Sunday, May 31, 2009

Disabled entrepreneurs in Britain say they face prejudice

From The Daily Mail in the UK:

Would-be entrepreneurs who are disabled are being held back from starting a business by the attitude of customers and investors.

In a study of deaf and disabled people in the UK by the Government-funded Business Link, more than half said difficulties in overcoming the prejudice of customers were the major barrier to setting up their own businesses.

About 54 per cent had struggled to change the attitudes of key investors while more than a third said the lack of appropriate role models was a key problem for budding entrepreneurs.

Fewer than five per cent of firms have disabled owners, but the survey shows they have many strengths when running a business.

More than 60 per cent said they had a greater determination to succeed, while 52 per cent felt they had a better understanding of the needs of others - an advantage over their non-disabled counterparts.

And a report published by the University of Salford and sponsored by the Northwest Regional Development Agency suggested that bringing more disabled people into business could boost the UK economy by more than £2billion a year.

Stephen Collins, 50, (pictured) was born with cerebral palsy. Two years ago he set up Lazarus Mobility in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, as a one-stop shop where people with disabilities can buy equipment and accessories they need to help them have a more independent life.

The firm employs four staff and Stephen has just launched two new divisions - Lazarus Adaptations, which sells and installs personally modified kitchens and bathrooms, and Lazarus Consultancy, which gives advice on all aspects of independent living for those with or dealing with disability.

He says: 'My biggest disability has always been people's attitudes. To be blunt I look like a disabled man and many people don't look beyond the cover.'

But Stephen is fiercely determined and says: 'Throughout my whole life I have had to overcome huge obstacles, but that has just spurred me on even further towards my goals. To get to where I have got I've had to be better than your average entrepreneur.

'What would help most for me is if people took away the word disabled and just saw the real person behind the tag.'

Practical help for disabled and non-disabled entrepreneurs is available from organisations such as Business Link which provides practical advice and guidance through regular workshops. Individual support is available either face to face or via the helpline on 0845 600 9006.

The Leonard Cheshire Disability charity has an initiative called Ready To Start, which aims to help disabled people start their own business.

Since it launched more than two years ago in association with Barclays it has helped about 500 people start their own business.

Through the scheme, disabled entrepreneurs are given a business 'buddy' as well as a mentor. Other benefits include free software and computer equipment and advice and guidance.