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DIALOGUE Interviews Kim Cordingly
Is self-employment right for you? More people are choosing self-employment as a viable career choice than ever before. As part of our focus on careers, we contacted Kim Cordingly, a consultant at the Small Business and Self-Employment Service (SBSES), to learn more about the program designed to assist people with disabilities to find self-employment success. Here is what she shared with us in a recent interview conducted by e-mail.
Small Business and Self-Employment Service
The SBSES is a program of the Office of Disability Employment Policy of the U.S. Department of Labor and is located at the Job Accommodation Network (JAN) on the campus of West Virginia University. SBSES consultants provide information, counseling, and referrals about self-employment and small business ownership opportunities for people with disabilities throughout the United States. In addition to SBSES services, callers can access the JAN program, which has provided employers, rehabilitation professionals, and people with disabilities with individualized worksite accommodation solutions and technical assistance regarding the ADA for more than 20 years. Both services are available through JAN's toll-free number and are free of charge.
The SBSES program is growing. Now in its sixth year, SBSES has gone from a pilot project in 1999 with one full-time consultant receiving a few calls per week to become a permanent component of the JAN contract in 2002. It now has a JAN team of three small business consultants who field self-employment inquiries. The SBSES program receives more than 150 calls per month and the SBSES Web site serves as an important source of self-employment information receiving approximately 27,000 Web requests per month. The JAN Web site also offers a wide range of resources for accommodating people with visual impairments as well as other disability-related resources.
SBSES consultants provide individualized services and resources to callers based on specific needs and where they are in the self-employment process. Initially, a customized packet of resources is prepared which includes information on business planning, financing issues, income supports and benefits planning, links to local business technical assistance resources, business information for veterans, as well as referrals to other disability-related programs. The packet is provided in the consumer's preferred format. Consultants then work with callers on an ongoing basis as they move through the self-employment process. A major benefit of being self-employed is that an aspiring entrepreneur can build effective accommodations into the design of the business. When callers contact SBSES, they can also speak with a JAN consultant about accommodation needs.
SBSES works in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Labor's Office of Disability Employment Policy to develop and promote policies that facilitate self-employment options for entrepreneurs with disabilities. As part of this effort, the U.S. Department of Labor and the U.S. Small Business Administration formalized in a Strategic Alliance Memorandum an agreement to "implement a coordinated, interagency initiative to improve opportunities for people with disabilities to be employed by small businesses or to become small business owners. The Initiative begins a cooperative and coordinated five-part federal effort to inform small business owners about the value of, and incentives for, hiring qualified job applicants who have disabilities, and to support individuals with disabilities in acquiring basic skills and resources needed for starting and growing a small business." SBSES is a partner in this effort.
SBSES consultants provide training on self-employment and small business development issues directly to individuals with disabilities and to organizations and professionals who work with individuals with disabilities pursuing these options. Consultants are also developing a publication series that addresses the entrepreneurial pursuits of people with disabilities. The series will continue to expand and provide technical guidance on a range of self-employment issues.
The organizations that work with people with disabilities interested in self-employment options are expanding, but are still a relatively small and specialized group. SBSES makes a concerted effort to work effectively with organizations at the local, state, and national levels in order to nurture self-employment options. Meetings and conferences are held so that there is an exchange of ideas, best practices are identified, and organizations can meet to better serve the needs of people with disabilities.
One of the most unique features of JAN (even after 20 years of service and numerous advances in communication technology) is the effort to maintain personalized and customized services. During regular business hours, phones are always answered by a live person. This personalized service means a great deal to callers. When calling during non-business hours, one can leave a message on the answering machine and receive a call back the next day. Another unique feature is that JAN makes every effort to refer callers to the most appropriate organization, agency, or individual who can help. A priority of JAN is to make sure each caller is directed to the information and services needed.
The SBSES consultants are in the process of renovating the current SBSES Web site. The new site will integrate more closely with the look and features of the current JAN Web site. The new site will also include additional online features that will further enhance the resources and guidance available to entrepreneurs with disabilities. In addition, the SBSES consultants will continue to develop publications and training tools to assist people with disabilities to establish, manage, and succeed in owning their own small businesses.
SBSES consultants can be reached through a toll-free telephone line at 1-800-526-7234 (V/TTY), which is staffed from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. (Eastern Time) Monday through Thursday and from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. (Eastern Time) on Friday. Consultants can also be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information visit the SBSES Web site and check back often.
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