Certain individuals, including certain individuals with disabilities, have difficulty securing and maintaining traditional job placements with an employer. For some of these individuals with disabilities, self-employment and entrepreneurship opportunities represent alternative employment and economic self-sufficiency strategies.


Click on the map above to see the corresponding policies.


HB 3296



HB 680

HB 2211




Current data from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates 10% of individuals with disabilities in the labor force are engaged in self-employment efforts, a rate substantially higher than the 6.3 percent of individuals without disabilities who are self-employed. Research suggests there are numerous benefits of self-employment for vocational rehabilitation clients, including greater customization of the job and higher wages. For others, self-employment may offer more autonomy, a stronger sense of dignity or a greater opportunity to follow career aspirations.

However, individuals with disabilities encounter a number of barriers and challenges to self-employment and entrepreneurship. Self-employment training is often not a major component of workforce development or vocational rehabilitation services, preventing individuals with disabilities from gaining critical business skills. Less than 3% of all vocational rehabilitation case closures nationwide are the result of a self-employment placement. Individuals with disabilities also encounter financial barriers to owning a business due to policies and practices that make building assets and attracting capital difficult. Disability benefits often set income and asset limits, and societal attitudes about disability can create challenges to acquiring loans and attracting investors. These barriers represent significant social and economic disadvantages to competing and succeeding in the business world. 

Many states utilize business development policies such as financial supports, procurement targets and business certifications to support entrepreneurs of socially and economically disadvantaged groups like women, racial/ethnic minorities and veterans. States can support business owners with disabilities and individuals interested in self-employment by adapting existing business development policies and programs to be disability-inclusive. Entrepreneurs with disabilities can benefit from inclusion in these business development policies, gaining critical access to sources of capital, training and technical assistance and opportunities to contract with state agencies for the provision of goods and services.

Governors and state legislators are increasingly recognizing the role state government can play in advancing the employment of individuals with disabilities. The 2016 report titled Work Matters: A Framework for States on Workforce Development for People with Disabilities identifies strategies that states are adopting to encourage and support disability-owned businesses, including disabled veteran-owned businesses.

To facilitate disability-owned businesses, state policymakers may want to consider the adoption of the following policy options:


For some individuals with disabilities, self-employment/entrepreneurship may provide greater work customizability and may even provide income that is equal to or greater than wages in traditional job placements. However, state workforce development systems often do not offer robust training in business ownership. They may also lack the staff capacity and expertise to support self-employment as a placement strategy. States can include self-employment/entrepreneurship as an explicit element of the state workforce development strategy, thereby building agency capacity and providing another avenue for economic self-sufficiency for their clients with disabilities. States also benefit from stronger economies by preparing individuals with disabilities to be business owners and potential employers of other individuals with disabilities.

Formalize entrepreneurship and self-employment as a viable employment strategy for individuals with disabilities in state workforce service delivery.

A robust workforce development strategy for individuals with disabilities may include entrepreneurship and self-employment. States can support these options for individuals with disabilities by streamlining services and earmarking funding specifically for the professional development and training of entrepreneurs with disabilities. Learn More in the Work Matters Framework

Suggested Strategies:

      • Direct disability-specific state agency services and funding to target entrepreneurship and self-employment training/supports and to promote a greater focus on entrepreneurship/self-employment in general state agency services.
          • Set goals for entrepreneurship/self-employment funding and training. States can consider tying annual funding goals and training/placement goals to the national disability entrepreneurship rate.
          • Report performance measurements and outcomes.
      • Establish entrepreneurship and self-employment as competitive, integrated employment in the language of employment-first policies.
New York

Alaska, Florida and New York participated in the U.S. Department of Labor Office of Disability Employment Policy’s START-UP demonstration project, which explored opportunities to coordinate state workforce agencies and community organizations in delivering customized employment discovery strategies targeting self-employment for people with disabilities.

California, Maine, Oklahoma, Rhode Island and Utah have established entrepreneurship and/or self-employment as competitive employment placements in statutory or regulatory language.


Maryland’s WorkABILITY Loan program supports self-employment for individuals with disabilities. The low-interest loans are designed to be used for equipment purchases or other supports for small businesses or self-employment at home. Loans can amount to as little as $500 and as much as $60,000.

Position entrepreneurship and self-employment as possible career strategies for individuals with disabilities through education and outreach.  

