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Need for Services for Entrepreneurs with Disabilities

The 2010 Federal Disability Report5 notes that the average employment income for working-age adults with disabilities is $29,393, which is 22.5% lower than the average of $37,994 for working-age adults without disabilities. Severity of disability affects income: the average employment incomes for those with severe disabilities and very severe disabilities are $23,786 and $19,447 respectively, compared to $33,427 for those with mild disabilities. The Statistics Canada’s 2006 Participation and Activity Limitation Survey indicates that the overall labor force participation rate for working-age adults with disabilities is 59.6% (1,379,325 people). In comparison, the participation rate for working-age adults without disabilities is 80.2% (15,163,250 people).

From the report, many people with disabilities have had to overcome work-related barriers and challenges that people without disabilities do not. People with disabilities may be limited in the amount of work they can do in the workplace, or they may require workplace modifications or flexible working arrangements that employers are sometimes reluctant to provide. In addition to accommodation challenges, workers with disabilities face the possibility of employer discrimination and social exclusion. People with disabilities were more likely to be unemployed than people without disabilities. The unemployment rate for working-age adults with disabilities is 10.4%, compared to 6.8% for working-age adults without disabilities.

The Federal Disability Report concludes that workers with disabilities make up a significant portion of the workforce, and a number of unemployed working-age adults with disabilities are qualified and ready to work. However, despite the Employment Equity Act and a growing need for skilled workers, the statistics reveal that many people with disabilities remain underemployed and discriminated against. The report highlighted the department’s Entrepreneurs with Disabilities Program (EDP) as one of the means to help people with disabilities overcome employment related challenges.

In the key informant interviews, the need for services for entrepreneurs with disabilities was defined mostly in terms of the extra supports for people with disabilities, beyond what is available to non-disabled entrepreneurs. The need to support other organizations that provide services to entrepreneurs with disabilities was also emphasized. Key informants attributed the need to various factors such as:

  • People with disabilities are still not always well-served by mainstream services,
  • A broader range of disabilities now considered within the realm of “disabled” (the generally accepted definition of disability has expanded),
  • The decline in the economy which support an increased level of interest in and feasibility of the entrepreneurial option for people with disabilities.

Key informants viewed entrepreneurs with disabilities as having unique challenges that cannot always be met by mainstream organizations. The unique challenges included managing health-related issues, and planning the business within consideration of disability limitations. People with disabilities may also need specific accommodations to contribute to the feasibility of a business start-up. These accommodations are most often not provided by mainstream organizations. Interviewees reflected an overall philosophy that supported “levelling the playing field” for people with disabilities through providing additional assistance where it leads to successful outcomes for that individual, and for the community overall (e.g. business start-up benefits).

Need for EDP Program

Overall, the EDP is a valued program. While the majority of key informants indicated that both loan and supportive business services meet the needs of, and are beneficial to, entrepreneurs with disabilities, approximately one quarter of respondents questioned the extent to which the loan fund was needed and its benefits. Several key informants questioned whether additional loan funding was needed considering the other sources of financing available to entrepreneurs with disabilities. However, most organizations provide EDP loans at the same terms as other loans but with more support and flexibility in repayment.

Key informants mentioned that EDP funding may be used to help other organizations serve specific clients, work generally with people with disabilities, and market the EDP services. Key informants indicated that providing business advisory services through the EDP may also reduce the number of business failures, either by discouraging a start-up that is likely to fail, or by providing business support.

The comparison with related programs indicates the following about the continued need for the EDP:

  • Need for capacity-building and specialized supports: For some of the related program/service areas, the EDP funding was viewed as indirectly increasing capacity to serve entrepreneurs with disabilities by partnering with other community organizations.
  • Need to promote the entrepreneurial option: EDP funding may promote the entrepreneurial option, by way of funded initiatives that promote self-employment as an option for people with disabilities.
  • Need for more intensive supports for entrepreneurs with disabilities: The most valued aspect of the EDP was identified as the “pre and post care” service. This service was recognized as most needed to ensure that businesses supported have a high likelihood of being successful.

The majority of respondents in the client survey indicated that they had applied for loan financing through the EDP. The approval rate for the EDP, as indicated by survey respondents, was quite high at 91%. Focus group participants attributed this high approval rating to the “pre and post care” service offered by the EDP. Through this service, only businesses that had a high potential for success were able to complete the application for funding.

Text Version (Link 1): Percentage of Start-up Cost Covered by EDP Loan

Figure 4-1   Percentage of Start-up Cost Covered by EDP Loan In this figure, key informants indicate amount of start-up funding provided by EDP loan.

Nearly half of the survey respondents indicated that greater than 75% of their costs were financed through the EDP program. Where shortfalls in funding occurred, the majority of respondents used their own personal resources, or sought help from family and friends, to finance the endeavour. Survey respondents did not mention EDP funding as being used to leverage other funding.

