Is Self-Employment Right for You?

When we as a society think about employment for people with disabilities, we rarely think about self-employment. In fact, in can be difficult for anyone’s family and friends to imagine their family member or friend as an entrepreneur. Yet self-employment can be a wonderful opportunity for people with disabilities.

How do you know if self-employment is the right option for someone with a disability? How does anyone make the decision to become an entrepreneur or self-employed? Perhaps they want a flexible schedule or more control over their work. Maybe they like to take charge or maybe they have a driving passion for their work. During the discovery process, where a person explores their interests, skills, preferred environments, and ideal working conditions, certain factors may become evident to suggest that a person will benefit most from self-employment. Other times, the person will just fall into an opportunity that highlights their strongest skills.

Successful entrepreneurs are often people who like to be in control and like to schedule their own hours. They also have a passion for their particular business. And of course, they need to have good people skills to promote their business and network. However, it’s also important to keep in mind that few business owners, regardless of ability, do everything for their business. They typically delegate some responsibilities, whether it’s hiring an accountant or an employee. It’s important for the person’s circle of support to know that starting a business does not mean the person needs to do everything.

When we’re talking about self-employment, however, we’re talking about a person with a disability owning their own business in the community. We are not talking about a business run by a group of people with disabilities. There seems to be a trend in the media to highlight these types of group-run businesses. However, the problem is that businesses run by groups of people with disabilities still congregate people with disabilities in one spot rather than truly integrating them into the community among their non-disabled peers. In terms of the workforce, they are not part of the community. The ultimate goal is to create an integrated workforce, not a segregated one.

Keystone Human Services has supported several people to open their own small business. Because these entrepreneurs love what they are doing, they often develop new skills. For example, when they first open their business, they may only dress in business casual, but after a while, they may begin dressing as a business professional. For people who may have struggled to get out of bed in the morning, owning their own business provides the motivation to get up and go to work. They have a passion and something they love doing. And their businesses have grown.

Below are some resources for parents, providers, and people with disabilities who are interested in more information about starting a small business.



Making Self-Employment Work for People with Disabilities, Second Edition by Cary Griffin, David Hammis, Beth Keeton, Molly Sullivan

Understanding Social Security: SSDI

As you read in our last post about Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Social Security is a vital lifeline for everyday needs. Most people understand the basics of Social Security, but they run into issues when starting a new job. Today, we’ll explain Supplemental Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) to help you understand what impact employment may have on your benefits.

The Social Security Administration is responsible for Title 2 (SSDI) and Title 16 (SSI) programs. SSDI is based off an individual’s work record. Through the Social Security tax or FICA tax, individuals pay into the program to be insured in case of disability. Under SSDI, a disabled person’s spouse and children are eligible to receive partial benefits payments. Unlike SSI, there are no asset limits and SSDI is not based on needs. However, there are income/activity limits for eligibility, referred to a substantial gainful activity (SGA). If a person is employed for 2014, the SGA countable income amount is $1,070 per month for non-blind individuals and $1,800 for people who are blind. If a person is self-employed, SGA is determined by the hours they worked. SGA is determined as anything above 80 hours.

Since SSDI is based on the work record of the individual, there is no set monthly amount determined by the Social Security Administration. For 2013, the average SSDI monthly payment was $1,177, while the highest payment was $2,533. In some circumstances, someone may qualify for SSDI but their monthly payment is below the SSI maximum federal benefits rate. In these circumstances, if the individual also qualifies for SSI, they can draw from both programs.

With income being the measure of whether or not someone receives the SSDI payment, many people are concerned about how much they earn while receiving SSDI. The program has many ways to ease that concern. First, when a person starts to work after receiving SSDI, they are given what is called a Trial Work Period (TWP). This is nine months over a five year rolling period when individuals can earn as much as they can over $750 (the 2014 amount) and still receive their entitlement. If they earn below this amount, the month does not count toward one of their nine months. For example, someone can earn $3,000 in one month and still receive their SSDI check during their Trial Working Period.

After their TWP ends, there are still ways for someone to reduce their countable income. These include Subsidy (support at work), Impairment Related Work Expenses (IRWE), Blind Workers Exclusion (BWE), and failed work attempts.

Useful Links for Understanding SSDI

Understanding Social Security: SSI

For many people with a disability and their families, Social Security is a vital lifeline for everyday needs. Most people know the basics and can go years without any issues. When it comes time for someone to start a new job, however, issues can come up. Understanding which program you fall under and what impact employment may have on your benefits can play a huge role in not only your daily life but also your ability to keep working while maintaining your benefits.

The Social Security Administration is responsible for Title 2 (SSDI, retirement benefits) and Title 16 (SSI) programs. The Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program is a needs-based program designed to help those who are 64 years and older or people of any age who are blind or have a disability and have limited funds and resources. The resource amount for SSI is limited to savings below $2,000 ($3,000 for a couple). Ownership of one home and one vehicle does not count toward the resource limit, so owning a home and car will not prohibit someone from receiving SSI.

The current federal maximum benefit rate for an individual is $721 per month. If the individual is living at home and is not providing for the household to a significant level, the amount they receive may be reduced by one-third or $483 per month. When someone becomes gainfully employed, their countable income will impact their monthly SSI check. No one will ever make less by working than they would off of SSI alone. Working will always lead to more income, in regards to SSI.

