Running a business poses unique challenges to those living in a wheelchair. But budding entrepreneurs Kirk Keating and Sharon Gardner aren’t letting their disability get in their way of success. Here, their inspiring stories.
Kirk Keating remembers feeling “10 feet tall and bulletproof,” he said of his life as a young man. “I was active in all kinds of sports and especially enjoyed riding my motorcycle.”
That active lifestyle came to an abrupt halt, however, when he was injured in a motorcycle accident at the age of 25. He was released from the hospital six months later and told he would never walk again.
He nevertheless continued working and spent 20 years as an IT professional in his hometown of Tempe, Ariz.
“Last year the company told me they were moving IT operations to Ohio, so I decided to do something else,” Keating explained.
He looked into franchise opportunities and discovered Game Truck, a company that uses motor coaches equipped with video games for children’s parties. Keating loved the idea and signed on as a franchisee last summer. He works out of his home and employs four party facilitators and an education leader.
“She does educational events such as on-site field trips to schools where we will bring students on the bus and show them graphics of the solar system, for example,” he explained.
Keating said he’s used to living in a wheelchair and doesn’t see it as a hindrance to his everyday life, except when he is going on specific sales calls.
“Sometimes it is difficult if a building doesn’t have a ramp or has too many stairs,” he said. “But otherwise, I’m really used to it. I drive with hand controls, so I can still get around well.”
How does he stay so positive?
“I remember being in rehab with a lot of 20-somethings and it seemed clear to me that a portion of us would end up going home and sitting on the couch drinking beer and a portion of us would get back into our lives and move on,” Keating said. “I wanted to be one of the ones to move on.”
He offers a few pieces of advice for budding entrepreneurs with disabilities.
“Begin your search for an opportunity just like anyone else would; don’t have the knee jerk reaction of thinking about everything in terms of your disability,” he said. “Do what fits your style and matches your skill set.”
Sharon Gardner was 13 years old when she became paralyzed. She was acting the part of an angel in a school Christmas play when, during rehearsal, she fell from scaffolding onto the back of a choir chair. Now, 52 years later, Gardner isn’t letting her disability slow her down.
She is owner of Healthy Life and Times, an online store for health supplements. After working as a hospital chaplain for more than 10 years near her home city of Austin, Tex., she contracted a pressure sore that wouldn’t go away.
“Pressure sores are sores that often happen to people who can’t feel them,” Gardner said. “Since I don’t have feeling in my feet and my sore was in my foot, I didn’t know when it was getting worse.”
After three years of dealing with her sore, Gardner heard about Miracle Mist Spray, an herbal spray with packaging that claimed to reduce sores. Skeptical, she tried it anyway.
“I bought it in 2004 and within a week, my sore was going away,” she said.
Gardner was so impressed with the product that she wrote an article about her recovery in July 2005 in New Mobility Magazine, an action that eventually led her down the entrepreneurial path.
“A few weeks later, the owner of the store that sold me Miracle Mist called me and asked me to work there because so many people were coming in and asking about the product,” she said. “I went down and started handling the calls.”
A few years later, Gardner bought the store and turned it into an online business that sells, among other things, Miracle Mist Spray. Today, she works from home.
What challenges does she face as someone who uses a wheelchair?
“It takes me a long time to get ready in the morning,” she said. “By the time I get ready for work, I’ve already put in several hours of work.”
Gardner offers a few pieces of advice for entrepreneurs in a similar situation.
“Be brutally honest with yourself as to what you can and can’t do and then focus on what you can do,” she said. “Remember that everyone can do something.”
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