Article Details

Article Details

Citation:  Heath, K. L., Ward, K. M., & Reed, D. L. (2013). Customized self-employment and the use of discovery for entrepreneurs with disabilities. Vocational Rehabilitation, 39 (1), 23-27.
Title:  Customized self-employment and the use of discovery for entrepreneurs with disabilities
Authors:  Heath, K. L., Ward, K. M., & Reed, D. L.
Year:  2013
Journal/Publication:  Vocational Rehabilitation
Publisher:  IOS Press
Full text:   
Peer-reviewed?  Yes
NIDILRR-funded?  Not reported

Structured abstract:

Background:  One approach to employment for individuals with disabilities is customized employment (CE) which concentrates on the person’s needs and interests. More meaningful employment occurs as a result of this approach, as the job is better matched to the individual’s skills, abilities, and interests. Discovery is one part of customized employment, which is a method to determine an individual’s connections and supports and skills and interests. This is done through interviews, conversations, and observations. The goal of Discovery is to match the individual with a job that meets their interests and skills now, rather than for future employment. Self-employment is a potential match in Discovery. For some individuals with disabilities self-employment allows them to attain both their employment and personal goals, including controlling their work load and schedule, solving concerns about mobility or accommodations, increased income and self-sufficiency, and being able to participate in meaningful work.
Purpose:  The purpose of this study was to determine promising practices in the area of self-employment. Specifically, the development and implementation of a customized self-employment model was the concentration of this study. The study aimed to determine if there is a relationship between Discovery and a creation of a successful business.
Setting:  The setting of this study is Alaska. The Department of Labor, Office on Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) introduced customized employment and in 2006 ODEP funded a four-year self-employment research and demonstration project, START-UP USA. Alaska was one of the three sites chosen for the project.
Study sample:  The sample of this study was comprised of 71 entrepreneurs participating in the StartUp Alaska project. The participants lived in three communities and surrounding areas and each individual received self-employment services through StartUp Alaska. Experiencing a disability was the only requirement of participants. While no other specific criteria for participation was sought after, similarities among the study sample were found. Sixty-five percent of the participants were 40-59 years old, 59% were male, and 62% had at least some post-secondary education. The most common disabilities identified by participants were non-cognitive mental impairment (29%) or physical impairment (29%). Nine participants chose to both sell a product and a service. The remaining participants were almost evenly split between selling a product (25 participants) and selling a service (31 participants).
Intervention:  There are four main components to the StartUp Alaska model: self-employment facilitator, Discovery, access to virtual business incubator, and development of a business plan. Each entrepreneur worked with a self-employment facilitator for guidance on how to fit their business to their condition in addition to forming a business concept, access funding, develop business plans, etc. The virtual business incubator supplemented the self-employment facilitator’s services by providing monthly business training online. The virtual business incubator also provided entrepreneurs with online and telephone technical support. Training for Discovery, under the customized self-employment approach did not occur until year two of the study and as a result full Discovery, as it was intended in the study, was not put into effect until the end of the third year. Participants in year one of the study did not receive Discovery at all. Participants in year two either received no Discovery or partial Discovery. Year three participants either received partial or full Discovery. Twenty-eight participants received full Discovery, 14 received partial Discovery, and 4 participants received Discovery outside of this study by the time this study ended.
Data collection and analysis:  The influence of Discovery on business outcomes was assessed using the Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) database and the StartUp Alaska 2010 Facilitator Survey. Both of these data sources used unique client identification numbers, which allowed the two sources to be linked. The VCU database was created under ODEP and the three state funded projects’ guidance. The facilitators of the StartUp Alaska project entered participant information into the database, which was housed at VCU. VCU collected data over the period of October 1, 2006 – September 30, 2009. The VCU data was used to strengthen the data collected in the Facilitator Survey. VCU collected static data, including gender, age, primary disability, and education level. Project staff and content experts created the StartUp Alaska 2010 Facilitator Survey. The focus of this survey was: Client Benefit Demographics, Business Issues, Mental Health Issues, Reasons for Stopping or Delaying Work, StartUp Alaska Services Received, Funding Issues, and Other Services Received. Facilitators in the StartUp Alaska program and the virtual business incubators were invited to complete the surveys on each participant they worked with during the project. Data was collected in January and February 2010. Surveys were completed on all 71 participants. Business launch, in this study, was defined as having a business license and a minimum of 1 sale. If a participant met these two requirements, they were coded at “1” or business launch. If a participant did not launch a business they were coded as “2”. The outcome of the participant’s business launch was the criterion variable of the study. There were multiple predictor variables, including gender, age, and primary disability, but for the purpose of this study the only one analyzed is access or use of Discovery.
Findings:  The findings of the study are that Discovery appeared to be a key component of a participant launching a business, which meant having a business license and a minimum of one sale, compared to participants who did not launch a business. To determine the association between Discovery and business launch chi-square analysis was conducted. The data of Discovery, which includes partial, full, and receiving it outside of the study, was compared to no Discovery. The study found there to be a significant association between Discovery and business launch.
Conclusions:  Analysis of this study concluded an association between Discovery and business launch. Prior research on this relationship includes qualitative reports and case studies, but this study is one of the first to quantify the association. Further study is recommended on when Discovery is appropriate in order to attain positive business outcomes. One limitation is the absence of a control group, as this study was a model demonstration as part of a research demonstration grant. Another limitation is which participants were entered into the database. Some facilitators entered any individual showing interest, while some facilitators waited to enter individuals until after they had met on multiple occasions and they felt there was a chance for success. A third limitation is that other factors were not taken into account in this study.

Disabilities served:  Chronic mental illness
Severe physical disability
Populations served:  Gender: Female and Male
Interventions:  Other
Outcomes:  Self-employment


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