The Truth About Running a Business as a Person with Disabilities

Alliah Czarielle avatar

by Alliah Czarielle |

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These past few days have been extremely busy for my husband Jared and me. We decided to rent a couple of commercial booths at the barangay (or district) hall for the duration of our town’s weeklong fiesta — one dry goods stall for us and one for my cousin’s cupcakes. Since Jared’s family has a lot of unused and discarded items lying around the house, we decided to collect these and sell them at bargain prices (much like a garage sale).

Aside from our garage sale at the barangay hall, Jared and I continue to attend to our online business, an Instagram-based store where we sell handcrafted gemstone jewelry, some of which we design ourselves. In addition to our online presence, we’ve put up a sign on our booth to let people in our barangay know about our business. So far, we’ve gotten quite a few inquiries and picked up a follower or two. We haven’t sold any items on the spot, but that’s fine, considering that the people in our area are not our target market.

Juggling a physical store and a social media presence can be incredibly difficult. First, you have to dedicate 100 percent of your focus to the customers checking out your stocks on-site. You must greet them, assist them in choosing items, process payments, and give change while keeping an eye on the rest of your merchandise. At the same time, you need to be responsive to clients’ queries online. It’s a tough feat to manage especially when there are only two (occasionally three) people manning both online and physical stores. Much of the time, one of the stores is inevitably sacrificed. This week our online presence suffered, and we couldn’t be as responsive as we’d like to be.

Running a business with my husband’s disability and my mental illness, it’s disheartening to occasionally encounter unreasonable clients who demand what they purchased right now, even resorting to bullying tactics such as speaking in angry tones, using words to shame you as a seller, and complaining when you don’t respond to their requests immediately. We need to conserve our energy so we can continue to work on both channels.

The sad truth is that these people may not realize that they are interacting with actual human beings because all they see is our corporate “front.” It often feels as though they only see our products, but not the services we provide (let alone the people who work hard to provide these services).

If there’s one thing I wish I could tell my clients, it’s that a great deal of effort goes into every order they place with us. I can spend hours drawing a piece of jewelry to ensure that the manufacturer interprets the design correctly. Meanwhile, Jared lies on the floor in various awkward positions, risking potential back bleeds (thankfully his muscles are strong!) so that we can get nice pictures to display on our Instagram feed. My depression and anxiety sometimes get in the way of my sleeping schedule. Some days I wake up late, and I’m left with just a few hours to prepare packages for sending out. These details may seem trivial to other sellers, but to us — a person with a disability and a partner with mental illness — these are significant obstacles we must overcome every day to keep our business running smoothly.

Earlier today, Jared shared with me that hearing excessive demands from our customers can chip at his already fragile self-esteem. As a person with a disability, he often feels inadequate because of his physical limitations. Being bombarded with impossible demands from impatient customers makes him feel even less capable.

In the several months we’ve been doing business, we’ve learned that it’s not possible to please every customer. We’re also learning to accept that impatient and demanding customers are part of an entrepreneur’s life. At this point, we want to be more empathetic and recognize that others might also be going through something difficult circumstances. My husband has his physical issues whereas I struggle with my mental health. An angry customer might have had a rough day at work, or maybe her life is in chaos and buying jewelry is her way of coping.


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