Businesses led by persons with disabilities (PWDs) are pivotal not only in bolstering economic growth but also in cultivating inclusive and diverse work environments. They lay the foundation for the generations of PWD entrepreneurs that will follow them, and also foster inclusivity for the PWD employees and consumers who advocate for more inclusive work practices, products, services, and marketing strategies. It is important to acknowledge the achievements of PWD entrepreneurs and recognize the transformative power of inclusivity in steering economic growth towards a more human-centered approach rather than a strictly profit-centered one. With this in mind, we take a look at some of these trailblazers who have reshaped entrepreneurship not just for the PWD sector but also in the industries of furniture, cosmetics, art, baking, and tech.

In her article, "Breaking Down Barriers: Empowering Entrepreneurs with Disabilities Sharing Stories and Resources," Trish Robichaud explains that disability is a broad spectrum that includes physical, sensory, cognitive, and mental health disabilities (Robichaud, 2024). According to Robichaud, successful entrepreneurs with disabilities enhance PWD representation and challenge societal perceptions about their abilities. These entrepreneurs often view the world differently due to their unique perspectives, and some have even used their experiences to address the specific needs of the PWD sector. For instance, Karyn Schmitz, a wheelchair user, established a disability consulting firm to make workplaces more welcoming and accessible whereas Canadian entrepreneur Maayan Ziv, who has muscular dystrophy, created the AccessNow app to map the accessibility of various destinations around the world.

Robichaud also emphasizes the role of PWD-centered organizations. These organizations offer support systems to aspiring PWD entrepreneurs, providing business guidance, access to assistive technology, networking opportunities, financing options, training, and mentorship programs. She primarily cites examples from Canada, but similar organizations exist in the Philippines such as the National Council on Disability Affairs which hosts an online webstore promoting PWD-run businesses. Some of these include the Philippine Business and Disability Network, which helps businesses learn how to be more inclusive and barrier-free; the International Labor Organization Global Business and Disability Network, which provides research and assessment tools about disability inclusion;and Precious Works of Differently Abled Enterprise, which partners with Lazada to showcase the talents of persons with disabilities through small businesses and online shops (PWD Webstore | National Council on Disability Affairs, 2024; Project Inclusion Network, 2020).

Global Leaders in their Industries


People with disabilities (PWDs) contribute significantly to the growth of both small and medium-sized enterprises as well as larger conglomerates. A notable example of this is Ingvar Kamprad, the dyslexic founder of IKEA (Famous Dyslexics: Ingvar Kamprad IKEA Founder, 2013). Dyslexia is a learning disability characterized by difficulties in reading due to problems identifying speech sounds and understanding how they relate to letters and words (Dyslexia - Symptoms and Causes, 2022). Kamprad's entrepreneurial journey began in his youth when he sold matches to his neighbors from his bicycle. In his teenage years, he founded a furniture business called IKEA, initially as a mail-order business, which later transitioned into a warehouse model. His dyslexia inspired a defining IKEA practice: the naming of furniture. Struggling to remember numerical codes for furniture items, Kamprad decided to designate memorable names instead. Chairs and desks received men's names, materials and curtains were given women's names, beds and wardrobes were named after Norwegian places, and garden furniture was named after Swedish islands. Though this may not be the case for all, according to Dyslexia Help at the University of Michigan, studies suggest that some adults with dyslexia might showcase strengths in creativity, narrative memory, spatial reasoning and simultaneous thinking in part due to their distinctive perception of the world. This may contribute to some people with dyslexia becoming successful entrepreneurs (The Many Strengths of Dyslexics, 2021).

On the other side of the world, Sangita Desai, co-founder of RawNature Company, showcases how success is born in the face of adversity (Balakrishnan, 2024; Rouzbeh Pirouz, 2021). Sangita was born with a congenital abnormality called Symbrachydactyly, which in her case meant she was born without fingers on one hand. However, this did not deter her from pursuing her passion for fashion and design. After obtaining a degree in fashion from the prestigious American College of London, she launched her career in India, designing clothes for high-profile fashion stores and advertising campaigns. However, a devastating flood in 2006 destroyed her studio in Mumbai, pushing her to pivot her career towards entrepreneurship. Building upon her father’s essential oils business, Sangita co-founded RawNature, a company that offers a range of botanical grooming solutions for men. The products are cruelty-free, vegan, and free of any artificial colors, artificial fragrances, and harmful chemicals. Sangita utilized her knowledge of aesthetics, natural essential oils, and business management to create a globally recognized brand that stands for quality and sustainability. Despite the challenges she faced, Sangita proved that adversity could be a stepping stone to success. “I guess when one has a shortcoming that one cannot control or change, it is left to be resolved within. And surprisingly, it becomes stronger with adversity,” she says in her interview with Indian media outlet, YourStory. Desai is an inspiration not just for the PWD community but also for female entrepreneurs seeking to succeed in a male-dominated workplace.

The Filipino Entrepreneurial Spirit


Though the Philippine business landscape still has a long way to go in terms of championing inclusivity, many Filipino PWDs are also reshaping the business landscape by their innovations and business goals. As we look at their success stories, we acknowledge not only their entrepreneurial contributions to society but also how their fellow Filipinos can actively support these businesses through purchasing their products and advocating for greater recognition of PWD-owned businesses.