Individuals with disabilities who are considering entrepreneurship should be aware of the services and supports available in their community. States can also reduce the risk associated with starting a business by continuing to provide social benefits for entrepreneurs with disabilities. 

Suggested Strategies:

      1. Develop an awareness, education and outreach campaign on existing services and resources supporting entrepreneurship education and training for people with disabilities.
      2. Provide benefits retention and navigation services during entrepreneurship and self-employment efforts. The federal Work Incentives Planning and Assistance grants provide states with resources that enable people with disabilities to know their options for maintaining SSI and SSDI benefits while recognizing self-employment and entrepreneurship as viable employment and self-sufficiency strategies.

Develop criteria for identifying candidates for entrepreneurship and self-employment training and determine the appropriate agency responsible for targeting services to interested candidates.

Alaska, Florida and New York participated in the U.S. Department of Labor Office of Disability Employment Policy’s START-UP demonstration project, which explored opportunities to coordinate state workforce agencies and community organizations in delivering customized employment discovery strategies targeting self-employment for people with disabilities.


In Maryland, for example, the Department of Education’s Division of Rehabilitation Services administers the Reach Independence Through Self-Employment program. Started in 1997, the program’s mission is to present self-employment as a realistic and viable vocational option to individuals with significant disabilities who are eligible to receive department services.” Program consumers are eligible, upon approval of the consumer’s business plan, for a one-time investment — typically capped at $15,000 — for the purchase of goods and services needed to successfully launch a new for-profit business or acquire/expand an existing business. The investment does not need to be paid back, but consumers must contribute a percentage of total costs in order to receive the investment award.


Washington’s Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, or DVR, has implemented a comprehensive assessment process through which individuals interested in self-employment DVR services must undergo a feasibility study and submit a detailed business plan for evaluation and acceptance before being provided with self-employment services. DVR contracts with business development professionals to support various elements of the DVR client’s self-employment training process.


States may want to explore opportunities to support disability-owned businesses through existing procurement and contracting systems. States can support established and nascent disability-owned businesses by expanding state economic development policies targeted at socially and economically disadvantaged populations to include entrepreneurs with disabilities.

Like minorities, women and veterans who own businesses, individuals with disabilities experience multiple barriers and economic challenges to owning and operating a business. In particular, entrepreneurs with disabilities may have very limited access to start-up capital due to disability benefit asset-limits. These individuals may benefit from targeted mentorship programs and dedicated training and supports in order to be successful in entrepreneurial efforts. States can include disability-owned businesses in state procurement, certification and financial support systems, connecting entrepreneurs with disabilities to a wide range of existing supports and resources intended to strengthen the state’s small businesses.

Based on the criteria of social and economic disadvantage, a strong case can be made for the addition of disability-owned businesses to state procurement and certification programs. Learn More in the Work Matters Framework

Many business owners with disabilities continue to experience barriers to social inclusion, educational achievement, community accessibility, asset building and economic security. Working-age (18-64) individuals with disabilities have a poverty rate of 28.2%, more than double the rate of their peers without disabilities.

According to  the National Conference of State Legislatures, at least 41 states operate some form of state procurement and certification of businesses owned by minorities and/or women. In many states, procurement set-asides or preferences have been established for businesses owned by minorities and women under the rationale that the state has a vested interest in supporting the enterprise activities of its citizens experiencing historical and current social and economic disadvantage.


Currently, a number of states support disability-owned businesses through their procurement and certification processes. These states have expanded existing procurement and certification systems to include disability-owned businesses as either a new separate classification or as a new qualifying group within a minority-owned business classification. By leveraging existing expertise in business development and entrepreneurship, states are able to provide crucial support to individuals with disabilities seeking to launch or grow a business. Beyond contract preferences or set-asides, inclusion in the procurement and certification process can provide disability-owned businesses with technical assistance, business development services and access to grants or low-interest loans.

Suggested Strategies:

      1. Promote and publicize opportunities to contract for goods and services.
      2.  Create goals for procurement from disability-owned businesses.
      3. Create contract bid preferences for disability-owned businesses. 


