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Open a New Window: Disabled Artisans Online

Nov 8, 2007

by dillondesigns handmade and vintage goods

In 2001, my mother Linda was the Vice President of Marketing for a Real Estate development company.  She was also an amateur jewelry designer, and on weekends we would often sell her work at craft shows.   That same year a recurrent spinal condition resurfaced, leading to a string of surgeries, painful rehabilitation, and more than a year of hospitalization.   By late 2004, wheelchair-bound and unable to meet the physical demands of working outside the home, she left her real estate position and faced the frightening proposition of creating a career that was both rewarding and practical in the face of her circumstances.

Crafting professionally was the obvious solution.  Designing and beading new pieces offered my mom both a therapeutic diversion and a source of supplemental income.   But there were still logistical concerns — chronic pain and mobility issues made working shows and fairs difficult, if not impossible, for her.  Eventually, I left my own career and became her partner, managing the grunt work of the operation.  It wasn’t until we began selling online, however, that our business really began to thrive. We started Working from home has provided my mom with the flexible workplace that she needs, and Etsy and other online marketplaces have given her the ability to connect with her customers and build a following in a way that wasn’t available to her before.

She’s not alone.  It is estimated that about 10% of the US population have a work disability, a condition that limits the type or amount of work a person can do.   The need for flexibility and freedom from fatigue, inaccessible work environments and transportation concerns has led disabled Americans into self-employment and entrepreneurship at nearly twice the rate of people without disabilities.   According to John D. Kemp of, a website for the disabled community, "entrepreneurship has become a consequence of disability discrimination in the workforce."

Selling online can provide a perfect opportunity for the disabled.  The Disabled Online Users Association (DOUA) was founded in 1998 to bring the online world of business to the disabled.   DOUA founder Marjie Smith was one of the first to recognize the opportunity presented by online commerce to those with work disabilities — "to help the differently-abled become self-sufficient and independent."
Disabled artists and crafters have a strong presence on Etsy, and have formed a supportive community through the forums, though many are reluctant to speak publicly about their challenges.   Gina of ModaDesigns Jewelry says participating on Etsy is like "having a social life without leaving the house." For her, the confidence that she has gained while running her Etsy shop has been as important as the income it has provided.   Having had her own pain reduced by magnet therapy, she now makes bracelets with magnets as a means of sharing her relief.

WJ St. Christopher ( aka is a digital artist who has been selling her work online on a number of sites for three years, after a respiratory dysfunction led her out of her career as a software trainer.   Like Gina, she stresses the importance of creativity to her mental, not just financial, state:

"I’ve learned that the physical body lets me down all the time, but, in my dreams I’m always strong, capable and adventurous!   So, I don’t believe that my physical condition is reflected in my art.  However, my vivid, improbable DREAMS most certainly are!"

For my mom, selling her jewelry professionally has provided a silver lining to a particularly dismal black cloud — a strong push out of the comfort zone of 9-5 employment and into her lifelong dream of supporting herself as an artist.   Selling online has provided the same opportunity for countless other disabled artisans, offering a renewed sense of purpose and self-confidence, as well as a chance to foster talents that might never have otherwise come to light.   It’s exciting and vastly rewarding for us to be a part of it.

Further Resources:
The Disabled Online Users Association
Disability Alternatives, Inc

A Flexible Route to Economic Independence for People with Disabilities
Women with Disabilities Entrepreneurship Project (WDEP)

For more on crafting and disability, see Gingeroni1’s article.


  • stufffromthebunker

    stufffromthebunker said 10 years ago

    Excellent article. There are a lot of us on Etsy who are disabled to one extent or another. We found Etsy right after we learned I could no longer work and there are times I can't even be on the computer but in many ways this has opened new doors for me. I checked out all the links you posted. To bad The Disabled Online Users Association only teaches people how to use Ebay. It sounded wonderful until I read that part. Thanks for a well done article.

