Two women face the viewer and smile in a large textile studio filled with shelves of colored thread and tables piled with rolls of fabric. The woman on the left is in a motorized chair; she has long reddish-brown hair and wears jeans, a navy blue pattern top, and a brown cardigan. She holds a long roll of mint green fabric in her lap. The woman on the right is standing and holding a roll of mustard yellow fabric; she wears green plaid pants, a pale purple blouse, and a salmon pink vest.
Funding and other resources for disabled business owners are available through government programs and nonprofits. — Getty Images/Dougal Waters

Entrepreneurship is an important and viable option for adults with disabilities, particularly those who operate outside of the traditional labor force. There are over 1.8 million disabled business owners in the United States, many of whom may need to overcome barriers to entrepreneurship that their abled counterparts don’t have to consider.

To bridge that gap, here are some funding options that can help entrepreneurs with disabilities start, run, and grow their businesses, as well as obtain necessary support.

Plan to Achieve Self-Support (PASS) Program

The Plan to Achieve Self-Support (PASS) is a federal program designed to ease disabled individuals into the workforce, eventually allowing them to rely less on federal supplemental security income.

PASS can be used to fund a variety of expenses that disabled entrepreneurs might need to start their own business, including supplies, transportation, training fees, equipment, and more.

PASS eligibility is based on income and resources. In order to qualify for this program, the disabled entrepreneur must have a net worth of less than $2,000 (or $3,000 for couples). To receive funding for self-employment, a detailed business plan must be submitted with an application, which can be found online.

[Read more: How to Write a Startup Business Plan]

Small Disadvantaged Business program

The Small Disadvantaged Business program is another federal incentive that disabled entrepreneurs can take advantage of to grow their businesses.

Each year, the U.S. government awards about 10% of all federal contracts, or roughly $50 billion, to Small Disadvantaged Businesses. In order to qualify and be considered for these contracts, the business must be 51% or more owned and controlled by at least one disadvantaged person, according to federal definitions. The business must also be small in size, according to the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) size standards.

To register for this program and be considered for these earmarked federal contracts, sign up online and designate your business as a “Small Disadvantaged Business.”

Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business (SDVOSB) Program

Similarly, the federal government also awards at least 3% of federal contracting dollars to Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Businesses (SDVOSB).

To qualify as an SDVOSB, the business must be owned and controlled by at least one veteran or service-disabled veteran. It must also be considered “small” according to the SBA’s size standards.

To compete for these contracts, SDVOSBs must self-certify their status as being owned by a service-disabled veteran.

[Read more: How to Become a Certified Veteran-Owned Business]

Assistive technology can be essential for people with disabilities and yet is often prohibitively expensive.

Accion Opportunity Fund

Disabled entrepreneurs can also lean on the Accion Opportunity Fund, a nonprofit community lender that offers small business loans to disadvantaged communities.

Loan amounts range from $5,000 to $250,000 and can be used for making a workplace more accessible, implementing or updating assistive technologies, and purchasing adaptive work vehicles.

Entrepreneurs can apply online and will need to provide tax documents outlining business revenues and expenses. In order to secure a loan, businesses must guarantee the loan, often with a personal guarantee.

In addition to loans, the Accion Opportunity Fund offers educational resources, coaching, and support networks that disabled entrepreneurs can leverage to grow their businesses.

[Read more: A Practical Guide to Funding Your Small Business with Business Loans and Beyond]

National Association for the Self-Employed (NASE)

The National Association for the Self-Employed (NASE) offers business grants and opportunities specifically for disabled entrepreneurs. NASE supports self-employed business owners and micro-businesses by providing access to benefits and resources, helping them successfully compete with larger corporate counterparts.

NASE members — including disabled entrepreneurs — can apply for Growth Grants, which are specific business development grants that can be used for marketing, advertising, hiring, expanding, and other needs that will help grow your business. Each grant totals up to $4,000.

In order to be considered for a NASE Growth Grant, businesses must register with the association before applying for the grant.

Assistive technology business loans

Assistive technology can be essential for people with disabilities and yet is often prohibitively expensive. However, there are financial resources available for business owners looking to implement assistive technology in their workplace, including:

There are also several federal and state grants and Telecommunication Devices Access Programs (TDAPs), but these programs and funding sources vary from state to state. Additionally, there are several nonprofits that facilitate access to assistive tech for employees who are deaf or blind or have cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, or muscular dystrophy.

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

CO—is committed to helping you start, run and grow your small business. Learn more about the benefits of small business membership in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, here.

A message from
A $50K grand prize could be all yours.
The FedEx® Small Business Grants Program is now open. See details and apply before April 1, 2024, at 12 p.m. CT.
Apply Now!