"Persons with severe disabilities, who start their own business, need high-quality flexible models"

One-size-fits-all solutions generally don’t work on a typical workday for persons with several disabilities. The often very diverse limitations also require a highly flexible work environment. Since most employers are not able to or don’t want to offer this type of setting, most persons with severe disabilities are often forced to become self-employed.


Photo: Manfred Radermacher

Manfred Radermacher; © enterability

One person, who helps them with this, is Manfred Radermacher: he and his colleagues at the integrated disability service – enterability Berlin, advise persons with severe disabilities in all matters related to starting a business. REHACARE.de spoke with him about a day in consulting.

Mr. Radermacher, your enterability consulting project addresses persons with severe disabilities, who want to set up their own businesses. How did you come up with this idea?

When we started as a pilot project in 2004, there was a startup boom in Germany. Everyone was using buzzwords like "startup" for example. However, the general options weren’t suited for people with disabilities, since the counseling services were simply not tailored to their needs. So we decided to assist people with severe disabilities on their path to self-employment. At this point however, we also approach those who already made this step and have problems, for instance.

How well is this service being accepted and utilized?

The main prejudice against persons with severe disabilities is that they are fundamentally not capable and unable to work under pressure. Yet you cannot oversimplify things like that. This self-employment alternative is particularly important for this target group. This is why we also experience a heavy rush of people. Those who are on our waiting list, currently have to wait about four to six weeks for an appointment.

To what extent does the particular type of disability play a role in the consultation?

The respective disability of the individual takes center stage so to speak. Persons with severe disabilities, who start their own business, need high-quality flexible models. After all, every disability has a distinct impact on self-employment. Let’s take a patient with rheumatoid arthritis who is generally not physically fit and highly productive until noon for example. Or take patients with chronic pain, who simply need more or rather longer breaks for instance. Many employers are not able to provide these settings. Therefore, when you are unable to find the proper conditions, you need to create them yourself by being your own boss.
Photo: Team of enterability

The team of enterability (from the left): Jeanette Oechsl, Isabel Haber, Marianne Trottier, Manfred Radermacher, Katrin Adam, Doris Pohlmann; © enterability

And this is where you and your colleagues provide assistance?

That’s right. We once had a woman at our office, whose level of maximum productivity topped out at five hours per day. This fact determined the continued course of action. It was the starting point of the consultation.

This is precisely why we need to openly talk about the disability – and sometimes perhaps too openly for some people. If there was an addiction problem in the past for example, we need to address this, even if this is actually a taboo subject for many. Whether it’s breast cancer, HIV or psychological disorders – the reasons for severe disabilities are varied. What’s more, each individual disability has an impact on work processes or performance.

What actual benefit does your consulting service provide?

We assist in realistically preparing people for self-employment given the circumstances of the respective disability. That means we also advise against starting a business if it simply won’t work. Experience has shown that out of ten people we consult only three truly start a business full-time. This is the person’s own decision however, which he/she reached based on the consultation. After all, we primarily provide them with an honest consultation, an unprejudiced perspective and help in managing potential problems. The consultations truly vary distinctly. And this automatically means that our consultations are always personal and tailored to the individual.

In your experience, how well can persons with disabilities permanently compete as self-employed business owners?

Since our inception, we have regularly made respective inquiries at different points in time. Each time we checked, roughly 75 percent of businesses were still in operation. However, not being in operation doesn’t automatically mean that the entrepreneur’s business model failed. They could also have chosen a different path along the way. Or – and this is another possibility - they died for example.

In conclusion, it is important to mention that becoming self-employed isn’t about obtaining great wealth for most new business owners. The focus is generally not just on money. True, they want to get away from drawing benefits and being Hartz IV recipients. Yet above all, the majority craves participation – both in their professional lives and in society. For persons with severe disabilities, self-employment is a model that enables a self-determined life.
Mehr about enterability Berlin (only in German) at: www.enterability.de
Photo: Nadine Lormis; Copyright: B. Frommann

© B. Frommann

Nadine Lormis
(Translated by Elena O'Meara.)