Whether your disability is physical, mental, or intellectual, you’ll find a scholarship here that suits your needs.
As you progress along your entrepreneurial journey, keep in mind that:
- You have rights
- There are grants, funds, and scholarships out there just for you
- Entrepreneurship is for everyone
- You don’t need to start a business that centers around your disability
- You don’t need to be anyone’s “inspiration” or “hero”
- You are not alone: 1 in 4 adults in the U.S. has some kind of disability
- Disabled adults are twice as likely as non-disabled adults to be self-employed
As with your non-disabled peers, becoming a young entrepreneur involves finding something you love and solving a problem. This link can help you narrow down your options and figure out which field of business might be right for you.
Remember, too, that you are not only an entrepreneur but still a teen. And whatever else you have going on, you still have to deal with all the usual teen stuff! That means staying focused on school, extra-curriculars, sports, friends, and family.
The world is becoming more inclusive and accommodating. Don’t ever think you can’t make the cover of Forbes magazine just because you have a disability!
The Kantner Foundation offers college scholarships to young Florida entrepreneurs. Ready to learn more? Click here to see if you are eligible!