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Your UCP: National September 01, 2003

DOL Fact Sheets

Self-Employment Profiles

Changes in the global marketplace have resulted in companies downsizing; reengineering; increasing their use of contingent, temporary and contract employees; eliminating jobs; and implementing new ways to deliver services and products. The changing employment landscape and the need for more flexibility in employment has led many to explore self employment or entrepreneurial opportunities. Being self employed is an option persons with disabilities may want to consider.

The following success stories feature entrepreneurs with disabilities whose businesses have proven to be profitable.

Travel Headquarters, Inc.

Injured at age 16 from a gunshot wound, Heidi Van Arnem was paralyzed from the neck down. She completed high school, college and law school. Not wishing to pursue a career in law, she tried unsuccessfully to find a job. Discouraged with employers' reactions to her disability, she launched a travel business in 1989 in Birmington, MI.

Travel Headquarters, Inc., has grown from a one-person to a six-person operation and grosses $1.5 million in sales annually. In addition to successfully managing the travel arrangements for major events, the business specializes in making travel arrangements for people with disabilities.

Nomad Art Glass

Tiffany-style lamps, door panels, signs and three dimensional window hangings all attest to the talent and creativity of Russell Jennings, Jr., a Columbus, OH, resident. Jennings contracted Guillain-Barre Syndrome, a rare condition that involves weakness of muscles in the upper body, and became a client of the Ohio Rehabilitation Services Commission (ORSC).

In late 1995, he started Nomad Art Glass from his home. At first, Jennings' friends and relatives provided word-of- mouth advertising while ORSC arranged printing of business brochures and cards. His first job was to make five lampshades for a cocktail lounge. The owner was so pleased he ordered eight more for another location. Local newspapers mentioned Jennings' work in reviews of the establishment. Nomad Art Glass is growing and making a profit.

Fishtales Marine Consultants

John McKinney was one of the first graduates of Maryland's Reaching Independence Through Self-Employment (Project RISE) initiative. With 16 years of experience in maintenance and yacht repair, McKinney had attained the position of foreman, supervising a staff of 28. A serious workplace injury left him with a severe back injury and unemployed.

Project RISE assisted John by identifying the need for marine consultants specializing in the maintenance, repair, purchase and use of both recreational and commercial marine craft. McKinney now operates Fishtales Marine Consultants with special emphasis on the 3,700+ registered vessels and 30 marinas in Southern Maryland along the Chesapeake Bay.


With the help of his Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor, Charles Montenaro from Columbus, OH, was able to transform his hobby into a profit-making venture. As a boy, he collected rocks and fossils. His father, who repaired watches, introduced him to his acquaintances in the jewelry business. Montenaro's interest in rocks and stones, coupled with his familiarity with jewelers, evolved into a lapidary business.

Now Montenaro facets precious and semi-precious gems out of rough blocks of quartz, topaz, garnet, and ruby."Each stone has a life of its own," he says. From the work area in his basement, he communicates via fax with suppliers and dealers in Thailand, Israel and Africa. His hobby is now a full-time business which provides a profitable livelihood.

Narrative Television Network (NTN)

NTN was launched in 1988 from a makeshift sound booth in James Stovall's basement. The Tulsa, OK, company creates soundtracks describing actions, settings and other visual elements of film and television programming to make these media accessible to persons who are blind or have low vision. Stovall conceived the idea for audio described programming after he lost his sight at age 29 and found that he could no longer follow a favorite movie. He consulted technical experts, who discouraged him from pursuing what they regarded as an impossible venture. Stovall persevered, using equipment borrowed from a local company and the limited eyesight of partner Kathy Harper, who is legally blind. Harper labored to watch the television monitor and to write the scripts for each production. From the scripts, she recited lines to Stovall, who narrated them between sets of dialogue.

Today, a staff of seven operates NTN, which reaches over 25 million homes around the globe. The network has achieved annual sales in excess of $6 million.

Ed Terranova of Kettering, OH, was an award-winning master sign maker who hand painted his designs. A stroke left him with limited movement in his arm and hand and with no business to which to return. After becoming a customer of Ohio Rehabilitation Services, Terranova was referred to a self-employment program, where he developed a business plan for a computer-based design firm. Terranova learned how to create everything from simple text signs to sophisticated designs. Outgrowing his home, he moved his business into commercial space and plans on training and hiring persons with disabilities.


For information on self-employment for persons with disabilities, contact:

  • Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs)

    The centers provide technical assistance to new business start-ups and expansion of existing businesses. These centers are often funded in educational institutions. The funding is from the Small Business Administration (SBA), with a local partner (e.g., chamber of commerce). Contact your chamber of commerce for the program in your area or visit the Small Business Administration's Web site.

  • The Office of Disability Employment Policy's Promoting Small Business and Self-Employment Opportunities for People with Disabilities Project

    (202) 693-7880 (V), (202) 693-7881 (TTY), ODEP Call Center (E-mail)

    The goal of this project is to identify, on a national level, appropriate resources for planning, training, technical assistance, and capital development for individuals with disabilities who wish to start or expand their own businesses.

  • Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA)

    (202) 205-8719 (V)

    The Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA) oversees programs that help individuals with physical or mental disabilities obtain employment through the provision of such supports as counseling, medical and psychological services, job training, and other individualized services. RSA's major formula grant program provides funds to state vocational rehabilitation agencies to provide employment-related services for individuals with disabilities. State and local vocational rehabilitation agencies are listed under state government agencies in the telephone directory.

  • Yahoo Search Engine on Small Business Start-up Opportunities www.yahoo.com/Business-and-Economy-Small-Business-Information

    This Internet site features a nationwide service listing over 138 business start-up Web sites.

Source: U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Disabilitiy Employment Policy, July 1998

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