I grew up in a town full of mom and pop shops. You always knew which of your classmates’ parents ran this restaurant or that candy store, and certain places lived and died on the labor of high schoolers in their first jobs. So it didn’t surprise me when, at the gym there a few years ago, I overheard some middle-aged white guys (of course) discussing the state of their businesses. But I didn’t expect one of them to be facing an ADA accessibility lawsuit – or that he’d spend the next ten minutes dressing down “those people” who “just want to take our money.”
That’s the accepted relationship between disabled folks and the business world: litigious adversaries constantly trying to pull one over on each other. Almost every discussion of disability and money focuses on how much we cost, not how much we earn. We are assumed takers rather than makers. And if we do work on the employer side, no one expects us to actually be in charge.
But guess what? Disabled people own businesses! Especially thanks to sites like Etsy, Big Cartel, and Patreon, more of us are putting our skills on display and more of our creations up for sale than ever before. Yes, our jobs picture remains pretty bleak – a 17.5% employment-population ratio in the U.S. isn’t exactly heartening, especially with nondisabled people enjoying a comparatively sunny 65% – but the same report that provided those numbers also pointed out that disabled people are more likely than our nondisabled counterparts to be self-employed. When the world isn’t built for you, you build something for yourself. We know how to adapt and generate new ideas because we’ve been doing it out of necessity for our entire lives. So sorry, tech bros – “entrepreneurial spirit” doesn’t exclusively belong to you.
Here are eight businesses helmed by disabled folks who do, in fact, want to take your money – and deserve it, too.
Rebirth Garments provides “gender non-conforming wearables and accessories for people on the full spectrum of gender, size, and ability” – so founder Sky Cubacub is essentially making all your fashion dreams come true right about now. If you’re a fan of color saturation, spandex, expertly-placed cutouts, and/or mermaid tail thigh-highs, Rebirth may be the store you’ve been searching for. All of Cubacub’s garments are handmade and fully customizable, and can be made to fit as a binder, a sports bra, or with accessories for packing and tucking. “In particular, our trans and disabled communities have very particular clothing needs that are not served by mainstream clothing designers,” Cubacub says. “Instead of being centered on cisgender, heterosexual, white, thin people, Rebirth Garments is centered on QueerCrip people.”
I just spent way more time than I should have combing through the entire Rebirth site; if it’s this much fun to watch people wear these clothes, I can’t imagine what a blast it is to wear them. There’s still time to support Rebirth’s Kickstarter campaign, and make sure you read Cubacub’s QueerCrip Dress Reform Movement Manifesto to get the full philosophy behind Rebirth and pump yourself up to get dressed tomorrow morning.
Autonomous Press is collectively owned by disabled workers and aims to “revolutionize academic access” through its library of works on disability, neurodivergence, and intersectionality. Its two imprints, Autonomous Press and NeuroQueer Books, prioritize and amplify disabled voices that are routinely overlooked by traditional publishers. Most awesomely, “Neither AutPress nor NeuroQueer publishes work that focuses on curing disabled people, showing disabled people as a burden, is inspiration porn, and/or written from an exclusively nondisabled perspective” as a matter of policy.
Any of AutPress’ seven available books will give you an enviable knowledge base in disability politics. Start with Fading Scars: My Queer Disability History if you feel like having your life changed.
The Paper Poppy Store
I feel like it’s enough to tell you that the Paper Poppy Store’s slogan is “jewelry with personality: feminist, self love, spoonie,” but just in case, let me confirm that this place is exceptionally relevant to your interests. Custom-stamped metal discs (which can be worn as keychains or necklaces) are the stars of the show here, and I want to purchase them all immediately. Whether you’re still listening to Hamilton every day, giving able-bodied people the side eye, or feeling “Femme as F–k,” PPS has the adornments you never knew you needed but can no longer live without.
According to extensive research conducted at A-Camp annually, it is a scientific fact that if you read Autostraddle, you enjoy cheeky enamel pins. And if you enjoy cheeky enamel pins, you will enjoy Normal Land. Founder Cat Sierra is a bi/queer woman who launched her shop earlier this year to display her art and help fund that lavish PhD student lifestyle. Her first creation was a disabled pride pin that I fully intend to wear daily from now on, regardless of attire or situational appropriateness. “I hadn’t seen many disability related accessories around,” she says, “and wanted something that reflected my sense of style and the pride I have in who I am. I also wanted to give something back to the community I love so much.”
There’s lots more Normal Land coming soon, including a Halloween pin inspired by What We Do in the Shadows and some screen printed tees and totes. For now, keep up with the latest on Instagram.
Kathy D. Woods
Accessible fashion has grown in scope and sophistication over the last few years, and Kathy D. Woods’ line that “redefines style for adult Little People” is among the most on point I’ve seen yet. Tell me you don’t want to look this good in your best blazer. Right.
What I love most about Woods’ collection is that these are clearly clothes for Grown-Ass Women – the kind who aren’t afraid to command attention and get it done. That’s a powerful visual statement to make when disabled people are so often written off as perpetual children who will never achieve autonomy. Woods fights back against that meritless (and, frankly, boring) generalization by making sure that if you wear her clothes, you’re gonna look sharp.
GlitterWurst is home to Radical Cats: A Coloring Book for Queer and Feminist Cat Lovers. I assume 90 percent you are sold already, but in case you’re a dog person like me or otherwise need convincing, might I suggest All in Your Head: Queerness, Neurodiversity, and Disability Zine, I Just Have a Lot of Feelings: A Big Queer Coloring Book of Feelings, or RoundRough ThickThin: Reflections on Gender, Sexuality, Size, and Mental Health. Honestly, if these titles alone aren’t enough to hook you, I don’t know what else to say. We have some reading/coloring/feeling to do.
SpaceTime Coordinates uses NASA/JPL data to generate the precise position of the planets on a particular date, and then prints it all up for you on a poster, shirt, vector, or wallpaper. Its original Kickstarter achieved 83660% funding, so if you read that first sentence and thought “what a great idea!”, you are definitely not alone. Its creator, French artist govy, has won the A’ Design Award multiple times and had her work exhibited at the MoMA of Shanghai, Triennale Design Museum of Milan, and Nuit Blanche of Paris, among other places.
As someone who’s really leaning into my nerd identity these days, I find SpaceTime coordinates positively delightful and will now be ordering at least two shirts.
Em’s Coffee Company
Brick and mortar bonus round! That’s right, sometimes you have to go out into the world to buy things, and if you’re ever in Independence, Iowa as a result, visit Em’s Coffee Company. (I mean, you could also order in bulk and not have to leave your desk after all, but what fun would that be.) Owner Em Hillman left her job in a sheltered workshop (Google it if you don’t mind getting infuriated) to start her own business, and six years later she’s still going strong. From all accounts, Em’s is a valued gathering place and business success story within its surrounding community – and if it’s good enough for Hillary Clinton, it’s good enough for you.
If you’re disabled, support your community by showing them a little financial love. And if you’re not, channel your able guilt into something more productive than agonizing over what you’re allowed to ask disabled people. Buy something nice for yourself! Or your friends! Or me! My birthday’s coming up!