Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Microenterprises

Since our son J is part of the Regional Center System here in California, we receive their periodic publication called "Communicator". This is a newsletter that has all kinds of updates about local activities and occasionally has other stories of interest.
This month, the cover story is "Microenterprises: A New Way for Consumers to do Business". This brief article discusses the microenterprise - defined as a business with five or fewer employees that can utilize initial capital of $35,000 or less. Think of things like minor repair operations, cleaning services, pet sitting or training, gift basket creation, local tech support, etc. The point of the article is that this type of business venture creates an exciting opportunity for individuals with developmental disabilities to strike out "on their own". Of course, on one's own can be defined in many different ways, as different people have highly variable needs for support.

The article goes on to detail some of the necessary areas of skill acquisition and interest determination that would allow for a successful outcome in a microenterprise.

I think the thing that struck me most about this article was the closing paragraph, as it seamlessly integrates my acquired views of both personal fulfillment/responsibility and the need to provide ample opportunities for all people to realize their potential:
"People have a universal desire to experience and express their dignity, meaning, and self-worth through creatively harnessing their skills and talents in volunteer or compensated work activities. Microenterprises and self-employment is a dynamic vehicle to make that happen."

10 comments:

Camille said...

I think that the mom of the young man who made the film "Normal People Scare Me" said (on CNN) that he was the first recipient of this award in California... His business involves lecturing and showing his film, I think. Anyway, sounds good.

But, I think if this same young man was living in Northern California he'd get not a penny because he's not "really autistic" (now). He's just a fake autistic by upstate RC standards.

The RCs won't accept "high functioning" adults like Taylor here. No way.

abfh said...

The thing that struck me most about recommending microenterprises for people with developmental disabilities is the underlying assumption that such people aren't likely to be hired for more conventional work.

Ending employment discrimination should be the main focus of efforts to improve opportunity for people with cognitive differences. Teaching autistics how to be good domestic servants (I presume that's what is meant by cleaning services), is not a realistic or a respectful answer to the underemployment problem; rather, we need to improve the corporate world's awareness of the value of all kinds of diversity, and we need to strengthen laws against disability discrimination.

Steve D said...

Camille -
Yes, the Regional Centers are notorious for witholding services. Not good.

ABFH -
Thanks for commenting here.
One thing I love about discussions like this is the opportunity to gain perspective. To wit:
I saw this topic from almost exactly the opposite perspective as you.
I am biased perhaps in that I am a business owner, but I have always held that being an entrepeneur/business owner is an admirable thing. Here I see encouragement to take the intiative and not allow developmental disabilities to 'pigeon-hole' your set of options in life. In other words, while you perceived a slight in "the underlying assumption that such people aren't likely to be hired for more conventional work", I see instead an underlying assumption of "You can do whatever you want, and here's a good way to get started!"
Though I failed to include it in my post, I also viewed this as a progressive circumstance. In other words, once someone is "in business", the sky is the limit.
Lastly, I don't feel that people who provide cleaning services are "good domestic servants". Quite the contrary, I view anyone who is working productively as being an asset to society, almost regardless of the activity. Like I have sometimes said:
If all the lawyers and insurance agents in the country ceased work for 3 days, no one would notice. If all the janitors and garbage collectors did so, people would notice immediately.

None of this argues against your overall point that "we need to improve the corporate world's awareness of the value of all kinds of diversity, and we need to strengthen laws against disability discrimination." as I do agree with this completely. But I do not agree that microenterprises are a "downgrade" from working in the corporate world - not at all.

abfh said...

I didn't mean to suggest that you personally intended any class-based slights, but I do think that the "pigeonhole" you mentioned is a social construct caused by discriminatory expectations, rather than a natural result of developmental differences themselves.

Years ago, a person of color in the United States was likely to end up "self-employed" as a day laborer or a cleaning lady or some such low-status job because no office or factory manager would consider employing him or her in a regular job. While that might not have been what the person who wrote the microenterprise article was thinking, it is what has happened to marginalized minorities throughout the world, from India's "untouchables" to Europe's gypsies.

