Ogamba, Ikedinachi Kingsley (2017). 'Entrepreneurship and Disability: A Solution or Continuation of Disadvantage for People with Disabilities in the Labour Market?' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, Cape Town 2017.


An estimated 30% of the UK working age population report a long-standing illness or impairment Among those classified as having a ‘work-limiting disability’, 49.8% are economically active, with an employment rate of 42.1%. This compares with 84% economically active among those not long-term disabled, and an employment rate of 77.8% (Office of National Statistics, 2015).

Entrepreneurship and self-employment have become a route for disadvantaged groups to enter the labour market and also as a way for them to escape poverty, marginalisation and achieve a better balance between disability status and working life. However, there are many barriers to self-employment, and when they are overcome, people with disability usually face various challenging experiences. This raises the question whether the concentration of disabled people in self-employment is a consequence of employer discrimination and barriers to entry to standard work, or a voluntary choice among people with disabilities. Analysis of the European Community Household Panel (ECHP) found mixed results, though there is evidence of many start-ups being a consequence of having no alternative, and route to some degree of economic security.

Theoretically, disability research’s social model focuses on the barriers in society that hinder participation for people with impairments. The social model locates disability and discrimination as a result of the values of society, modes of production, political economy, physical environments, and the welfare system (Oliver, 1990). There is a need for a more comprehensive theoretical framework to understand the pathways and experiences of self-employment among people with disability taking into account the choice, agency, freedom, opportunities and alternative at their disposal. This may be realized through an integration of the Capabilities Approach, with the social and medical model of disability in exploring entrepreneurship and disability to ensure a rounded inquiry and theory building.

This paper explores the experiences of disabled people entering self-employment and entrepreneurship during an era of welfare retrenchment and enterprise policy. In particular, the research objectives, questions and underlying assumptions for the study are as follows:

  1. Pathways into self-employment/entrepreneurship - What are the push and pull factors that lead to self-employment among disadvantaged groups?
  2. Experiences of self-employment/entrepreneurship - What are the experiences of those that choose self-employment of support in setting up a business?What is their general experience of self-employment in terms of income, job satisfaction, and flexibility?
  3. Challenges and opportunities of self-employment/entrepreneurship - What are the challenges and opportunities facing disabled people with regard to self-employment? How are these diversified across particular socio-economic and cultural groups, and by forms of disability?
  4. Theory building - What theoretical framework best suits research, policy and programmes for entrepreneurship and disability?

Methodological Approach: Critical realism as philosophical paradigm and the Capability Approach theoretical framework is most useful to meeting the research objectives and questions. Hence, the study calls for engaged longitudinal methodologies aimed at facilitating participants in the articulation of their own life-world narratives.

In line with these approaches, and working closely with disability support bodies, as well as the entrepreneurial ecosystem, a mixed methods approach will be developed in combination with theory building and testing. Nightingale (2008, p.570) emphasises “flexibility and openness to variety” through an integration of qualitative and quantitative studies as the way to go in theory development.

Therefore, theory building will be enacted through longitudinal narrative studies of small group of disabled entrepreneurs and nascent entrepreneurs who will form an intersubjective sample participants for the first phase, which will involve co-constructed detailed contextualized narratives relating to their entrepreneurial, occupational, and health histories using dialogic methods (interview and focus group) to seek patterns of experience, behaviour, structure and agency and freedom, in other to provide a firm empirical grounding for theoretical development. Then followed by a wider quantitative survey to explore the reach, range and applicability of the new knowledge developed across more diverse disabled populations, so to identify, explore, measure and explain the various contingencies shaping disabled peoples’ entrepreneurship.

Keywords: Disability, entrepreneurship, inequalities, self-employment, wellbeing

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