Disability and Entrepreneurship

About the Author

Katie is a full-spectrum doula and photographer based in Southern Ontario, Canada. She focuses on providing support to pregnant folks who are young, LGBTQ+ and/or disabled and documents love stories on the side. She lives with endometriosis, inappropriate sinus tachycardia, C-PTSD, ADHD and hypermobility. You can find out more about her work on her Instagram pages, @spectrumdoula and @katienelson.photography.

Like many other disabled and chronically ill folks, last year I found myself needing to become my own boss full-time after the corporate world wouldn’t properly accommodate my needs. Self-employment is great in theory – it allows for flexible schedules, last-minute changes, and personalized accommodations – but there is one thing we don’t often talk about; navigating the world of entrepreneurship as a disabled person.

As a photographer and full-spectrum doula, I found myself trying to hide my disabilities as much as possible from my clients and colleagues. My own internalized ableism (and experiences in the corporate world) told me that I would lose clients or seem less capable of doing my job if my clients knew the whole truth. And while there may have been some unfortunate truth to this theory, I came to realize that I deserved better than to hide such a massive aspect of my life, after all, that was why I had given up on the corporate world in the first place.

I had been pushing my body far past its limits and it was no longer sustainable. I would try to do everything my colleagues were doing because I thought that’s how you became successful. I came to learn that if I didn’t prioritize my health and boundaries, nobody else could do it for me.

I started opening up about life with chronic illnesses on my business pages and slowly began to build a community of folks who understood the journey. I found that the more I was open about all aspects of my work, I would attract clients who were more than willing to accommodate my needs.

I started slowly by creating work boundaries. I decided that powering through 8-hour wedding days was no longer an option, so I no longer accept photography jobs that require more than 4-6 hours of shooting. I started opening up to my clients about when I may need to take breaks and when I may call in a backup for birth support. I started having conversations with them about how they may see me using a variety of braces and aids, as well as taking medications while on the job.

And just like that – it got easier. I no longer had to manage the façade on top of running my businesses. I no longer had to pretend that I wasn’t in pain or in need of assistance. I could create more genuine connections with my clients because I wasn’t hiding behind the mask of who I thought they wanted me to be.

While we don’t owe anyone our stories, there is something to be said about owning all aspects of yourself while running a business. If a client isn’t willing to accommodate or learn how we can best work together – then maybe they just aren’t the right client for me!