Drawing Pins and databases and the Subject of Disabled Entrepreneurs

Earlier this month, I was having a conversation with an acquaintance, about how other businesspeople perceive me. How many people, I’m curious, are subject to the scrutiny of their colleagues and associates so openly and to such a degree. I have a theory about this, which may be controvertial, but seems to be true.

The subject of words not only as descriptors of people but as windows into the mind of the descriptee has been dealt with in many spheres of society. Political correctness dictates a redefinition every few years, as the words we use gradulaly take on the negative and exclusionary overtones of their predecessors.

So it is in business. a businessman is described as shrewd, streetwise, savvy, or skilled even. the negative sides of those descriptors might be ruthless, hard-nosed, tough. He might be called a mentor, a champion, or a shark, depending on who you talk to.

A woman in business is classy, well put-together, a woman who knows her own mind; clever, feisty, a professional–as though the norm were servility, stupidness, unprofessionality and she sets herself apart by acting Otherwise.

But let’s compound that. What if you’re a businesswoman–with a disability? straight away, it’s assumed you can’t possibly do it all yourself; and if you have staff or co-owners, well, of course you do! Someone needs to help, after all.

The successful (disabled) businesswoman is described as “aggressive,” “fiercely independent,” and, doubtless, a woman with “attitude,” because the deeply-held, often-denied expectation is that someone with a disability could not possibly cope with the pressures of running a business. “Could I, if I lost my sight?” they say, “not a chance!” Where else in society is the word “independent” used, when not applied to a political party, a religious movement, the status of a country? or financial security? It is most often used relative to the word dependence. Children are dependent on their parents; a colonial territory is dependent on the motherland, (whether it likes it or not), but people are seldom described as independent, unless one is comparing to something else; an expectation of dependence.

There are few people who can start and maintain a business without a good deal of initiation and self-determination, disability or no disability. A person with a disability in business flies in the face of our most basic presuppositions of what disabled people are like. they are courageous, certainly; inspirational or pitiable depending on your perspective; but successful business people? … we tend to have to readjust our paradigms to accommodate that concept.

Unquestionably, one must find creative ways, sometimes, of managing relatively simple tasks: a post-it note jotted in haste may not be my solution when ringing a customer; nor for remembering a password temporarily. I might urge suppliers to send invoices electronically, using a PDF rather than sending a printed copy through the post. I try to organise and automate systems as frequently as I can, to save having to leaf through copious randomly-generated printed pieces of paper with Braille labels on them.

Systems like these sometimes necessitate a readjustment among my sighted business associates, suppliers and customers; but once accomplished, the process is far less idiosyncratic than hand-written notes in a ledger or drawing pins dotting a corkboard.

These superficial differences in how I run a business are mostly cosmetic, however insurmountable they may appear to someone looking in. Of course, I have chosen a rather innocuous example of how persistence creates change; and the words we use address a far more basic issue than drawing pins vs databases. They provide much information about our own prejudices and fears.

I hope that by doing my part to contribute to the economy, providing <a href=”http://www.valleys-wordworks.com/our-service”>a valuable service and access to information</a> where it didn’t exist before and make the best business decisions I can, I will help to dispel a few myths, for a handful of people in the course of my life, whilst thoroughly enjoying the challenges of running a business.


  1. Hello; Thanks for the thoughtful post. And as a fellow visually impaired business owner thanks for continuing to provide a valueable service and for educating the public about our potential one client at a time. take care, max