  • curbsidetreasure

    curbsidetreasure said 10 years ago

    a wonderful article! it is an honor to have my art featured as well. :)

  • BrokenTeepeeDesigns

    BrokenTeepeeDesigns said 10 years ago

    It is hard when you are disabled. I can't work at my jewelry everyday and I have often said that being able to create it saved my sanity... The friendships I have made online are also invaluable.

  • ToBeEwe

    ToBeEwe said 10 years ago

    Etsy helps to prove that disabled does not mean unabled. There are days that I can't leave my recliner chair because I'm either so fatigued or in too much pain. Etsy gives me a place to display what I do on the days that I can be productive. I hope everyone reading these comments looks at the shops of those who posted. There is some incredible work there.

  • qwynwyn

    qwynwyn said 10 years ago

    thank you for this article!

  • mulberrymuse

    mulberrymuse said 10 years ago

    Thank you for this article, I have CFS/ME and suffer a lot with pain, various disabilities and fatigue. It has been wonderful to have an outlet for my creativity and to try and help with the family budget. Friendships formed has been an added blessing:)

  • Kae1Crafts

    Kae1Crafts said 10 years ago

    Thanks for this article. It shows how artists spirits are strong and how important creativity is in dealing with adversity. I love all of your work and have hearted your shops. ToBeEwe - you might think of selling your polished stones as supplies because they are lovely and I often buy that kind of stone to create wire-wrapped jewelry. Kae

  • dillondesigns

    dillondesigns said 10 years ago

    You are all so wonderful--thanks so much for the kind words!

  • stufffromthebunker

    stufffromthebunker said 10 years ago

    I can't seem to get the Disabled Online Users Association off my mind. It really bothers me how limited they are. What a wonderful concept they have to just limit it to ebay. Isn't there a much needed service there only on a broader scale that isn't being met? But how would you get the financing and the non profit status to do it? My brain just won't turn off on this and that isn't good right now LOL. My duragesic patches just got increased and they put me on diazepam to get me through the first 10 days while I adjust so my brain isn't even working. I am sure you all know what I of the few places I can say that.

  • DreamWhimsy

    DreamWhimsy said 10 years ago

    Thank you for sharing this moving story! Recently, I have met several women with challenging physical situations who have developed online businesses. This article really highlights the possibilities that are available to lead a fulfilling life. I also live with chronic pain and have had three back surgeries. I am still able to get out and about but know that that might not always be the situation. I am very thankful for the growth and enrichment opportunities that Etsy provides! Lori

  • traceystreasures

    traceystreasures said 10 years ago

    Thank you so much for this article, and to those who posted their comments, sharing the news of their disabilities- I'm also disabled. My nursing career cut short. It's such a hard thing to accept- selling my artisan pieces has literally saved my life- emotionally and mentally. I'm pretty new to selling online, but the near future prospects of Tracey's Treasures, is giving me a lot of hope and most importantly, a needed feeling of self-reliance, once again.

  • estherly

    estherly said 10 years ago

    I thank you for the article. It's very inspiring :)

  • rhubsknitsmore

    rhubsknitsmore said 10 years ago

    All of you give me hope!

  • whatshername

    whatshername said 10 years ago

    I have been looking for something like this on Etsy. Thanks for the info.

  • mamapainter

    mamapainter said 8 years ago

    What a great article and series. It really hits home for me. After becoming disabled I thought my life was over at 45. Being able to sell my art, so that I can continue to do something I love and something that nourishes my soul back has been a God send. A friend told me about ETSY and it's been a great year. The forums can be very frightening at times and while it's been a social release for me, it's something that I have to pull back from. But that doesn't and wont' stop me from creating and fulfilling my life's dream when disability happened. Thanks for these articles!

  • g4gayle

    GAYLE Regal said 2 years ago

    I am not sure if I can figure out how to sell on Etsy since I have executive functioning issues. I had to re learn how to sequence and my psychologist suggested I make bracelets with patterns. I have a few that I would like to sell so I can buy more beads. Wish me luck!

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