Chamber of Commerce for Persons with Disabilities, Inc.

New Chamber for Disabled to be Launched in Orlando

Orlando Business Journal - June 8, 2007
by Tiffany Beck, Staff Writer

ORLANDO—A national business organization that helps people with disabilities promote their small businesses is coming to Orlando.

The new Chamber of Commerce for Persons with Disabilities Inc. will be announced formally on June 8 at the 9th Annual Family Cafe Conference—a free event at the Rosen Shingle Creek Resort in Orlando that offers resources for people with disabilities.

The chamber's goals: to provide networking opportunities, resources and exposure for disabled-owned small businesses across the country. A featured service will be a listing of members, including information and links to their business Web sites on the chamber's Web site.

That list is key because there's currently no resource for business owners to find companies run by disabled people, says Peter A. Schoemann, chamber founder and a tax attorney at Broad and Cassel in Orlando.

"Many big businesses love to buy from these businesses but don't know where to look," says Schoemann, who was motivated to create the chamber because he has two children with autism.

And partnering with or buying from a disabled-owned business isn't just for feel-good reasons, he says. It also can be good for the other company's branding.

In fact, 92 percent of consumers feel more favorable toward companies that hire people with disabilities, says a study by the University of Massachusetts Boston's Center for Social Development & Education. Eighty-seven percent said they would prefer to give their business to such companies.

Internet community

The chamber's primary goal is to be a place where small business owners can network, trade information and form business partnerships on the Internet. For example, the chamber will offer online seminars and forums lead by experts on business topics.

The use of technology in this way is critical, says Corey Hinds, employment program director in the South Florida office for the Tallahassee-based Advocacy Center for Persons with Disabilities Inc.

That's because technology is key to allowing many disabled people to start their own businesses because transportation is often a problem. The Internet acts as a marketplace for selling products, and computers can be fitted with special software programs designed for people who have special needs, he says.

'Momentum for change'

Ironically, while the unemployment rate for working-age Americans with disabilities is vastly higher -- about 70 percent compared with about 4 percent for the average American -- disabled people are more likely to own their own businesses. In fact, roughly 12 percent own their own businesses, compared with 8 percent of those without disabilities, says Hinds.

Take Mary Ann Hennosy, who has cerebral palsy and can only use her right hand. She supplements her income by running a 25-year-old business called My Right Hand, selling original oil paintings and other items featuring her art. "This [the chamber] is exactly what we need. It's hard to get your name out there."

Lori Fahey, president and CEO of Family Cafe, which provides resources for people with disabilities, agrees. "Individuals with disabilities are not viewed as being part of a work force, so this will provide a good momentum for change."