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Entrepreneurship for Youth with Disabilities

Students: Are you interested in starting your won business? This article will provide resources and ideas to assist you. Educators: read how to include students with disabilities in entrepreneurship programs. When you participate in these programs, their interest in college increases 32 percent.

Entrepreneurs drive America’s economy, accounting for the majority of our nation’s new job creation and innovations. According to the U. S. Census Bureau’s 2002 Survey of Business Owners, self-employed individuals who have no paid employees operate three-fourths of U.S. businesses. The U. S. Small Business Administration reports that America’s 25.8 million small businesses employ more than 50 percent of the private workforce, generate more than half of the nation’s gross domestic product, and are the principal source of new jobs in the U.S. economy.

Benefits of entrepreneurship

Entrepreneurship is an employment strategy that can lead to economic self-sufficiency for people with disabilities. Self-employment provides people with disabilities and their families with the potential to create and manage businesses in which they function as the employer or boss, rather than merely being an employee. Oftentimes, people with disabilities are eligible and receive supplemental supports (technical and financial) which can serve as a safety net that may decrease the risk involved with pursuing self-employment opportunities.

Nearly 80 percent of would-be entrepreneurs in the United States are between the ages of 18 and 34! A 2005 poll from Junior Achievement (JA) found that 68.6 percent of the teenagers interviewed wanted to become entrepreneurs, even though they knew that it would not be an easy path. In spite of this overwhelming interest, however, youth rarely receive any information about entrepreneurship as a career option.

Entrepreneurship education offers a solution. It seeks to prepare people, particularly youth, to be responsible, enterprising individuals who become entrepreneurs or entrepreneurial thinkers by immersing them in real life learning experiences where they can take risks, manage the results, and learn from the outcomes.

Advantages of entrepreneurship education

Through entrepreneurship education, young people, including those with disabilities, learn organizational skills, including time management, leadership development and interpersonal skills, all of which are highly transferable skills sought by employers. According to Logic Models and Outcomes for Youth Entrepreneurship Programs (2001), a report by the D.C. Children and Youth Investment Corporation, other positive outcomes include:

  • improved academic performance, school attendance; and educational attainment
  • increased problem-solving and decision-making abilities
  • improved interpersonal relationships, teamwork, money management, and public speaking skills
  • job readiness
  • enhanced social psychological development (self-esteem, ego development, self-efficacy), and
  • perceived improved health status

Ongoing research commissioned by the National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE) to evaluate the effectiveness and impact of its programs found that when youth participated in entrepreneurship programs:

  • interest in attending college increased 32 percent
  • occupational aspirations increased 44 percent
  • independent reading increased 4 percent
  • leadership behavior increased 8.5 percent
  • belief that attaining one’s goals is within one’s control (locus of control) increased, and
  • alumni (99 percent) recommended NFTE programs

Benefits of entrepreneurship education

Research regarding the impact of entrepreneurship education on youth with disabilities shows the following benefits:

Opportunity for work based experiences

Work experiences for youth with disabilities during high school, both paid and unpaid, help them acquire jobs at higher wages after they graduate. Also, students who participate in occupational education and special education in integrated settings are more likely to be competitively employed than students who have not participated in such activities.

Opportunity to exercise leadership and develop interpersonal skills

For more information on helping students with learning disabilities learn interpersonal skills visit us at our behavior and social skills section.

By launching a small business or school-based enterprise, youth with disabilities can lead and experience different roles. In addition, they learn to communicate their ideas and influence others effectively through the development of self-advocacy and conflict resolution skills. Moreover, they learn how to become team players, and to engage in problem solving and critical thinking — skills valued highly by employers in the competitive workplace of the 21st Century. Mentors, including peer mentors both with and without disabilities, can assist the youth in developing these competencies.

Opportunity to develop planning, financial literacy, and money management skills

The ability to set goals and to manage time, money and other resources are important entrepreneurship skills which are useful in any workplace. For youth with disabilities, learning about financial planning, including knowledge about available work incentives, is critical for budding entrepreneurs with disabilities who are currently receiving cash benefits from the Supplemental Security Income Program (SSI).

How to Get Started

Entrepreneurship education can be provided in many different settings. There is no one right program or set of activities. Rather, it is matter of identifying what works for the young people served in a program. Before starting, consider the following issues:

  • the age of the young people
  • their interests and abilities
  • the time they have to devote to entrepreneurial activities
  • the available fiscal and human resources (i.e., community support, business support)
  • the expertise of staff and what kind of training and support staff might need
  • the effect program participation may have on youth supports and benefits
  • the availability of existing entrepreneurial programs in the area
  • the support of the program from organization’s leadership, and
  • the intended outcomes of the program/activities

Including youth with disabilities in entrepreneurship and entrepreneurship education

In order to fully integrate youth with disabilities in entrepreneurship education programs, it is important to consider accommodations and financial resources.


Some youth with disabilities may need accommodations in order to maximize their ability to benefit from the program. Accommodations are changes made in a classroom, worksite, or assessment procedure that help people with disabilities learn, work, or receive services. Accommodations are designed to alleviate the effects of a disability so that the person can perform effectively. For additional information about accommodations, contact the Job Accommodation Network (

Financial planning

Special financial planning considerations exist for people with disabilities who are Social Security benefit recipients planning a career path that involves small business ownership. Several work incentives are available to assist them in their efforts, including a Plan for Achieving Self-Support (PASS) account. It is also important that they understand the impact of their small business efforts on their entitlement to cash and medical benefits. For additional information, contact the Benefits Planning and Outreach Consultant in your local area.

Resources to learn more about entrepreneurship and entrepreneurship education

Disclaimer: The purpose of this fact sheet is to provide youth entrepreneurship resources. The inclusion of a resource does not denote endorsement by the U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Disability Employment Policy. Furthermore, the list of resources should not be considered exhaustive.

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