Traditional commercial lending was not considered a viable option for either supplementing or replacing EDP loans, as roughly half of respondents indicated that they were not confident of being approved by traditional lenders. Where financing external to the EDP program was a viable option, 72% of respondents indicated that the EDP provider was somewhat or very helpful in coordinating access to other resources.

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Trend and Demand for the Entrepreneurs with Disabilities Program

The 2005 evaluation of the EDP noted that the total number of EDP loans issued by the Community Futures Organizations was 615 and the annual number of loans declined from 152 in 1999-2000 to 88 in 2003-2004. Over the period of the current evaluation (2006 to the third quarter of 2010), the total number of loans issued by the Community Futures Organizations was 407, and the average annual number of loans issued was approximately 78. About 45% of all the CF’s did not issue any EDP loans in 2009-10 or the first three quarters of 2010. Most of the urban delivery agents reported currently carrying low or no loan portfolios in the key informant interviews. These numbers indicate a declining trend in the use of the loan service aspect of the EDP. Data collected for the EDP indicates a large number of clients were served by the EDP delivery agents (16,567)6 ; however, this is in contrast to the small number of loans provided (572) from 2006 to 2010. These findings then indicate that most demand for the EDP has been in services other than for loans and financing.

Key informants identified two trends that would indicate a possible decrease in the need for the EDP services in loans: 1) the reluctance of people with disabilities to reveal their disabilities; and 2) the ability of mainstream organizations to meet the needs of people with disabilities. In addition, key informants mentioned that EDP clients may have become disinterested after initial contact if: loan or grant funds were not available, or they were required to complete a business plan or meet other requirements. Key informants indicated that there was a fairly high level of referrals (for educational and promotional activities, etc.) but a small portion of clients continued past an initial formal (or informal) screening to apply for loans and other services. This probably accounted for the high number of clients served compared to the small number of loans issued.

About 42% of client survey respondents indicated access additional external, non-financial support. The most cited sources of additional financial support by respondents are indicated in the figure below.

Text Version (Link 2): Sources of Additional Funding

Figure 4-2   Sources of Additional FundingIn this figure, key informants indicate additional sources of funding for their business ventures.

The comparative analysis noted that the demand for EDP services was affected by the small size of the entrepreneurs with disabilities market. Other programs and organizations that targeted distinct groups of entrepreneurs such as women, Aboriginal, or youth entrepreneurs were mentioned as having a significantly larger market share than the EDP.

The 2010 Federal Disability report noted that people with very severe disabilities are least likely to desire full-time work (20.5%) but are more flexible in working either part time or full time (42.0%). The report continued that 65.0% of people with disabilities who are not in the labour force are completely prevented from working, including 76.1% of people with severe disabilities and 83.9% of people with very severe disabilities. Additionally, 12.1% of people with disabilities who are not in the labour force are limited in their ability to look for work. This further reduces the market for the EDP.

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Presence of Other Initiatives that serve Entrepreneurs with Disabilities

Key informants stated that there are other initiatives that assist people with disabilities to obtain employment or assisted living support. There are also other initiatives that target entrepreneurs in general. However, the EDP is unique in specifically targeting entrepreneurs with disabilities. In providing EDP services, key informants indicated that there may be some potential for duplication and overlap with other programs. Urban Delivery Agents noted that there was some overlap in program offering given that they were in the same geographical region. In addition, some key informants mentioned that the EDP could overlap with some departmental programs such as the Loan and Investment Program, and the Women’s Enterprise Initiative.

The comparative analysis indicated the following findings about related programs that provide similar services to the EDP in western Canada and are targeted generally to people with/without disabilities:

Many related programs, services, and organizations provide services to entrepreneurs. Many organizations, programs and services (including many Internet-based resources) support entrepreneurs in both rural and urban settings, including programs that target segments of the entrepreneurial population, such as women, Aboriginal entrepreneurs, and youth. These may be funded by one, or a combination of federal, provincial and municipal governments, non-governmental organizations, or they may be private enterprises. These programs may offer access to loans, and/or may provide business start-up information, supports and linkages to other sources of financing. Examples of such programs, services and organizations include banks and credit unions that provided services to entrepreneurs in general.

Many related programs, services and organizations serve people with disabilities. Many organizations, programs and services also provide a range of programs and services targeted specifically to people with disabilities in both rural and urban settings. Initiatives that target people with disabilities provide a range of services, including: services to assist with daily living, access to funding for disability-specific costs, supporting further education and employment, acting as an advocate on behalf of people with disabilities, and promoting and support of people with disabilities to employers.

Examples of such initiatives include:

  • The Opportunities Fund for People with Disabilities: This initiative is administered by the federal government and it seeks to assist people with disabilities in preparing for, obtaining and keeping employment or becoming self-employed, and increasing their economic participation and independence. The program also encourages employers to provide opportunities and work experience programs for people with disabilities.
  • Employability Assistance for People with Disabilities: This initiative is a Saskatchewan-based program, providing funding to assist adults with disabilities to prepare for, secure and maintain employment. Various supports are offered, including: on-the-job-training, vocational and work assessments, psycho-educational assessments, job coaching, support for employers and disability-related costs in a wide variety of post-secondary education and training programs.

