© 2024 Innovation Trail

Helping disabled individuals become entrepreneurs

The unemployment rate for people with disabilities is around50 percent higher than that of people without. A program piloted by Syracuse University aimed to change that, by helping people with disabilities become entrepreneurs.

Case in point: Della Brown, who now owns and operates a taco shop in downtown Syracuse.

"I wasn’t feeling good for a while, I [could] hardly walk from my disability.  But once I started feeling better, I said, 'It's time for me to do something, get out there.' I'm feeling better, I'm out here doing my thing," says Brown.

Once Brown got back on her feet (she's asked us not to name her disability, saying she wants her story to inspire anyone, regardless of a physical or mental disability), she got connected with "Start-Up New York."
That program was created in part by Syracuse University's Gary Shaheen. The goal? Finding a way to help people with disabilities to become self-employed. The to-do list?

  • Figure out what problems that current programs for people with disabilities have in helping folks become entrepreneurs.
  • Figure out how agencies can work together to put disabled people on the path to self-employment.
  • Develop curriculum to teach people with disabilities how run a business (Shaheen tackled this one by getting students from SU’s business school served as guides).

But building a business isn't all about the plan - it's also about leveraging your natural talents.  For Brown that meant pairing the business stuff - writing a plan, dealing with lawyers and accountants - with skills she gleaned from her mother, like cooking, and keeping the kitchen immaculate.
Brown's is one of around 50 small businesses ranging from auto detailing to art that emerged through Start Up NY. While Start Up NY has sunseted, its principals live on under a new title: "Inclusive Entrepreneurship."  That program is being replicated or tested in other places, including New York City and Albany county.


Innovation Trail alumnus Ryan Morden is originally from Seattle. He graduated from the University of Washington with a bachelor's in journalism, minoring in political science and Scandinavian studies. Morden was Morning Edition producer and reporter at WRVO before moving over to the Innovation Trail project. Before landing at WRVO, Morden covered the Washington State legislature as a correspondent for Northwest News Network (N3), a group of nine NPR affiliates in the northwest.
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