More than a decade ago, Marjie Smith, a health-care manager and single mother of two, went into the hospital for routine shoulder surgery and came out in a wheelchair. A freak interruption to her central nervous system during the procedure paralyzed the right side of her body, leaving her a hemiplegic.
Smith, who lives in Port Royal, S.C., (population 4,000), had no interest in whiling away the rest of her life in her wheelchair. But her former employer "put me out to pasture," and the options for a disabled, nearly middle-aged women in her backwoods community were nearly nil. "There was no place for me," says Smith. "I had to make my own place."
Where she eventually made that place was online. After getting her first computer in 1993, she started a support group for the disabled. By 1998, the group was thriving, but Smith was struggling to support her kids on her disability payments. "It wasn't like McDonald's or Burger King was going to hire me," she says.
So she a friend helped her go to nearby stores where she bought $5 Beanie Babies and then resold them on eBay for $100. "For the first five years I was on eBay, nobody even knew I was disabled," says Smith. "eBay is a great leveler of discrimination."
Today, she's long past the Beanie Babies, selling exclusive Etienne Angier leather goods as well as executive accessories in her eBay store called abovethemall. She has added a shelf-lined mini-warehouse to her home. And she even got a husband out of the deal, marrying the Web designer who helped build her site.
In fact, she's not only a Power Seller on eBay, doing $10,000 a month in sales around the holidays, but she's also the head of the Disabled Online Users Organization, which teaches people with special needs how to become eBay entrepreneurs. So far, 100 people have already gone through the program.
"We've got quads on vents, amputees, the deaf, and the blind," says Smith. "I want people to see that being disabled isn't the end of the world. You can make your life better. And you can make other people's lives better."
By Michelle Conlin in New York