People with disabilities are just as susceptible to common myths and stereotypes about the abilities of people with disabilities as everyone else. As a result, youth with disabilities often grow up with deflated expectations for their future. If left un-checked, this low ceiling of expectations can squelch entrepreneurial thinking and create a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Just like everyone else, many youth with disabilities are surprised to learn that someone with a disability can be a successful business owner. Perhaps that’s because there are so few highly visible role models who are entrepreneurs with disabilities. As an entrepreneur with a disability, you can play a vital role in ensuring that youth with disabilities are prepared to assume their rightful place in global marketplace. By making yourself available as a role model or mentor to a young person with a disability, you can make a difference.
Do mentors really make a difference in the lives of youth with disabilities?
“Mentors with disabilities are in great demand to give courage to someone with a disability who wants to start their own business or even just find a job. Mentors are also needed to educate non-disabled people, especially employers, about the needs of people with disabilities,” explains Annette Pickens, a high school senior who hopes to start her own business one day.
Annette thinks that mentors are important because young people often “don’t know where to start out or maybe don’t even realize that their dreams are possible.”
Having a mentor expands young peoples’ understanding of the range of career possibilities available to them, and it establishes a connection between what they’re learning in school and the world of work.
How can you help?
Job Shadowing. Invite a young person with a disability to come to work with you for a day. A study by The Kravis Leadership Institute in California shows that students who job shadow are more likely to finish high school and obtain a higher degree. This is particularly important, given the fact that youth with disabilities are more than twice as likely as their non-disabled peers to drop out of high school.
Public Speaking. Offer to speak about your experiences as an entrepreneur at a local school. Tell the students about your business, how you got started, the things that helped you, barriers you faced, and be willing to candidly answer their questions.
Make a Lunch Date. Establish a standing lunch, dinner, or soda date with a young person with a disability. Find out about his or her interests, activities, and plans for the future. Be a resource and a sounding board.
Not sure how to become a mentor? The following resources can help you get involved:
- Contact the business department or counselors’ office at your local high school and let them know that you are interested in being a mentor.
- Contact the vocational rehabilitation services office in your state, and let them know that you’re willing to be a resource to other people with disabilities who are interested in business ownership.
- Contact your local school-to-work office and volunteer for speaking, mentoring, and job shadowing opportunities.