Creating a Path to Independence 
for Persons with Disabilities
Frances Center 
for Customized Employment, Inc.

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About Frances Center for Customized Employment, Inc.
Opening in summer 2012, the Frances Center's primary service strategies are focused on self-employment for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. 

The current model in our vocational rehabilitation system is one of community-based employment.  While this model certainly has its merits, we find that it restricts workers from the very thing it aims to do-- offer self-directed choice of careers!  At FCCE, we will not peg-hole our clients into what society has decided are suitable jobs for people in this population.  Like any other worker in our country, we want our clients to be free to choose self-employment as a career with as much or as little interaction with the general public as they desire.  

While many agencies today are offering job 'development' and job 'coaching', at FCCE we offer JOBS!!  Every client of FCCE has the opportunity to IMMEDIATELY become a self-employed entrepreneur- walking the path to independence!  Our AbiliMall model offers clients the ability to have a functioning store within our mall featuring items or servies they decide to offer.  This model is successful because it offers the client control of their business and their workload.  For the client that must have schedule flexability due to the nature of their disability, traditional employment is most likely not an option as they could be subject to termination for having to miss work for reasons beyond their control.  This is also true for the clients that, based on the nature of their disability, are uncomfortable around people they do not know or just simply prefers to not be in the mainstream public.  FCCE clients have the benefit of knowing if they cannot be at their store daily or need time away for personal reasons that their store remains open and working FOR THEM.  

At FCCE, our clients are given the choice to interact with the general public as much or as little as they desire.  We offer assistance from a licensed social worker on staff with social communications and interactions.  This supported interaction provides a real-life setting where clients can work on social skills at their own pace rather than be forced to deal with the public in high pressure situations.  

Clients are supported as they begin working and managing their own store.  At FCCE, there is NO sheltered workshop environmnts and NO sub-minimum wages paid to clients.  As business owners, clients are free to work the hours they choose and channel their business as they see fit. As they learn the in's and out's of self-employment, they develop their own personal network of supporters and partners to insure their business success for years to come.  


Implementing self employment for individuals with significant disabilities involves minimizing the fears of the prospective business-owner, as well as the rehabilitation and local small business development professionals who assist them. The success rate of small business is surprisingly high, despite widely accepted folklore to the contrary. The U.S. Small Business Administration reports that over 79% of small businesses are still operating after the initial eight years. And, the long term trend in employment is smaller firms. Self employment and small business are a defining characteristic of America’s economic landscape, and present a tremendous opportunity for those most challenged by the competitive labor market.
Still, many people remain skeptical regarding the viability of individuals with significant disabilities starting, operating, and managing a business. The following concerns and questions are often raised when proposing business ownership for and with individuals with significant disabilities: 

Question: What types of assessments are best to determine if someone is right for self employment?

Answer: We do not believe in assessments as a form of predicting someone’s suitability for business ownership. There is no data existing that justifies such expensive time-wasting. Assistance not assessment! 

Formal paper and pencil tests, vocational evaluations, and assessments that measure interests, vocational skills and traits, or that suggest predictive validity in certain careers through psychometrics are not particularly useful or advised in self employment. Person-centered evaluative approaches to identifying unique gifts, talents, learning styles, hopes and dreams, financial opportunities through Social Security benefits, family support, and other individualized inventories work best.

Question: If a person cannot read or write, how can they possibly be expected to operate a profitable business?

Answer: Operating a small business is a matter of degree. Many small business owners perform all or most of the necessary functions, but many do not. Writing a business plan, for instance, is outside the expertise of many entrepreneurs, so Small Business Development Centers and a host of business consultants exist to assist. Literacy is not a prerequisite for business ownership. Inventiveness and support focused on accomplishing particular tasks is required. For instance, if someone cannot write, but must complete invoices at the point of product sale, perhaps customers can fill out their own receipts; a touch screen computer at the sales desk can use a graphical interface to guide the owner (or customer); or an employee or business partner can manage these tasks.

Question: How long can we expect a small business to last?

Answer: The life expectancy of small businesses varies considerably. Most businesses change over time, adapting to market changes, customer preferences, the health of the owner, and in the presence of other opportunities. Many small business owners take on new products, move to different locations, sell out and use the profits to start new ventures, so longevity is largely a function of the business model and the owner’s plans or opportunities.

