Graduation season is in full swing, and for those with disabilities transitioning to adulthood, traditional barriers still exist in securing employment.
Advocates in Iowa say entrepreneurship serves as a good solution. The Bureau of Labor Statistics said nearly 10% of workers with a disability are self-employed, which is higher than the general population.
Maureen Schletzbaum, operator of Straw Hat Farms outside Des Moines along with her daughter Marissa, who has Down syndrome, sells flowers and fresh produce. Maureen said their business was inspired after Marissa finished high school as a way to nurture their daughter’s drive for independence in a rural setting with few opportunities.
“She has a lot of abilities, and as long as she has the correct support, she can really do a variety of things,” Schletzbaum explained.
She pointed out Marissa excels in customer relations and attention to detail. The Iowa Development Disabilities Council urges young adults and their families to further explore their interests and carry them over into self-employment, especially if they encounter job-search challenges. Vocational Rehabilitation Services is considered a top resource in getting started.
Marissa, who learned horticulture through FFA, said she loves engaging with customers and explaining the varieties of produce they sell.
“Cucumbers, zucchini, cabbage,” Marissa outlined.
Brooke Lovelace, executive director of the Iowa Developmental Disabilities Council, said while they still encourage business owners to be more inclusive in their hiring, entrepreneurship is a good avenue for those with disabilities to tap into their creativity and skill set.
“There’s some examples of folks running their own coffee shop, or they like to bake, and so they’re doing a small bakery,” Lovelace stated.
She also encouraged residents to support the entrepreneurs by becoming regular customers.