A long-running program in Regina has been offering support to entrepreneurs with disabilities during the pandemic.
The Entrepreneurs with Disabilities Program (EDP) ran by the South Saskatchewan Independent Living Centre has been helping those with disabilities or health conditions succeed in self-employment since 1998.
EDP offers business services and disability supports, from mentoring to finding adaptive equipment.
This year it has given entrepreneurs a sense of connection at a time when isolation and anxiety have been magnified.
"I find myself having to do more motivation, to try inspire to maintain their self-care and mental health and stay strong on an ongoing basis more than ever since COVID," said Nancy Myslick, business advisor with EDP.
She said many of the business owners in the program have had to change what they do or rebuild their businesses, because what they did before the pandemic is no longer possible.
Charlotte L'Oste-Brown spent the first three months of the pandemic in quarantine after having a lung transplant.
The pandemic also caused all her public speaking events for the year to be cancelled.
L'Oste-Brown usually travels the province — visiting churches, schools and clubs — speaking about the importance of organ donation, which people can do by registering at givelifesask.ca
L'Oste-Brown first received support from EDP in 2016.
When she was waiting for her transplant, EDP helped her get social media training to market her public speaking business.
She said they were also willing to support her in other ways.
"I could hardly add two and two together, my oxygen was way down to 40, and it was hard for me. There were so many programs for me to go though, to set yourself up in a rotating order, to get funding, and they went through it with me," said L'Oste-Brown.
"One of the gals signed up with social services to be my worker and she would answer all the questions from social services to get me on an abilities program. They are just there to help."
That willingness to help in any way has continued though the pandemic.
Myslick and the program's manager Brenda Ell have launched virtual coffee chats during the pandemic.
Myslick said it's an opportunity to share business tips and ideas, but more importantly to support each other through struggles and successes.
"I am finding they are isolated. You know, not having much hope," said Myslick.
"They decide what we will talk about. Attendance is high for these coffee chats and there is a big need for that connection and to help with the isolation. It'll help get us through to the new year."
They've planned a virtual Christmas party for the entrepreneurs to come together in a time where isolation can be heightened.
Cathleen MacPhee, owner of A1 First Aid and Safety training services and founder of the not-for-profit Tails of Strength, has attended a few virtual meetings.
She said it's comforting to have people who can understand what it's like to be an entrepreneur while living with a disability and relate to her, even if the disability itself is different.
Although these virtual chats are new, adapting to the entrepreneurs needs isn't. It is the purpose of the program and what makes it unique.
"We've done all kinds of things to accommodate our our entrepreneurs, and once you mention that to them, then they relax. We're very flexible," said Brenda Ell, manager of EDP.
"We want them to feel welcome and safe and know that we will do our best to accommodate whatever disabilities they've disclosed."
MacPhee said she has hasn't been able to find another program like EDP that understands the limitations she may face while also helping her recognize her strengths.
"When there was a day when I just physically wasn't able to get to the office for a meeting, well, 'Let's have our meeting on the phone then!'" said MacPhee. " It was their understanding and their flexibility and ability to work with what I could bring to the table."
MacPhee said self-employment has given her freedom.
Helping someone in their community find the confidence to accomplish their dreams is the best part of the job, according to Myslick and Ell, who both live with disabilities of their own.
"It's very gratifying to see someone come in and, you know, maybe low self-esteem, much anxiety, and all of a sudden a year later they're in business. I mean, they're totally different," said Ell.
In the last three years, the program has helped 80 entrepreneurs, with 33 of them having registered businesses.
While the pandemic has taken it's toll on many, Ell said it could also be an opportunity for those stuck at home to turn their hobby or craft into a business idea.