Phil Schwarz said...

I think ABFH is right, but I don't see ending employment discrimination as mutually exclusive with a *good* microenterprise-incubation program that is more than a channel into low-status jobs.

I think that if governmental and social-service agencies are *serious* about fostering microenterprises as career pathways for people with developmental disabilities, then they ought to put together and make available facilities and services that truly serve to incubate: office space and infrastructure, assistance and training on administrative, marketing, legal, and financial aspects of running and *growing* a business, etc.

By pooling the resources that microentrepreneurs need to have in place and are likely to have difficulty securing and establishing on their own, and by coupling those pooled resources with training and advising on steps to take as the microenterprises begin to outgrow the pooled resources, a microenterprise-support program could really produce successful businesses and successful transitions into *running* businesses for many people who would otherwise be dissuaded from attempting to do so by the barriers that securing and establishing those resources present.

Phil Schwarz said...

I think ABFH is right, but I don't see ending employment discrimination as mutually exclusive with a *good* microenterprise-incubation program that is more than a channel into low-status jobs.

I think that if governmental and social-service agencies are *serious* about fostering microenterprises as career pathways for people with developmental disabilities, then they ought to put together and make available facilities and services that truly serve to incubate: office space and infrastructure, assistance and training on administrative, marketing, legal, and financial aspects of running and *growing* a business, etc.

By pooling the resources that microentrepreneurs need to have in place and are likely to have difficulty securing and establishing on their own, and by coupling those pooled resources with training and advising on steps to take as the microenterprises begin to outgrow the pooled resources, a microenterprise-support program could really produce successful businesses and successful transitions into *running* businesses for many people who would otherwise be dissuaded from attempting to do so by the barriers that securing and establishing those resources present.

Steve D said...

Hi Phil, and thanks for commenting.

I also agree with ABFH, though I am far less well-versed in the historical aspects and socio-economic trends than she is and therefore missed considering many of her valid points when I set to write this post.

As far as your recommendation, I also tend to disagree, but only in the execution. Pooling resources sounds great 'from afar', but rarely produces the desired effect of reducing costs or increasing impact. I would prefer to see more of a 'mentor' program in which individual entrepeneurs are aided throughout the process of business development by an 'expert' or 'patron', but are able to succeed in their venture without conforming to a blueprinted action plan. Considering the incredible diversity of individuals that exist, I harbor skepticism about the ability of any beaurocractic-based approach being able to flex to meet numerous needs.

abfh said...

A mentoring program for young people interested in starting a business would indeed be helpful, and mentors who were themselves autistic could give some insight into how they dealt with various issues.

BTW, my father, who is autistic, owns a small business and has been fairly successful, although when he was younger he had a lot of trouble recognizing when people were out to cheat him.

Steve D said...

"A mentoring program for young people interested in starting a business would indeed be helpful, and mentors who were themselves autistic could give some insight into how they dealt with various issues."
Thank you for that, ABFH, and when J is old enough I sincerely hope to find someone who fits this description.
And as you mention your father's specific struggles, I am reminded of a post I wrote in June 2007:
"Trust-Busters, as they are not yet a subject of research as relates to Autism, are less firmly established but likely also play a role in ASD. The term loosely refers to behavioral tendencies or characteristics which lead one person to a lower level of trust in another. Some examples of this would be: sarcastic tone, shifty eyes, over-urgency of communication, promising more than can realistically be delivered, etc. Trust-busters are built into the neurology of the observer, not the performer. Trust-busters, unlike MNs, are not firmly qualified in the field of science. I have to ask my readers to take a leap of faith with me here, and assume that MN dysfunction can lead to a lesser ability to perceive commonly accepted trust-busters. By not easily perceiving, via the MN system, when a person is clearly lying during an interpersonal exchange, the “trust-busting” system is impaired in function as well."

Steve D said...

In my previous comment, "MN" signifies "Mirror Neurons".