Starting a successful small business as someone living with a disabili – Ausnew Home Care

Starting a successful small business as someone living with a disability

Autism disability Disability Employment Services

It wasn't just Kyal Fairbairn's love of coffee that led to him becoming a passionate coffee cart operator.

He turned to running his own business after tiring of being treated unfairly in the workplace because of his intellectual disability.

"From the beginning, starting up and running my own business was not going to be a simple task," Mr Fairbairn said.

But while it hasn't been easy, he loves it.

"The most satisfactory part of my job is that I am my own boss and that I have the ability to run things the way I want."

A short haired man standing in front of a coffee machine pours milk into a jug
Kyal said he was tired of being treated unfairly in the workplace because of his intellectual disability.(

ABC News: Gian De Poloni


Starting a small business from the ground up would be a daunting task for a non-disabled person, but for those with a disability, the barriers are even greater.

There are more than two million people of working age with a disability.

Of those, less than half – 984,200 – have a job.

And of those with a job, less than one in five runs their own business.

Each disability presents its own opportunities and challenges, whether people are working for themselves or for someone else.

Employment a 'source of great pride'

Alaister Makinson brings passion and a deep interest to his work. He also brings the challenges that go with being a non-verbal autistic person.

He can make audible sounds but can't communicate by talking. It makes it very difficult for him to work in a traditional workplace.

A young man and woman smile and wave standing in front of a white car
Alaister Makinson, pictured here with his carer Kathleen Naisbitt, runs his delivery service, Alaister Delivers.

Speaking through his mother Doreen, Mr Makinson said despite his limited verbal communication, he was often too fast to complete his work in conventional workplaces and easily lost interest.

Many autistic people associate work with stress and expectations around productivity.

They also have to deal with social situations which they can find extremely overwhelming or frustrating.

Depending on the degree of autism, these difficulties are often magnified.

But despite those obstacles, Mr Makinson runs a successful package delivery service, with strong support from his family.

For his mother, Alaister's work is a source of great pride.

"Seeing Alaister's smile and enjoyment from a job well done, meeting new people, going to new places, developing his skills, and seeing his clients happy with his service," his mother said.

Indigenous entrepreneurs fill market gap

Indigenous woman Lizzie Harris is another small business operator.

She embarked on her venture to fill a gap in the support being provided to people like her sister Lisa.

Lisa uses a wheelchair and needs help to eat her food.

A young girl stands next to a girl in a wheelchair with clothing fabrics draped on a manniken.
Sisters Lisa and Lizzie Harris own and operate LandE Designs from their home.(

ABC News: Gian De Poloni


Sometimes it can be messy, but the limited range of clothing protectors available, most of which were child-like bibs, led to Lisa becoming frustrated — and also spawned an idea.

Their business makes clothing protectors unique to their Indigenous heritage.

"We wanted to make clothing protectors that people like Lisa would actually want to use, and that didn't look like baby bibs," her sister said.

The sisters said in future, they would love to work with disabled Aboriginal artists to add custom-made fabric to their repertoire.

Support to start a business

The pair — as well as Kyal and Alaistair – are supported by the Valued Lives Foundation which helps people with disabilities start businesses.

Nadege Anderson oversees the organisation's micro-enterprise program, a business structure that is relatively simple to set up and requires minimal investment.

At the moment, she has a waiting list of more than 50 people.

"We believe that everyone has the right to work and should have access to flexible and tailored supports to enable people to build their capacity and skills to gain meaningful employment," Ms Anderson said.

A woman in a green floral dress poses in front of a garden
Nadege Anderson oversees the micro-enterprise project at the Valued Lives Foundation.(

ABC News: Gian De Poloni


Her organisation helps people with all aspects of starting a micro-enterprise, including attracting a customer base, marketing, promotion and legal processes.

"This means that there are less surprises and our micro-enterprise owners have the time to fully understand and be invested in their businesses," she said.

Ms Anderson said some participants were prepared for the hard work, while others learnt there was more to operating their business than they initially anticipated.

"For those disabled small business owners, they learn that the experience of starting and operating a business allows them to develop a broad range of skills and importantly is an avenue for connection and economic participation within their communities," she said.

She said the biggest highlight of her job was seeing micro-enterprise owners' confidence grow.

"There is a real sense of achievement as business owners begin to sell their products or services and they receive overwhelmingly positive feedback from customers," she said.

It's a feeling Mr Fairbairn knows well.

"I love that I serve my customers a product that I know is good quality and that I have produced on my own," he said.

"I want to be completely independent and to eventually be able to provide for my family."

Source: ABC

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