In addition to the cash benefit, many states offer Medical Assistance (MA) to those who qualify for SSI. Some people fear losing their Medical Assistance if they go to work. Once someone’s countable income reaches $1,527, they will no longer receive a cash payment from SSI but would still qualify for Medical Assistance coverage under 1619b. This extends to someone’s Medical Assistance eligibility per state thresholds.

Useful Links for Understanding SSI

Pennsylvania’s Disability Employment Awareness Month

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month, and the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry’s Office of Vocational Rehabilitation is participating in several events to celebrate and raise awareness about inclusive employment.

“This month of recognition highlights the benefits of hiring people with disabilities for employers who may not have considered this valuable resource of employees,” Labor and Industry Secretary Julia Hearthway said. “It also lets people know how OVR is helping people with disabilities gain entry to the workforce and emphasizes the no cost resources it has available to businesses who want to meet their workforce needs by hiring Pennsylvanians with disabilities.”

One of the highlighted events is the PA Disability Employment and Empowerment Summit (PADES) from October 23-25 in Camp Hill, PA. PADES brings together businesses, government agencies, service providers, and people with disabilities to discuss the challenges and successes of inclusive employment and to make suggestions for systems improvements. The workshops explore the value that people with disabilities bring to the workforce.

Other events include the Philadelphia OVR Disability Mentoring Day with KPMG on October 23 and the York OVR District Office Job Fair at the York HACC campus on October 25.

In keeping with the national recognition of Disability Employment Awareness Month, Governor Corbett proclaimed October to be Disability Employment Awareness Month. His proclamation, which says that “all Pennsylvanians should have the opportunity to live and work with dignity, freedom, and economic self-sufficiency,” takes an important step toward creating an inclusive workforce. However, there is much work still to be done to close the disparity gap among unemployed people with disabilities.

To learn more about PA’s Disability Employment Awareness Month activities and to read Governor Corbett’s proclamation, read the PA Department of Labor and Industry’s press release.

Creating a Skilled Workforce

There is a lot of momentum around the country concerning inclusive workforces. The word is out that people with disabilities, even severe disabilities, can be employees who contribute to a business’s net worth.

We have compiled some blogs, specific blog posts, and newsletters that you may find useful as you work toward inclusive employment. Keep them for future reference or share them with others.

If you have found other helpful inclusive employment resources, please share them in the comments below.

Creating a Skilled Workforce

On’s Disability Blog, guest blogger Judy Owen of Opportunity Works, Inc. raises important questions about transportation and education practices. What do you think can be done to promote greater skill development for students while they’re still in school and better transportation options so people can get to work?

A New Mode of Inclusion and Opportunity 

Again on’s Disability Blog, guest blogger Mary Hartley of 21 and Able writes about a collaboration among Allegheny County, United Way of Allegheny County’s 21 and Able Initiative, and Giant Eagle. This collaboration looks to create work experiences for students with disabilities while they are still in high school, setting them up for greater success in employment once they graduate. To facilitate these opportunities, they developed a career transition liaison within the business, Giant Eagle. Do you have other ideas for how to create more opportunities for high school students to gain work experience and build their skills? Share them in the comments.

The Pennsylvania Employment Reform Resource Project 

In eastern Pennsylvania, there is a focus on a person-centered approach to finding employment. The Pennsylvania Employment Reform Resource Project provides information about customizing a job search. It is a good site for success stories, showcasing collaborative grassroots efforts and providing practical ideas on how people accomplish their employment goals.

Employment First

Employment First is a policy or mindset that focuses on integrated, community-based employment earning at or above the minimum wage as the first option for individuals with intellectual and other developmental disabilities. When using these Employment First policies, states are tapping the skills and contributions of these individuals to match employer demand for a reliable, productive workforce through customized employment opportunities.

Job Squad, Inc.’s Community Economic Development Blog 

Located in West Virginia, Job Squad, Inc. discusses opportunities, ideas, and needs around inclusive employment. They highlight current Employment First activities and outcomes, plus have numerous links to various employment first discussions. While they encourage joining a dialogue about Community Economic Development Program in supporting West Virginians to get what they want out of work, the  discussions and links offered are valuable to anyone focused on creating a skilled and inclusive workforce.


The LEAD Center is a collaborative of disability, workforce and economic empowerment organizations dedicated to a single mission: advancing sustainable individual and systems level change to improve competitive, integrated employment and economic self-sufficiency for all people across the spectrum of disability.

Led by the National Disability Institute with funding from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy, the LEAD Center—known formally as the National Center on Leadership for the Employment and Economic Advancement of People with Disabilities (LEAD)—brings together a range of organizations, thought leaders and best-practice innovators to expand policy, employment, leadership, and economic advancement opportunities and outcomes for all people with disabilities.

Diversity World

This newsletter is intended to support the work of people who are engaged in developing the careers, vocations, livelihoods, jobs and/or work of other individuals. It is their belief that everyone’s work life can and should be molded and crafted to be the expression of our finest gifts and a source of great joy. The content of these newsletters include both practical tools and inspirational ideas.

There are many other good resources out there about inclusive employment and finding job opportunities for people with disabilities. Please share the other resources you have found in the comments.