Amid the noise about the London 2012 Paralympics, business owners with disabilities are forgotten despite their huge potential, says Robert Craven.
If you go to Google and type in ‘business owners with disabilities’ or ‘disabled small business owners’ and click on the ‘UK’ button to find out just what is available in terms of websites, resources and tools for business owners with disabilities, what do you get? Not much.
There is no shortage of articles dealing with employees and customers who are disabled. However, there is just one entry on the Google front page for people with disabilities who are actually running their own businesses.
So, what’s going on? All this discussion on the Paralympics website about diversity and inclusion and yet 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.
So, enough waffle. My point is pretty straightforward.
According to the Disability Living Foundation, there are over 6.9m people of working age with disabilities which represents 19% of the working population.
Could we extrapolate that if 19% of the working age population is disabled, then, all things being equal, some 19% of small businesses would be run by people with disabilities? 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 (i.e. 600,000 businesses) would be run by individuals with disabilities.
Well, it takes little to know that this is nonsense. In the last 10 events 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%. I know I am not being scientific here but it seems that the population with disabilities and small business rarely go together.
When we first consider the issue, the only ‘famous’ business-person with a disability that most/some people are explicitly aware of is Dr. Martin Sabry, who got thrown off an EasyJet flight. And of course there is Simon Weston, the Falklands hero, author, public speaker and charity supporter. But the list (for the man or woman in the street) seems to run dry here.
But 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 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 and 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? 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.
Robert Craven shows MDs and business owners how to grow their sales and profits and focuses on how to do this in recessionary times. His latest book ‘Grow Your Service Firm’ is out now!