Freelancing with a disability

Sep 02, 2020

In a lot of ways, freelancing is the perfect career. You make your own hours. You set your own rules, and you get to pick your clients and your projects. Best of all, your career depends on nothing and no one but you.

But freelancing also comes with its fair share of liabilities. The most significant? The very fact that your career does depend on nothing but you. And that means that you bear all of the risk, as well as all the reward.

That ramps up the stakes for any freelancer. But when you have a disability, the stakes of freelancing are that much higher. The simple truth is that persons with disabilities, unfortunately, often have fewer career options.

This is due to a combination of factors. Though it is illegal to discriminate against qualified candidates, legitimate or not, recruiters may still fear that a candidate’s disability may impact their ability to do the job. Your particular health circumstances might also make it unfeasible for you to work a traditional full-time job.

No matter your reasons for getting into freelancing, with a bit of planning and some commitment, chances are that you’ll find that freelancing isn’t just a choice, it’s the choice. That’s because freelancing can offer a level of freedom, flexibility, and fulfillment that you might never find in a typical 9-to-5 job because, with freelancing, you are in charge and your passions, not your employer’s profits, are your compass.

Make a Plan

One of the most significant challenges in the life of the freelancer is just learning how to love, or at least live with, the unpredictability of life. By definition, freelancing means not having a fixed 9-5, 40-hour workweek.

This flexibility is ideal when you have medical appointments to attend to, or you need to be able to take frequent breaks or have a day or two off whenever you aren’t feeling well.

But having such flexibility in your work also means learning to live on an unstable income. You have to have a supply of reliable clients to ensure you have enough income to meet your needs, as well as build some savings for the inevitable periods when work is slow.

Building that kind of financial security, though, can be especially tough when you have a disability. Persons with disabilities face, on average, between $2,000 and $7,000 per year in out-of-pocket costs related to their disabilities.

The goal is to align your freelancing business with your health needs, your personal goals, and your financial well-being. That must also involve preparing for the inevitable periods when available work slows, including making a budget, watching your spending, and focusing on building your savings.

Above all, it means staying creative and adaptable. Use slow periods to develop your marketable freelancing skills, updating your marketing content and your résumé, and even making new professional contacts and trying your hand at different kinds of work.

For instance, if your primary freelancing gigs are in writing, why not branch out into transcription, scribing, or even administrative work?

Or maybe those writing skills can take you into the world of education! Because schools nationwide are continuing to rely heavily on remote learning, there is an abundance of online tutoring platforms that welcome freelancers to support students (and parents) who may need help with their homeschooling.

Chill Out

The pressure to ensure you have an abundance of work to keep yourself and your family financially healthy can be immense when you are a freelancer. Stress is simply not good for you, emotionally, psychologically, or physically.

One of the most important things you can do, then, is to create a healthy work/life balance and ensure that you build abundant self-care into your daily routine. This begins with learning to recognize when your drive to grow your freelancing career is sliding into a full-fledged work addiction.

You may feel guilty or anxious when you’re not working or courting new clients, because time spent not working can feel like money taken away from your family. But for the sake of your health and your relationships, it’s imperative that you actively work to manage your stress, decompress, and establish firm boundaries between your working hours and your off hours. Recognize when your body needs to slow down, and consider that time off another kind of investment — in your long-term wellbeing — that will keep you able to achieve your freelancing goals.

The good news is that it’s not that hard to do once you make the commitment and stick to it. There are even several free or low-cost tools that you can download right to your computer or smartphone to both help you relax during your off hours and be more efficient and productive in your workday!

The Takeaway

Freelancing is a great gig, but it’s not an easy one. And that’s OK, because life with a disability has taught you not to fear “not easy.” If there’s anyone up to the challenge of a freelancer’s life, it’s you. But it takes strategy to make a go of it and keep yourself healthy, happy, and financially sound.

This is a post from a member of the Freelancers Union community. If you’re interested in sharing your expertise, your story, or some advice you think will help a fellow freelancer out, feel free to send us your blog post.

Noah Rue

Noah Rue is a journalist and a digital nomad fascinated with the intersection between global health and modern technology.