Urban spaces, inclusivity and entrepreneurs with disabilities

Helen Lawton Smith

A most welcome recent development is the increasing attention now being paid in the policy and academic arenas on how disabled entrepreneurs can be better treated in mainstream economic and social activity.  An important aspect is how they are connected to public urban spaces.

In this open access article which forms part of a Land special Issue, Public Spaces: Socioeconomic Challenges, the focus is on the formal networks that have been established to support disabled entrepreneurs. The knowledge gap addressed is identifying the key importance of specialised networks in making those connections and bringing about systemic change in urban spaces. Evidence is drawn from a study of the geography of networks which support disabled entrepreneurs in the UK. This shows that the entrepreneurial capacity of public spaces (inclusive entrepreneurial ecosystems) for disabled entrepreneurs is better in some places and entirely absent in others. It is this local dimension that has previously been missing in other studies of disabled entrepreneurs.

The paper argues that the networks bring about systemic change. They provide access to resources that disabled entrepreneurs need to start and grow a business. They need to engage with other local public and private sector organisations in order to sustain their own activities. They have a vital role as advocates on behalf of their members through their leadership increasing the visibility of disabled entrepreneurs within urban spaces.

A number of concerns underpin this analysis. They are economic issues because of the consequences of the undervalued and under supported capacity for innovation and entrepreneurship by entrepreneurs with disabilities. There are also social issues because of sometimes adverse societal perceptions of the capacity of minorities to be fully entrepreneurial and achieve their personal and professional goals, thus missing out on societally beneficial cultural changes.

The link to public spaces and equality, diversity and inclusion relates to overcoming the marginalisation of disabled entrepreneurs. Where this is addressed by different actors within public spaces, it leads to increased local equality of opportunity, thereby adding to the diversity of local economies and a more inclusive society. In the USA, Forward Cities gives an excellent example of what can be achieved by a coordinated approach to building local urban inclusive entrepreneurial ecosystems which are designed to develop connections between urban spaces changing perceptions, dialogues, interconnections and cultures.


Lawton Smith, H. (2023) Public Spaces, Equality, Diversity and Inclusion: Connecting Disabled Entrepreneurs to Urban Spaces  in Land, special Issue Public Spaces: Socioeconomic Challenges https://www.mdpi.com/2073-445X/12/4/873 (open access)