In the pre-pandemic era, job seekers with disabilities were already turning to self-employment in far higher numbers than their non-disabled peers. For many, they did so because being your own boss and owning a small business served as an end-run around the barriers to employment that hold back far too many people with disabilities.
Teaching youth with disabilities about entrepreneurship, entrepreneurial skills, and self-employment has the potential to set them up for a lifetime of success in the labor force. A good curriculum focused on entrepreneurship will not only emphasize the mechanics of business and the necessity of soft skills, but it can also provide role models of successful entrepreneurs with disabilities which is critical to changing the narrative around disability employment.
In looking at the issue of self-employment and promoting entrepreneurship among people with disabilities, special attention should be directed to the equity issues of access to capital and systemic racism. Several disability organizations have been advocating for the inclusion of people with disabilities as a specific category under the rules of the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) and to advance racial diversity in the entrepreneurship space. Now it the appropriate time to begin digging deep into that work as an equitable workforce strategy.
Likewise, financial literacy and financial empowerment are also factoring that need to be considered to support teens with and without disabilities. The National Disability Institute has long championed the need for financial literacy skills to be part of broader efforts to upskill transition age youth. NDI has a range of resources that address this critical issue. You can find those resources here: https://www.nationaldisabilityinstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/ndi-banking-report-2019.pdf and here: https://www.nationaldisabilityinstitute.org/financial-wellness/financial-capability/
Even years after becoming law, ABLE Accounts remain only rarely used by those with disabilities and their families. Despite being a power vehicle for supporting their long-term interests, too few people with disabilities have created accounts, despite programs existing in 40 states. As such, programs and policies directed to support teen workers with disabilities should include information about the rules, rights, and responsibilities that come with ABLE accounts. Once again, NDI is a true leader in this field and have extensive resources:
Iowa's Vocational Rehabilitation agency has embraced the current crisis by adopting a range of new virtual strategies, approaches, and procedures for providing high quality workforce service even amid a virtual pandemic. Some of those innovative approaches, have major implications for the future of VR. Iowa quickly invested in the technological infrastructure to provide virtual services statewide, adopted a cohort-based model for fostering social connections among VR clients on Zoom and tested other emerging practices throughout 2020. Many other states could learn from the innovations and ideas tested by Iowa and Iowans with disabilities. Iowa VR has embraced entrepreneurship and self-employment as one of the key virtual services provided to the youth with disabilities that they serve. This is a topic that merits deeper attention as the nation looks for innovative solutions to the challenge of building back better.
Supporting Iowa's efforts in entrepreneurship is Bank of America. As a global lender, BoA has committed to advancing disability as a key of their own diversity and inclusion efforts internally as well as their external programs supporting entrepreneurship, especially in underserved communities. They offer a wide range of resources, especially for youth, more details here: