Are you legally blind? Do you have an entrepreneurial spirit and want to own your own business? Do you have an interest in retail and food service in particular? Do you like to work hard and take on new challenges every day? Well, if the answer to all of these questions is yes, then the Randolph-Sheppard Program may be a perfect fit for you?
What are the Qualifications?
In order to participate in the Randolph-Sheppard Program, you must meet the following criteria:
- Legally blind
- A U.S. Citizen
- Be Deemed Qualified by the State Agency Administering the Program
In most cases, to be deemed qualified, you will have to meet minimum academic standards and demonstrate a high level of independence in your activities of daily living (travel skills, communication skills, computer skills, etc.). Most states now also require background checks since you will be working in government buildings. You will also most likely have to successfully complete a state sponsored training program that will include several weeks of academic training as well as on-the-job training. The training is usually several months in length.
How Do I Get Started?
The steps to owning your own business are as follows:
- Apply for Vocational Rehabilitation Services
- Be Determined Eligible for VR
- Complete any required pre-vocational evaluations
- Develop a plan for employment with your Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor
- Be accepted into the Randolph-Sheppard Program also known as the Business Enterprises or Vending Facility program
- Complete vending facility training
- Receive a license to manage a vending facility in that state
- Compete for an assignment to a vacant vending facility in that state
In most cases, you will have to apply for Vocational Rehabilitation Services in the state where you reside or wish to be a Randolph-Sheppard vendor. You will apply with the agency in that state that provides vocational rehabilitation services to persons who are blind. You will be assigned a Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor who will guide you through the process.
Your blindness will have to be documented either by the VR Counselor sending you to an eye physician or requesting documentation from your current eye doctor. Your work history will be reviewed and you may be asked to take tests such as aptitude or interest tests. The VR Counselor must establish that you do have a disability, this disability is an impediment to work, and vocational rehabilitation services will enable you to go to work.
Once you are determined eligible, then the Counselor must determine if the vending facility program is right for you. You may be asked to complete additional testing, visit an existing vending facility, and interview with the Business Enterprises Program Director or a selection committee. Once accepted into the program, you will have to complete training. In some states, this includes several weeks attending classes at a rehabilitation center or junior college. Other states require that you complete a training curriculum on-line. A very small number of states require very little academic training and rely almost entirely on on-the-job training. Most states do require some on-the-job training.
Once you successfully complete training, you are eligible to be assigned to manage a vending facility. The vending facility is usually in a government building and operates pursuant to an agreement between the government entity and the state agency. But you own the business. As the business owner, the profits belong to you although most states require you pay a percentage of your profits back to the program to help fund operations.
What Kind of Business Can I Expect to Run?
Most businesses operated under the Randolph-Sheppard Program are food service establishments although there are exceptions. These might include:
- Automated Vending Machines
- Vending Routes
- Snack Bars
- Gift Shops
- Inmate Commissaries
What Do I Have to Invest?
No investment is required on your part. The state agency will provide you with the equipment and cover start-up expenses including initial inventory. Basically, you walk into a business that is ready to go on Day 1. However, from that point forward, you have to manage the business. You hire your own employees. You determine the menu and set pricing. You pay all taxes and other costs related to day-to-day operations of the business just like any other business owner. You must complete reports and submit set aside payments if required by the state. And at the end of the day, the profits are yours. And it can be a very lucrative living. The average income of Randolph-Sheppard Vendors nationwide is over $60,000 per year.
Will I Lose My SSDI?
In most cases, the answer is no. Social Security has special rules for blind entrepreneurs participating in the Randolph-Sheppard Program that allow you make to make substantially more than most recipients and maintain benefits. You may want to familiarize yourself with What You Need to Know About SSDI on this website.