Making Self-Employment Work for People With Disabilities, by C. Griffin & D. Hammis. Baltimore: Brookes, 2003.

Another part of the American Dream, working in and owning your own business, is now clearly an emerging possibility for people with disabilities, thanks in large part to Cary Griffin and David Hammis. Although it is reasonable to believe that many people with disabilities, their families and friends, and the people who support them, would like to see improvements in choices and quality of life for people with disabilities to be revolutionary in pace and impact, change more often seems evolutionary in the process.

As we see decades pass, improvements develop more slowly and take longer to implement than many of us may wish. Yet, any reviewer of progress in the last 30 years in better employment and community living options for people with disabilities will certainly show inexorable progress toward opportunities to achieve personal goals and self-selected quality of life. In this book, Griffin and Hammis create not only a vision of the possibility of self-employment, but a thorough and practical guide to making it happen in communities, large and small, across America.

One way to think of this book is an important discovery (development?) of a choice available to most Americans now being available to people with disabilities. Not long ago, self-employment for people with disabilities was “off the table” as a possible choice. Not only did we not know how to do it, it seemed nearly impossible to think of it as a viable option. We could not really imagine it; and if we cannot imagine it, we surely cannot make it work. This phenomenon has happened repeatedly in recent decades. Large group homes morphed into small homes. Smaller homes changed to more personal spaces. Individual apartments and homes emerged, and the promise of home ownership for people with disabilities became an emerging reality. The personal employment choices of people with disabilities expanded considerably with the promise of self-employment.

Another way to think of this work by Griffin and Hammis is as an important combination of powerful ideas and strategies that have never been combined in this way. At least five powerful ideas are considered in this book: small business enterprises, person-centered planning strategies, marketing and sales techniques, financial planning and management, and the context of social security and other benefits. Businesses combine small business strategies, financial tools, and marketing every business day. Social services now combine person-centered planning and benefits management, but not often in the context of generating income through small business. A key to combining these and other strategies is to first understand each of them and the implications of combining them.

A third way to think of this work is as a practical, readable, thorough guide for understanding and creating self-employment. The book is full of clear examples of how self-employment can work (and across a range of peoples' interests and support needs). Tools for planning and implementing self-employment are explained for their value, how they can be used, with examples provided. These include (to mention only a few of the many) business concept charts, a business promotion, business start-up checklists, person-centered planning maps, cash-flow analyses, and Social Security Benefits Planning documents. The thorough presentation of these tools makes the book a good guide for new entrepreneurs and a friendly and usable guide, as well. In addition, along the way the authors note that “one size does not fit all” and that the forms, and processes, should be adjusted as needed.

In the first chapter, the authors go straight to the heart of any skeptics. To those unfamiliar with the notion of self-employment for people with disabilities, questions will immediately arise. Why is this important, and is it a viable opportunity for people with disabilities? What possible advantages are there to self-employment? What about the conventional concerns that go along with owning a business? How can self-employment work when people with disabilities also have to deal with a maze of social and benefit programs? Griffin and Hammis address these questions very well and then proceed to explain the ideas and provide the details to make them work, providing another employment option for people with disabilities.

This book can be expected to be very useful to a number of audiences. People with disabilities, along with their families and allies, will find it useful to create new dreams. Support personnel will find that the practical tools and methods in the book will assist them in supporting people with disabilities. Further, government personnel who shape disability policy, implementation, and funding will see templates that work for people with disabilities and show ways to combine resources from various sources, both public and private. I strongly urge anyone concerned about the employment of people with disabilities to read, and use, this book.