Question: Should families be involved in someone’s small business?

Answer: Family support is evident in many small businesses. This is a most critical natural support and is traditional in America, and across the globe. Families hire sons and daughters, make them partners in existing businesses; launch new enterprises with them, or otherwise loan or give them money to support a start-up or expansion. Many American families send their non-disabled children on to college with savings they put away over 20 years. Similar planning and saving should be a part of any family that can afford such expenditures.

Question: How small a business is too small?

Answer: A business should generate revenue for the owner and employees, if any. Typically businesses grow in stages, as do profits. A careful approach should be used to generate enough money to live on, while guaranteeing the safety net of various benefits systems such as Social Security and subsidized housing until such time as these resources are no longer required. Individuals facing unemployment or sheltered employment almost always earn more money in their businesses than the national average earned through sheltered work.

Question: Can a business possibly sustain interruptions caused when a person is medically fragile or requires numerous break periods for medical and therapeutic treatments?

Answer: A small business naturally accommodates a host of personal needs. Some business owners close on Wednesday afternoon to allow for golf games; others close Wednesday afternoons for physical therapy. With the AbiliMall model, the client's store continues to operate on a daiy basis whether or not the client is physically present, allowing the revenue flow to continue.  

Question: Entrepreneurs are known to work 100 hours a week; to do it all from sales to bookkeeping. How is my adult child going to know how to do this coming out of a special education resource classroom?

Answer: Many business owners work long, hard hours; many do not. Profitable businesses allow owners to hire others to do much of the work, and most small businesses, in reality, do not take 100 hours a week to operate. Still, the work can be challenging especially to someone who has been deprived a work ethic through unpaid “experiences” that devalue work and the worker, who has improper work supports, or who has been sheltered from typical expectations of career achievement. At FCCE, our clients outsource the bulk of the day-to-day operations of their store as they learn how to take-over those aspects on their own.  

Question: There are few jobs in rural America. How can a business survive in such a depressed environment?

Answer: Despite the folklore, rural communities are rich in opportunity. People still buy goods and services locally, and products produced in rural areas can often be sold in more populated communities. The challenge remains one of matching a person’s dreams and talents to a marketable idea. Taking a person-centered approach leverages the skills and passions of the individual and matches it to community needs. The person, and not the market, however, always come first in order to insure commitment to the process. There are always unmet needs and uncompleted work in all communities. Matching a person who can do the work or fill the need with the customers is the challenge that is proving successful in rural communities worldwide.

Question: Why not go to the sheltered workshop first and learn work and social skills? 

Answer: Using a sheltered workshop to teach valued work and social skills might be like using a Ouija Board to improve team communication, to paraphrase management consultant Don Blohoiak. Segregated settings, especially community monuments such as workshops, stigmatize people with disabilities and make them stand out as different and incompetent. These facilities, and any other segregated models be they recreational or educational, interrupt the natural flow of personal interaction and activity common in communities. Learning valued work and social skills occurs only in typical environments.

Question: Many students and adults with disabilities appear unmotivated by money. How can we expect them to run a business? 

Answer: Many students and adults with significant disabilities have not been exposed to family or professional expectations of career success. Bright futures are seldom anticipated by medical personnel who advise parents of infants with disabilities, so prenatal dreams of children growing up to be firefighters, doctors, or plumbers yield to the realities of speech and other therapy schedules. Transition aged students, if they receive any inclusive vocational training, are often exposed to entry level jobs through unpaid work experience. Unpaid work experience can be especially helpful to students, families, and educators in discovering individual talents and passions. However, unpaid work can be somewhat unnatural and demotivating if these are the only opportunities offered. Most youth who have paper routes, flip burgers at MacDonald’s, or babysit, or mow lawns expect to be paid and draw a critical connection between effort and reward. Eliminating pay is counterproductive. Furthermore, earnings in sheltered workshops average much less than a dollar per hour, effectively breaking any logical connection between work and financial reward. Creating opportunities to use personal talents, to explore various work environments, and to learn the connection between effort and pay is essential for all people.