Supporting business owners with disabilities

While no business went unscathed by the national lockdown, small businesses felt the brunt of it. Fortunately, one organisation stepped up to help some businesses owned by quadriplegics and paraplegics

As South Africans were asked to stay home, many businesses were forced to close. For small or new businesses, a month or more with no income can be fatal. Fortunately, for some business owners who are quadriplegics and paraplegics, there was some relief courtesy of the Quadriplegic and Paraplegic Charitable Trust of South Africa (QPCTSA).

The Trust was established in 2012 to raise funding and resources to invest in the entrepreneurial and economic development of quadriplegics and paraplegics. Specifically, it provides start-up and growth capital, but also provides guidance and mentorship where it is required. QPCTSA supports businesses in a variety of industries from agriculture to car washes and locksmiths. The Trust also aims to uplift previously disadvantaged individuals with 75 percent of its beneficiaries made up of black persons.

Knowing the obstacles facing entrepreneurs with disabilities – especially with a lockdown bringing the economy near to a standstill – the QPCTSA made funding available to support small business owners during lockdown.

Nine businesses benefited from the relief services provided during the lockdown with more than
R150 000 provided by the Trust. These businesses were given three months after which the Trust requires feedback to decide whether continued assistance is needed. While the funding from QPCTSA was a great relief, these businesses still need your support!

West Rand Locksmith and Number Plates

Deon Nel

Deon Nel opened his businesses, West Rand Locksmith and Number Plates, in 1987 as a qualified locksmith. Tragedy struck in 2004 when Nel was diagnosed with a terminal motor neuron disease, which led to paralysis and a loss of his voice. By 2008, Nel was unable to consume food or liquids through his mouth nor breath without assistance.

Fortunately, his son, Jason, graduated high school in 2004 and became his father’s voice and hands. He qualified as a locksmith to run his father’s business. Jason has not taken a salary as the income only covers the overheads and Nel’s medical aid.

Nel shares: “Most difficult thing is not being able to go into the shop to help Jason or to talk. It is frustrating as people still insist even though my wife, Bernice, is my voice.

Deon Nel was fortunate to have his son, Jason Nel (above), take over the management of his business after he was diagnosed.

“She has been in tears on many occasions as people don’t understand some disabilities rob you of your voice. I am a quadriplegic and can only move my eyes, but my brain is still 100 percent. It is just locked in my body,” he adds.

For this small, family-owned and run business, the funding was a “god-sent”. As the business was shut during lockdown, there was no daily income, which meant devastation for a family that already lives from hand to mouth.

“Life support is very expensive, and I can’t live without power or medical aid. The grant enabled us to pay a few overheads and open doors for a few hours a day to provide essential services,” Nel explains.

Beauty Academy International

Joy Duffield started her business in 2002 after working as a beautician for many years. She explains: “I got to a point in my career where I felt I needed to grow and do something for myself – become more independent. So, I diverted my career from doing various therapies to sharing my knowledge with others by establishing a beauty therapy training centre.”

By 2005, Duffield bought property to expand the school. However, the same year, she broke her neck. Fortunately, she was still able to expand her businesses in 2006 with a distribution centre to supply products and equipment to the hair and beauty industry.

There are many benefits to entrepreneurship, such as making your own hours. For Duffield, this career choice provided even more freedom after her accident.

“For me, as a person with quadriplegia, it works really well, as I do not have to answer to anybody if I’m not at work due to any health or quadriplegic body management issues,” she explains. “As difficult as it may be, it is great to make one’s own decisions. Ideally, it is financially beneficial.

“It is also incredibly rewarding when you reflect back and take note of what you have accomplished. Having my own business has definitely given me a purpose in my life as a quadriplegic. I have something to get up for each day!”

It does come with its own challenges. Duffield found the COVID-19 pandemic humbled her as it demonstrated how quickly a business could be cash-strapped.

“With the coronavirus, our doors closed for six weeks, which meant devastation with zero income for that time, however, basic expenses remained the same, for example, more than 20 staff members to pay,” she notes. “We had ordered a large amount of stock just prior to lockdown, which had to be paid. But, with the business closed, nothing was sold.

“Even though we have now been allowed to open our doors, the hair and beauty industry, who are our customers, is still shut down, which means our figures are still down dramatically,” she adds.

Fortunately, with funding from QPCTSA, Duffield was able to secure some income for her business. She explains: “We have always been a supplier of certain personal protective equipment (PPE) such as masks, gloves and sanitisers. By the time lockdown started, we were completely sold out.

“We used the funding to purchase PPE as soon as it became available. This enabled us to open as an essential service provider for our industry and the general public. We are working limited hours with a skeleton staff, which has made a small, but definite, difference,” she concludes.

Access Universal Solutions

Mandy Latimore started her own business in the 80s so that she could create her own working environment. “I always felt like I was giving 150 percent of myself, while my employer took advantage,” she says.

She changed her profession and started working alone as she found it less stressful. The reward for her, of course, is that she now reaps all the rewards of her efforts. “The amount of effort that you put into the business is for your reward. You can’t not appreciate your own effort,” she says.

