How the web empowers disabled people to run successful businesses from home
The internet is breaking down the barriers that prevent many marginalised people from living full, independent lives. A higher proportion of disabled people are self-employed because, by becoming their own bosses, they can design their workspace – and work day – to suit their own needs.
For many, self-employment isn’t just an opportunity, it might be the only opportunity.
Since setting up my own freelance writing business, I have found that the freedom of self-employment suits me perfectly. Being able to choose when and where I work allows me to thrive in this competitive environment.
Enabled by the web: working on your own terms
There’s no question that the internet has revolutionised freelancing. But, as a disabled freelancer, the web truly enables me to take part in the business and media worlds. For example, I can network with people whose real-life events aren’t accessible to me who, without the internet, I would never be able to connect with. I’ve also been able to take advantage of accessibility software that is available online.
I began to wonder whether other disabled entrepreneurs felt that the web was as empowering as I did. So, I spoke to Martyn Sibley, the co-founder of Disability Horizons. Martyn’s dream was to use his websites to present a positive portrayal of disability. At his previous job, Martyn’s health was suffering and self-employment presented a way for him to make his life suit his “health, happiness and freedom”.
Without the web, it would have been virtually impossible for Martyn to grow his business and the supportive community he has built up has been vital. Disability Horizons has enabled him to give disabled people a voice, and social media allows him to expand his audience.
In his own words, “It all happened, and more! Flying a plane, SCUBA diving, European road trip and John O’Groats to Land’s End included”.
I find Martyn’s blog to be a glowing testament to just what’s possible both in terms of what a disabled person can now achieve – because of advances in technology – and how those achievements can inspire other people in a similar situation. The internet can make your story happen and promote it to the world at the same time, and this is reflected in my own experiences with social media, blogging and podcasting.
I was also intrigued by another online project, run by a disabled entrepreneur. Curb Free with Cory Lee is a blog about an international traveller who is “sharing the world from a wheelchair user’s perspective”. Cory, aged 24, acknowledges that the internet has been instrumental in allowing him to share his stories.
As with Martyn and myself, access to the internet has been a boon to Cory both personally and professionally. As with many people with blog-based businesses, it can be difficult to separate the two: an influx of blog readers or social media followers can reduce social isolation as well as increase readership and this can, in turn, lead to better opportunities. In Cory’s case, these opportunities come from publications and tourist boards who, impressed by his credentials and social following, offer him press trips to their destinations.
I wondered whether Cory would be able to run his business without the web, and his answer was clear: “No way! The internet is crucial to everything I do”. Personally, I agree!
Finally, I spoke to Camilla Veale, who is disabled and runs an HR consultancy business in Leeds, providing disability equality training and coaching. By using the web to network and seek information, she is less limited by potentially inaccessible situations that could otherwise limit her ability to network and find the information she needs in her work.
What’s the way forward?
Continuing innovations on the web make running online businesses easier and easier. I use tools like IFTTT to automate and streamline repetitive actions and Dragon Naturally Speaking to reduce the amount of typing I need to do. Fibre-optic broadband makes Skype meetings possible, and apps like Boomerang let me send emails during office hours, even when I’m working at strange times, to accommodate my health needs.
As someone who has benefitted from the advance of the web over the past decade, it’s easy to see how it has transformed the opportunities available to disabled people in general. As Cory Lee recalls slow, dial-up internet, would have made modern blog publishing impossible at that speed.
Top 5 steps for disabled people who want to run their own business
- Assess the market. The web and social media offer a unique opportunity to research people doing similar work
- Make sure your office (even if – strictly speaking – it’s your spare bedroom) is suitably adapted to meet your needs. Accessibility is a must, including specialist software as well as equipment and modifications
- Create a website and get set up on social media. Potential customers expect businesses to have a social presence and need to see a showcase of your skills
- Go online to complete the correct paperwork. Registering as self-employed with HMRC, getting the right business insurance, making a note of all your income and expenditure and saving your receipts can all be done on the web
- Be inspired by an online community of fellow disabled business owners. The internet allows us access to supportive, worldwide communities of other disabled business owners who are taking advantage of what the web can offer.
Written by Philippa Willitts
Philippa Willitts is a Sheffield-based freelance writer and proofreader who specialises in writing about health and disability, SEO and social media and women’s issues. Her writing has been published in the Guardian, Independent, New Statesman, Channel 4 News, xoJane and The Daily Dot websites as well as numerous other websites and publications. She enjoys tech, trips to the seaside and changing the world. She can be found on Twitter @PhilippaWrites.
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