Bodick Quintela is a maestro of the canvas. Marketing his art under the alias Bodickpaints on Instagram and Lazada, Quintela holds a distinct affection for art (The Beat Asia, 2021). As a self-proclaimed "special kid who has a special place for art in his heart," he specializes in depictions of people and animals, occasionally venturing into cut-out paper buildings and clay. His works, primarily characterized by striking uses of color, captivate viewers through careful composition and meticulous attention to detail. This journey that he has embarked on, enveloped in canvas and acrylic paint, allowed him to foster inner tranquility, and hone his creative abilities. Bodick's online store offers cash on delivery, showcasing contemporary art pieces priced between P10,000 and P25,000.

Furthermore, Dianne Salazar, an artisan of dough, is a deaf woman who skillfully balances her roles as a wife, mother, office worker, and businesswoman. Salazar's baking expedition began when she and her husband, Mark, who is also deaf, were inspired to start a business after seeing the passion of their baking-enthusiast friends and family (How This Mom Who Is Deaf Manages a Day Job and a Home-Based Cake Business, 2020). Salazar, with the help of a generous scholarship from her employer, enrolled in a course specially designed for deaf students at Miriam Adult Education (MAE) in Bread and Pastry Production. She excelled in her studies, graduating as valedictorian in 2017. Balancing a weekday job at the Link Center for the Deaf with her weekend baking business, she underscores the importance of continuous learning to enhance one’s skills, thus continually refining her baking techniques and experiments with new confections and icing types, like fondant. This not only allows her to express her artistic talents better, but also to create more confections for various occasions. Salazar also works on improving her business skills, such as negotiating prices and enhancing her business model based on client feedback. Needless to say, her success did not come to an immediate fruition, as she also notes that there are complexities and challenges of being a deaf entrepreneur, particularly when communicating with clients. She informs her clients about her disability and primarily communicates through Facebook Messenger or SMS. In instances where a call is necessary, her daughter and officemates assist her, making her greatly appreciative of the support she receives from her family, friends, and relatives, who regularly refer clients to her business. Just as she too received support, Salazar advocates for deaf individuals to pursue their own dreams and entrepreneurial pursuits. “I strongly believe that deaf people can build their own business like hearing people,” she says in her interview with SmartParenting.com.ph. “They should use their talents, pursue their dreams, and be prepared to handle conflicts and challenges. If they fail, there’s no need to be hard on themselves. For me, failure and challenges are what lead people to become successful.”

Marx Melencio is a master of cyberspace who pursued a bachelor’s degree in Mathematics at the University of the Philippines. , One day, while ordering fried rice at a local food stall, Melencio was gunned down in a random act of violence which left him completely blind (Marguerite de Leon, 2019). Undeterred by this physical and emotional trauma, Marx found the resilience to continue his career journey, driven by the need to support his family and realize his personal ambitions. He quickly mastered the computer and the vast world of the internet, finding strength and support among fellow blind and visually-impaired persons. He attributes much of his success to organizations such as Adaptive Technology for Rehabilitation, Integration, and Empowerment of the Visually Impaired (ATRIEV) and Resources for the Blind, and his ever-supportive wife, Cherry. However, he found that job opportunities were scarce, especially for someone with a disability. To overcome this, Marx and his wife, Cherry, founded Grayscale, a dynamic enterprise offering services in digital marketing, multilingual telesales, and ICT development. Their vision extended beyond personal growth. As a result, both have created job opportunities for other disabled individuals in the Philippines and abroad. Marx's tenacity and vision earned him recognition as one of the country's most inspirational entrepreneurs in 2008. Aware of the swift technological advancements of the modern world, Marx sought to further enhance his skills. He geared his focus towards preparing Filipino PWDs for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, an era marked by 21st-century advancements such as artificial intelligence and advanced robotics. With a grant from the Department of Science and Technology-Philippine Council for Industry, Energy, and Emerging Technology Research and Development, Marx established VIsION AI Labs. His goal is to foster sustainable ecosystems within grassroots communities of PWDs, their families, peers, government, disability advocates, independent developers, and both public and private groups. Marx firmly believes that with unwavering support systems, government initiatives, and collaborative activities, coupled with inclusive diversity policies across public-private partnerships, the potential for PWDs to achieve greatness is boundless.

The Lessons We Can Learn from PWD Entrepreneurs


From these talented individuals, a lot can be learned. Aside from their entrepreneurial accomplishments, they tell a story of how all businesses should strive for accessibility and inclusion of all members of society. The achievements of PWD entrepreneurs serve to challenge and break down stereotypes, demonstrating unequivocally that disability does not equate to inability. In the words of Ms. Arlene Tan-Bantoto, a founding member of Precious Works of Differently Abled Enterprise (PWDe) and mother to an artistic daughter with autism, “PWDs must be given equal rights and opportunities to make contributions to society” (Social Enterprise Showcases Products by PWDs - BusinessWorld Online, 2021). They show that with the right opportunities and support, individuals with disabilities are more than capable of making significant contributions to the economy and society at large. These individuals prove that when given the chance, regardless and because of their disabilities, can indeed thrive and bring fresh, unique perspectives to the table, ultimately enriching the business landscape as a whole.

The views and opinions of the writers and editors do not necessarily reflect or state those of the publication’s nor the organization’s.

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