Creating business so self-advocates and loved ones can have a job

Woman with a developmental disability working in a coffee shop

The world shines brighter when people with intellectual or developmental disabilities (I/DD) achieve their full potential. Like all of us, there are a few basics that can help build a life that we love. A loving family; education; friends, neighbors and community; and a fulfilling job where we can contribute.

Simple enough, right? Yet 84 percent of people with I/DD do not have paid, integrated employment. Employment services and funding for those services remain elusive for many.

What’s a family to do? Many are refusing to wait and instead are charging forward into the world of small businesses and self-employment so their loved ones can experience the opportunity, stability, work community and pride that come with having a job.

Supporting your loved one

Just this summer, Joel Wegner purchased an ice cream truck business so that two of his children, Mary Kate and Josh, both born with Down syndrome, had a future after they aged out of the school system. “This isn’t about selling ice cream,” said Joel. “It’s about giving hope. It’s about people interacting with people and sharing joy.”

Watch as Wegner speaks with Today about the family ice cream business named “Special Neat Treats.”

A couple weeks ago, we highlighted Mark and John Cronin who shared the origin story of John’s Crazy Socks. They support developmental disability organizations, employ people with disabilities, created the first Down syndrome awareness socks, and grew to be the world’s largest sock store. It’s a great story. Check it out.

There’s even a new TV series that puts the spotlight on entrepreneurs with disabilities. Collette Divitto, a baker with Down syndrome, is featured. When she couldn’t find work after finishing college, she started her own business called Collettey’s Cookies. Collette employs others with disabilities and has sold hundreds of thousands of cookies.

Bitty & Beau’s Coffee is named after founder Amy Wright’s two children with Down syndrome. Actress Diane Lane said, “She opened a business where people like her son and daughter could work and shine.” Bitty & Beau’s has now franchised, and has opened their 21st location in Waco, Texas.

These are just a few examples. There are hundreds, maybe thousands more. So, what do you do? How do you assess whether entrepreneurship is right for you or your loved one? Here are a few resources that may help.

Resources that can help you get started resources for business owners with disabilities

Diversability Magazine resources for disabled business owners

Entrepreneur magazine funding resources for disabled entrepreneurs

National Chamber of Commerce for Persons with Disabilities

Lastly, look for a Facebook group in your area to connect with other entrepreneurs