Employment programs are also widespread. Some targeted toward persons with disabilities, some for a broader client group. For clients who are unemployed and looking for work, many supports are available through federal/provincial funded employment programs. Some of these are targeted toward people with disabilities, some toward a broad base of eligible clients, and some are targeted toward self-employment. The self-employment courses often have eligibility criteria relating to unemployment, and are comprehensive for individuals interested in starting a business. As a result of EDP funding, an EDP-funded organization may work with or supplement the services of the organization that provides the employment /self-employment programs, to better meet the needs of the entrepreneurs with disabilities.


  • BC’s Ministry of Housing and Social Development’s Employment Program for Persons with Disabilities (EPPD): The EPPD is an example of an organization with a wide-reaching span of services targeted towards employment seekers, persons with disabilities, and entrepreneurs. The EPPD provides a range of specialized services to help individuals with disabilities participate in their communities; pursue their employment goals as they are able, increase their self-reliance, and build skills and experience that may lead to further employment or volunteer opportunities. It is intended to assist persons with disabilities to achieve their economic and social potential to the fullest extent possible. Offered throughout the province of BC, the EPPD provides programs with individualized services provided through Service Provider contracts.

Increased accessibility of internet-based resources for entrepreneurs with disabilities. To the extent that the EDP funds organizations to provide information and resources to people with disabilities considering entrepreneurship, resources are increasingly available on the internet for these services. Service providers are developing web-based instructional courses, information sources, and self-assessment tools.

An example of such an organization that provides internet services for people with disabilities is the Canadian Society for Social Development. The organization provides employment and skills training to persons facing challenges to employment such as people with disabilities, youths, Aboriginals, and individuals living in rural areas. The organization’s Business Abilities website provides resources for entrepreneurs with disabilities seeking to start their own business. The following table below compare the services of the EDP with a few other initiatives in terms of their service provision.

Table 4-1 Comparison of Services offered by EDP to Other Initiatives Serving People with Disabilities
Organizations Loans Business Planning Training Business Advisory Referral Services Networking/
Entrepreneurs with Disabilities Program x x x x x x
HRSDC Opportunities Fund for People with disabilities   x x x   x
Canadian Society for Social Development   x x   x x
Canadian Council on Rehabilitation and Work     x x x  
SEED Winnipeg   x x   x x
Employability Assistance for People with Disabilities     x x x  
EmployAbilities     x x x  
Disabilities Related Employment Supports     x x x  
Vancouver Foundation Disability Support for Employment Fund       x    
Ministry of Housing and Social Development’s Employment Program for People with disabilities (EPPD)     x      
BC Coalition of People with Disabilities     x     x
Women Enterprise Initiative x x x x x x
Community Futures Program x x x x x x

The EDP has been in existence since 1999 when the first agreements were signed. The department needs to determine its continued support for the program and determine whether the EDP best serves the needs of entrepreneurs with disabilities. This recommendation is due to: the decline in demand for loan service of the program, the existence of other organizations and initiatives that have similar objectives, and the potential for overlap and duplication with other organizations and initiatives. Although the need for the loan fund is questionable, interviewees indicate a continuing need for the business services and support. To validate the continued demand for services, the department needs to revise the program’s performance measurement strategy to include performance measures that capture the non-loan, service support components of the program that are currently measured only qualitatively.

Alignment with Departmental, and Federal Priorities

The EDP falls under the department’s Business Development program activity and addresses the two sub-activities of “Improve Business Productivity” and “Access to Capital”. The EDP priorities are also linked to federal priorities as outlined in the Government of Canada’s “Advantage Canada: Building a Strong Economy for Canadians” document7.

The goal of the EDP is to make it easier for Canadians who have a disability to pursue entrepreneurship and contribute to the economic growth of their communities. This goal reflects the Government of Canada’s longstanding commitment to uphold and protect the rights of people with disabilities and to help them participate fully in society. The Government’s commitment includes removing obstacles and creating opportunities for Canadians with disabilities. There are approximately 4.4 million people with disabilities in Canada representing about 14.3 percent of the population. The Government reaffirmed this ongoing commitment to supporting people with disabilities on March 11, 2010, when Canada ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities.

Most key informants viewed the EDP as having linkages to both economic and social policy objectives, with the strongest link to social policy objectives. The benefits of the program are viewed most strongly as improving quality of life, and greater independence (along with increased self-esteem and self-confidence). The economic benefits to individuals and to communities are also viewed as fitting with WD’s overall economic development mandate.

Key informants strongly supported federal government funding for assisting entrepreneurs with disabilities. The funding to the Provincial Community Futures Associations was viewed in most provinces as being well-spent and appropriately accountable. Some key informants, however, questioned whether the federal government should continue to provide loan funding under the EDP separately from its other entrepreneurial funding streams.