Delaware, North Carolina and Rhode Island have adopted strategies that facilitate the establishment of disability-owned businesses through the procurement process, without technically establishing a set-aside program. These strategies include:

      • Requiring consideration of quotes from designated businesses, including disability-owned businesses
      • Promoting and publicizing opportunities to contract for goods and services
      • Identifying disability-owned businesses on a special vendor list
North Carolina

North Carolina’s  Historically Underutilized Business  program, which includes disability-owned businesses, lists firms in the State’s Division of Purchases and Contracts  program vendor directory used by state agencies, universities and colleges, local schools and governments for their purchase of goods, services and construction.

Rhode Island

Rhode Island’s Disability Business Enterprises Act and implementing regulations require state agencies and the Division of Purchasing to periodically conduct meetings with such businesses, as appropriate, to inform them of procurement opportunities, and require the Division of Purchasing to submit an annual report.

Procurement Set-Aside Programs

States with procurement set-aside programs include Connecticut, Illinois, Iowa, Massachusetts, Ohio and Rhode Island.


The Iowa Targeted Small Business Procurement Act, for example, requires all state agencies and departments to set annual procurement goals from certified targeted small businesses, which include disability-owned businesses. It also requires community colleges, area education agencies and school districts to establish a procurement goal of at least 10% of their annual procurement budget from such businesses, including construction but not utility services. Of these total procurement goals, an additional goal must be set to procure at least 40 percent from service-disabled veteran-owned businesses.


Ohio’s Encouraging Diversity, Growth, and Equity program is open to Ohio small businesses that can demonstrate both social disadvantage — including physical and mental disability — as well as economic disadvantage based on the wealth of the business seeking certification.  The program is marketed as both a set-aside and an assistance program for these small businesses. A directive from the Department of Administrative Services sets initial  program procurement set-aside goals at 5% of all contracts for supplies, services, information technology and construction. (Statutory Authority: Ohio Rev. Code §123.152; Administrative Regulation: Ohio Admin. Code Chapter 123:2-16

Procurement Preference Programs

Examples of states that have established procurement preferences include Alaska, Maryland, Minnesota and Pennsylvania. These state procurement preferences vary in approach. Some include a price-procurement preference favoring an identified group of firms, including businesses owned by people with disabilities and/or service-disabled veterans. This approach gives identified businesses a point advantage when evaluating and scoring bids during negotiations. A set percentage reduction is applied to bids from identified groups, making their bids more competitive when evaluating the proposal and determining the award.


Maryland,for example, requires all state and state aided or controlled agencies to exhaust a procurement preference priority list for the purchase of supplies and services before engaging in procurement from general business. The preference priority list, recently altered through House Bill 1537, requires purchasing from designated programs if they provide the required supplies or services, moving down the list in the following order: Maryland Correctional Enterprises; Blind Industries and Services Maryland; community service providers or disability-owned businesses. (Statutory Authority: Md. State Finance and Procurement Code §14-103)

Other states have addressed procurement practices in recent years, either through legislation or executive order. These include Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Oregon, Tennessee and Virginia.


In 2018, Oregon Governor Kate Brown issued Executive Order 18-03, promoting diversity and inclusion opportunities for Oregon businesses owned by minorities, women, veterans and service-disabled veterans, as well as emerging small businesses. The order promotes economic equity in public contracting by directing all state agencies to increase the percentage of state-funded contract dollars that are awarded and paid to certified firms.


In every state, set-aside programs, procurement preferences and support programs include a business certification component that establishes qualifications for participation. However, eligibility qualifications, applications processes, forms, certification periods and lead agencies managing the process may vary.

The U.S. Business Leadership Network established the Disability Supplier Diversity Program, which is the leading third-party certifier of disability-owned businesses, with comprehensive initiatives to help them vie for contract opportunities with corporations and government entities. The network certification is currently recognized by more than 100 Fortune 500 and Fortune 1000 corporations and several government entities. The network offers three certifications.           

      • Disability-Owned Business Enterprise — Application is available to any business that is at least 51 percent owned, managed and controlled by a person with a disability.
      • Veteran Disability-Owned Business Enterprise — This certification applies to a business enterprise that is owned by a veteran with a disability that is not related to the veteran’s time of service. The veteran must provide DD form 214 (a certificate of release or discharge from active duty) for status as a veteran.
      • Service-Disabled Veteran Disability-Owned Business Enterprise — This certification applies to business enterprises owned by veterans with disabilities that are related to their time in service. The certification aligns with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs verification program. Certain government documentation is required for the certification. An expedited process is available for businesses that provide a verification letter from the VA.