As is common with entrepreneurs or small business owners, a salary is often an afterthought, which comes with its own challenges. “I have always put myself last when it comes to my monthly remuneration,” Latimore elaborates.

“The constant stress of ensuring that you create sufficient funds each month to cover the business and personal expenses is quite tiring. As a result, I was always reticent to take extra funds for the “little extras” like a weekend away or new clothes. I wanted to ensure that there were enough funds for the coming months,” she says.

As a lone businesswoman, from what is considered politically as a privileged background, Latimore didn’t qualify for the various relief schemes offered by many banks and the government. So, when the brunt of the lockdown hit, she had nowhere to turn.

“I was unable to make use of any the relief packages offered by these institutions. My consultancy has two aspects: Training staff and Universal Access Assessments and reports. Due to the lockdown, both of these sectors were closed down physically and will probably remain very difficult to get going once the country opens up due to the financial stress that the entire world is finding at present,” she explains.

Fortunately, the QPCTSA funding provided her with a life raft. With the funds, Latimore will take a course on online training, which includes how to instruct online and develop training material for online platforms. Some of it will also go towards funding her medical aid – an essential service of people with disabilities.

For more information or to make use of her services, contact Latimore at mandy@universalsolutions.co.za.

MSI Shoe Shine and Services

Anda Mthulu started his company in 2016 as he wanted to be self-employed and create job opportunities for people with disabilities. He enjoys earning his income through what he enjoys but finds it challenging to play so many different roles in his business.

Anda Mthulu started his shoe-shine business to assist other people with disabilities. He was able to keep all his staff on with the funding provided by the Trust.

“The challenges of being a business owner, especially a small business like mine, is that you have to be a bookkeeper, administrator, front line service provider and do everything in the company as technology, human and financial resources are constrained,” he explains.

With the pandemic, Mtuli wasn’t able to work. Fortunately, with the help of QPCTSA, he was able to keep his staff on.

“The funding sustained our business by keeping the talent and staff. This business is about people and, without the right people, a business can’t grow and mature,” he says.

Visit the MSI Shoe Shine and Services website at www.msiservices.co.za or the Facebook page at Master Shiner Invigorator.

Travel with Renè

Renè Moses started her business in 2009 as she realised the need in the tourism market. She enjoys setting her own standards, working from home and deciding how hard to work each day.

“Should a medical emergency arise, I am in the comfort of my home to deal with the issue, no explaining to a ‘boss’,” she says. She notes it can be tough managing businesses – especially practicing self-control with her finances.

“I firmly believe my business and personal bank accounts need to be kept separate. People often make the mistake of spending at will then when times are tough the business suffers,” Moses explains.

With the tourism industry closed, Moses had no income with pre-booked services refunded. The QPCTSA funding allowed her to pay insurance, vehicle tracker and other business expenses while the industry is on hold. Grateful, Moses says: “Without it, I would not have survived.”

Disability Info South Africa

Alan Downey knew after his accident that it would be difficult to return to work. He wanted to earn an income and work from home, so, he started a small graphic design and printing business. In 2015, he saw the need for a one-stop information support service for people with disabilities, and, in 2017, Disability info South Africa (DISA) was officially launched. For Downey, the benefit of being a business owner is doing something that you are passionate about.

The experience has taught him self-discipline and given him a great sense of accomplishment. While it might mean doing something you love, a small business does require some personal sacrifices. There is also a challenge of managing unforeseen circumstances such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

“You may be forced to think outside the box and reinvent your business to come up with products, services and ideas that are relevant to the current situation that people find themselves in. This may be extremely difficult, but can be very beneficial in the long term, if done correctly,” Downey explains. DISA provides a free service with assistance from companies, organisations and clubs who advertise. As many of these businesses closed for lockdown, DISA had a loss of income.

“Through the relief of funding from the Trust, we were able to supplement the income that we got from the advertising so that we could get through this difficult stage and continue to develop new sections and pages on the DISA website, including a page on COVID-19,” Downey says.

“We would therefore like to thank the Trust for assisting DISA and the various other companies during this difficult period,” he concludes. To view the DISA information site, visit www.disabilityinfosa.co.za.

Siphola La Trading

Back in 2006, Sipho Mdletshe established his business Siphola La Trading, which was only fully operational and registered in 2015. He started his business after realising there is a need for adapted vehicles.

Sipho Mdletshe in his workstation where he adapts vehicles for people with disabilities.

“I noticed that most people with disabilities are not driving since they don’t have a driver’s licence,” he explains. “Even if they have a licence, they don’t get car s that are adapted for their needs. Some end up requesting people to drive their cars. I decided to close that gap by providing the service of adapting their cars by using my previous skills of motor mechanic and engineering.”

Mdletshe enjoys that he can work from home, be his own boss and support his family. Prejudices from vehicle owners and motor dealers make it difficult for him to find work. Lockdown has meant even less work as he was unable to travel to clients or have vehicles brought to him. In addition, customers have less budget for hand controls.

Support from the QPCTSA allowed Mdletshe to start repairing starter motors and alternators as well as hot plates, kettles, and irons. To make use of services provided by Siphola La Trading or to find out more, visit the website at www.sipholala.co.za.

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