By Daniel J. Vance MS, LPCC

It was the nation's first. The Orlando-based Central Florida Disability Chamber currently has more than 420 members and a mission statement of providing “information and education on business creation and growth, specifically designed for the needs of people with disabilities.”

In a telephone interview, Chamber President Rogue Gallart said, “In part, we help people with disabilities who want to start a business. We help them with everything that comes with being an entrepreneur, such as getting a business license, developing a business plan, and how to submit that plan for funding.”

Since 2010, the Central Florida Disability Chamber has helped more than 175 people with disabilities become entrepreneurs throughout Florida.

He mentioned one businesswoman, the owner of Angora Design Studio, who wanted to expand a hobby into a business and stop having to rely on disability payments. Said Gallart, “We helped her obtain equipment, such as a sewing machine, and a store location where she could set up shop, instead of working out of her home. She had been doing it as a hobby. She is an Old World-style seamstress. You just don't see her kind of (seamstress) quality anymore, and now she's been open about three years.”

One Chamber member, Robby, became paralyzed as a teen after falling off a bridge while skateboarding. The Chamber helped Robby, now in his 30s, start a small business making foundations for outdoor pools. He employs five people. The Chamber also helped him find an accessible vehicle. Another Chamber member makes and sells artistic candy bouquets.

Funding for the Chamber comes from a host of Florida businesses, such as Disney, Regions Bank, Orlando Health, and Florida Hospital. As for Gallart, he says his chamber is the only one of its kind in the continental U.S.

His organization also directs people with disabilities to various job openings, and offers networking and seminar opportunities. The Chamber has a Young Entrepreneur Education Program helping students become more independent and interested in self-employment as a career. Students acquire mentors, develop money management, financial literacy, and planning skills, develop leadership and interpersonal skills, and have work-based experiences.

Gallart said, “Without a disability, starting a business is a challenge for anyone. But with a disability, it's even more challenging. The Chamber was started by a partner in a Central Florida law firm because he had two children with autism and wanted them to have employment opportunities.”

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