As Stella Young once remarked, we live in a society that considers people with a disability an inspiration if they can get out of bed in the morning and remember their own names. The staggering consequences of such low expectations are felt and at times internalised by young people with a disability and their families. As a result, workforce participation rates in Australia for people with a disability are at 54%, compared to 83% for the broader population. This ranks us 21 out of 29 in OECD countries. In the face of such a bleak picture, people with disability across Australia are demonstrating exactly what they are capable of by establishing small businesses. These enterprises are a platform for young people to express their passions and avoid the discrimination they might face when trying to get a job in open employment.
Did you know entrepreneurship rates in Australia are 50% higher among people with a disability? In this article, we will be profiling three successful small businesses across the country that are operated by a young person with a disability.
Cam Can (Western Australia)
When I first heard of Cameron Whitelaw's business, I was staggered by the genius of the idea. I cannot believe there are not a million more like it. Cameron, a young WA man with a disability, offers the one thing we all desperately need more of - time. He and his colleagues will come to your home and wait for deliveries or installations so that you can go about your day. While there, they also offer a range of additional services including gardening, car washing and house maintenance.
Anybody who has ever had to miss a morning at work because they are waiting for an electrician will know how useful this service can be. It pays for itself in the time you save on annual leave. And it is surely a better idea than giving Amazon a key to your house.
Jackson West enjoys driving around in cars and listening to music. These passions make him well suited to life as a courier. His enterprise, JACKmail, picks up business mail from five post offices in southern Canberra and delivers them to the business's door. He does all this in a trendy-as-hell hot pink car. Jackson’s mother believes the business has been successful because it is designed around his likes and strengths, not just his support needs.
Master Shredder (Queensland)
As a person with a disability, one of my least favourite euphemism is “differently abled.” It makes it sounds like we all have superpowers (when it is a well-known fact that only some of us do). But Emma Lynam’s business certainly demonstrates how a disability can give you different types of advantages. Emma is a 21-year-old girl who communicates through sign language is unable to read or write. The last point is part of the secret to her success.
Emma runs a small shredding business in Townsville with clients that include solicitors and credit unions. There are significant advantages in having a shredder who cannot read or write, and Emma has capitalised on this opportunity. Her shredding business has grown to the point where Emma can now live independently in her own flat. She delivers presentations to disability providers, support workers, and other young people with disabilities and their families, showing them exactly what a young person with a disability can achieve.
Disability inspiration porn is a plague on our society as it lowers our expectations of and belittles the lives of people with a disability. But that does not mean that people with a disability cannot be truly inspirational. Running a small business is no minor feat. More than 60% of small businesses in Australia cease operations in the first three years. These three businesses are surviving and thriving despite facing the additional barriers of low expectations and discrimination.
By doing so, they are not only enriching their own lives but also showing other young people with a disability exactly what they can achieve. Not all young people with or without a disability will have the desire or the knack for being a small business owner. But there is no child in Australia who, given the right support, cannot do something meaningful with their lives. Just ask Emma, Jackson and Cameron.