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Opinion: Entrepreneurs with a disability need support to compete - and it's just not there

Award-winning photographer, Eddie Hennessy, says his business gave him self worth but lack of support will shutter it.

Eddie Hennessy

LACK OF SUPPORT is forcing me to wind down my business as a self-employed photographer.

After a stroke caused by an undiagnosed heart condition when I was 33 left me unable to read or write, affected my speech and weakened the right side of my body, I set up a rehabilitative photography business with help from Headway Ireland. 

I got back my self worth. It wasn’t about the money at all as I didn’t make any money at the start.  

My disability allowance was changed to partial capacity benefit which reduced it by €50 a week. I decided to take the hit in order to improve my health, thinking maybe when my business develops, I can make money.

It took a lot of hard work but I built up my brand and in 2018 I was voted ‘Wedding Photographer of the Year’ by a national wedding magazine. 

Source: Eddie Hennessy

As a disabled entrepreneur, I am expected to compete with non-disabled competitors but it is not a level playing field.

If the paralympians competed with non-disabled people, they wouldn’t have a chance. But in the business world, we are supposed to compete with non-disabled people.

After a year of working, I realised my company would not be viable without support. This was not down to lack of demand for my work. It was because my costs were 30% higher than other photographers as I had to hire someone to help me with things that my disability wouldn’t let me do.  

  • (Read more here on how you can support a major Noteworthy project into the impact that the pandemic will have on jobs for people with disabilities.)

I never looked for support before my stroke but in order to keep my business, I need a personal assistant to help me with admin, drive me to weddings and carry my gear.  

Over the past few years, I had numerous meetings with social welfare as well as the Local Enterprise Office, and contact with departments and Ministers. All with little success.

I feel ignored. I want to work and contribute to society but lack of support rather than my disability is preventing me from doing that.

It’s different for self-employed disabled business owners. If I was working for another photographer, the Government would help to pay my wages and training.

Over 52,000 people with disabilities were self-employed in Ireland, according to the 2016 census. This is just over 8% of people in Ireland who stated they had a disability.

I contributed to a report on entrepreneurship for people with disabilities by TU Dublin which was published earlier this year. In this report it found that there was a misalignment in current policy using the example that the National Disability Inclusion Strategy mentions employment 34 times but does not mention self-employment. 

It also notes that people with disabilities face additional and distinctive challenges when becoming self-employed compared to non-disabled people.  

Source: Eddie Hennessy

Last month, in response to a Sinn Féin parliamentary question where my lack of support was highlighted, Employment Affairs and Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty said “there does not seem to be a proper number of supports for people who have a disability and are entrepreneurs”. 

In a follow-up written response, Doherty’s department said “the provision of personal assistant services for persons with disabilities is a matter which comes under the Health Service Executive (HSE)”.

Before the pandemic, the Government made a €20 million cut to disability services in the 2020 HSE Service Plan. With the pressure of Covid-19, I am not hopeful that my situation will improve any time soon. 

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I do not want my disability to hold me back but current strategy is preventing me from reaching my full potential. 

I have weddings booked for the next two years and will slowly wind down at that stage. If the Government doesn’t provide me with relevant support, I can’t see a future for my business.

Eddie Hennessy is an award-winning wedding photographer based in County Cork.

SHUTTING THE DOOR Investigation  

With the lowest rate of employment for people with disabilities in the EU, Ireland does not have a good track record in this area. Now with the added economic stresses of Covid-19, many campaigners are worried that the situation will only get worse.

The Noteworthy team want to do an in-depth investigation into whether the pandemic will make it even harder for people with disabilities to get jobs in Ireland and find out more about barriers encountered in terms of employment and entrepreneurship.

Here’s how to help support this proposal>

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