Suggested Strategies:

      1. Create a Disability-Owned Business Enterprise certification category.
      2. Expand a Minority Business Enterprise category to include people with disabilities.
      3. Use the existing S. Business Leadership Network third-party certification process.

Delaware and Rhode Island have created a stand-alone disability-owned business enterprise certification category. Connecticut, Illinois, Iowa and Ohio have expanded minority business enterprise categories. Massachusetts and Pennsylvania use the U.S. Business Leadership Network certification process and requirements to certify disability-owned businesses, including businesses owned by service-disabled veterans. Learn More in the Work Matters Framework


States may want to consider tax and financial incentive structures to support disability entrepreneurship start-up and/or growth. Increasing gainful employment for people with disabilities should include programs to enhance entrepreneurial activity. These programs could mirror programs increasing access to capital for under-represented groups, such as minorities and women. States have taken other approaches to complement tax credits for private disability-owned businesses, including low-interest loan programs and on-the-job supports for owners and employees with disabilities working in the private sector.

Suggested Strategies:

      1. Targeting loans/funding for socially and economically disadvantaged groups to people with disabilities
      2. Offering low-interest revolving loan funds and funding/incentivizing private organizations to offer loans to disability-owned businesses
      3. Implementing grants targeting new disability-owned entrepreneurial efforts to overcome initial capital fundraising challenges. States can also look to adapt existing entrepreneurship grant programs to include entrepreneurs with disabilities.
      4. Providing tax credits or deductions for “angel investor” contributions
      5. Offering microenterprise grants to encourage individuals with disabilities to start or expand businesses and transition away from benefits
      6. Setting aside agency funds to support on-the-job training, job coaching and long-term follow-along/extended supported employment services. State vocational rehabilitation agencies provide time-limited (18 months) supported employment through federal Rehabilitation Services Agency formula grants authorized by the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Longer-term extended supported employment or follow-along services are not funded by agency grants but rather through state funding.
      7. Providing technical assistance and mentoring programs for business owners with disabilities

Many states, including Illinois, Florida, Ohio, Illinois, Oregon, Wisconsin and others have established programs that encourage individuals with disabilities to open new businesses, whether through providing training, resources or grants. Ohio, Rhode Island and Virginia provide funding for job coaching and long-term supported employment programs. Examples of state technical assistance and grant and loan programs include: Delaware, Iowa, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Carolina, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Learn More in the Work Matters Framework


Established in 1974 by the Florida Legislature, RESPECT of Florida is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization designated by the Florida Department of Management Services to administer Florida’s State Use Program. From their website: “Per Florida Statutes, RESPECT’s mission is to further the policy of the state to encourage and assist blind and other severely handicapped individuals to achieve maximum personal independence through useful, productive, and gainful employment by assuring an expanded and constant market for their products and services, thereby enhancing their dignity and capacity for self-support and minimizing their dependence on welfare and need for costly institutionalization.”

Moira Rossi received a grant from  RESPECT of Florida to start her business, Moira’s Ventures, in 2014. Her business brings into play her interest in public speaking, acting and self-advocacy. The first project for Moira’s Ventures is creating self-help videos for other self-advocates.


The Illinois Department of Commerce manages the Advantage Illinois program, which offers below market rate loans and revolving lines of credit to eligible small businesses, including those owned by individuals with disabilities, through its Participation Loan Program. Funding can be used for many things, including start-up costs, inventory and equipment. Similarly, Disability-owned businesses certified as an Iowa Targeted Small Business are eligible for microloans of up to $50,000 through the Iowa Center for Economic Success.

Illinois provides two further examples of recent legislation.

In 2017, Illinois amended the Build Illinois Act (HB2698) to provide that the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity may also make loans or equity investments to small businesses with moneys in the State Small Business Credit Initiative Fund. The law also provides that the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity may make loans to small businesses of up to $2,000,000 (currently, $750,000) per project.

In 2018, Illinois enacted HB5214, which provides “that the annual allowable amounts shall be allocated by the Department [of Commerce & Economic Opportunity] if tax credits for investments in minority-owned businesses, women-owned businesses, businesses owned by a person with a disability, or a business in a county with a population of 250,000 or less are limited to the first  three calendar quarters of a calendar year and after which investors may claim the tax credits of any qualified new business venture.”