Knock on Wood: Man with Disability Becomes Furniture Entrepreneur

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In honor of Global Entrepreneurship Week, Vocational Rehabilitation shares one entrepreneur’s journey in opening a successful furniture company.

Paul at a festival.

"Self-employment really helps people like me."

If you enjoy going to Florida festivals, you may have seen Paul Yates sitting on his handy cart, selling Amish furniture at one of the booths. Paul, who has cerebral palsy, is one of the latest entrepreneurs to come out of Florida Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) this year. VR helps people with disabilities get or keep a job.

“I met him at the local blueberry festival,” VR Counselor Linda Daffner says. “He was working for an elderly gentleman selling furniture for him, but the man was going to retire so Paul needed to find another job. I could just visualize his success selling furniture on his own at these festivals and said he should stop by VR to see if he qualified for services.”

The first thing Linda did was to have VR purchase a lift for the back of Paul’s truck so he could carry his electric wheelchair with him. Paul’s doctors wanted him to use his electric wheelchair fulltime, but because he couldn’t get it anywhere, he was mainly immobile. He would use his crutches to get around, but he wasn’t supposed to be on his feet for long periods of time.

“Linda was great,” says Paul. “She’s been with me all the way, with advice, helping me get services, helping me get the business started.” Linda paired Paul with self-employment specialist, Monica Doyle, who took him through all the steps needed to start a successful business. “We look at a person’s skills and abilities to see what kind of self-employment they should do,” explains Monica. “Paul’s good with people, likes to be outdoors, and likes to sell, so this business is great for him.”

Paul’s top sellers are the Amish rocking chairs. “The black walnut rocking chair with the flat arm is the most popular. I also sell end tables with matching chairs, foot stools, walking sticks, and benches,” says Paul. “I’ve even had some repeat customers.”

Business has been brisk; however, the festival season winds down during summer. Paul isn’t letting that deter him. In between the few summer festivals, he’s selling produce at a friend’s farm to help make ends meet until snowbird season during the fall and winter when things start up again.

For Paul, owning his own business has been a perfect solution for him. “Self-employment really helps people like me because there might be some days when I can’t work because I’m just in too much pain and then other weeks I can work the whole week, so it’s good for that. I can’t go steady all the time; I have to go and then stop, so self-employment and setting my own hours is the best answer for me.”

Linda and Monica are very proud of Paul and what he has accomplished in such a short time. Linda shares, “He worked so hard to get where he is. It was definitely a worthwhile VR adventure.” Monica agrees, “He’s a great guy; the kind of guy who doesn’t quit. He was able to adapt to the bumps in the road that always come from being an entrepreneur and be a success.”

About Vocational Rehabilitation
Florida’s Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) is a federal-state program committed to helping people with disabilities become part of America’s workforce. The employer-focused website, https://abilitieswork.employflorida.com/, allows businesses to search at no charge for employees who are ready to go to work, as well as to post available jobs. VR has 90 offices across Florida, and last year helped 5,760 Floridians with significant disabilities find or keep a job. For more information about VR and its services, call (800) 451-4327 or visit http://www.Rehabworks.org.

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Rachel Smith
@FloridaVR
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Florida Vocational Rehabilitation
since: 11/2012
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