(Source: Chicago Tribune)

It is no secret that it is difficult for new small businesses to succeed.

Imagine the extra challenges faced by business owners with disabilities.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, people with disabilities are almost twice as likely as the general population to be self-employed. They are also much more likely to be unemployed or underemployed. When they plan to establish a business, people with disabilities confront extra challenges, such as arranging for insurance and special furniture. They often lack the assets they need to start a business, as well as mentors and business contacts who understand the particular challenges they face.

Fortunately, programs have been set up in many parts of the country that aim to make it easier for people with disabilities to start businesses. Most states offer loan guarantee programs to enable individuals with disabilities to borrow from traditional sources.

Getting access to funding can be the key to getting a business off the ground. Just as important is laying the groundwork in planning, education and networking. In central Florida, an organization called the Central Florida Disability Chamber (cfdisabilitychamber.org) was established two years ago to help entrepreneurs with disabilities develop business plans and find funding.

The chamber has developed a template used to establish disability chambers in other states. Rogue Gallart, the chamber’s president, is eager to help vocational rehabilitation programs in other states offer similar programs.

Gallart suggested that any entrepreneur with a disability should first contact the nearest vocational rehabilitation office to determine availability of state programs. Those who find no programs can use his group’s website or contact Gallart at the chamber at 407-420-4892.

The Central Florida program was so successful that the chamber expanded its scope. Last year it received certification from the Florida Department of Education to add other services to clients through the department’s vocational rehabilitation program.

The chamber now helps prospective business owners identify business concepts; conduct marketing studies; develop business financials such as cash flows, projected income statements and balance sheets; analyze Social Security benefits; determine funding sources; and write business plans. Once the chamber determines that a proposed project has merit, it will prepare a business plan, using state funds at no cost to the applicant. The group is working on 18 new proposals scheduled to be completed within the next year.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has created the Center for Veterans Enterprise, solely dedicated to assisting all veterans, including the disabled, in starting and building businesses (www.vetbiz.gov).

The website provides links to sites providing assistance such as U.S. Small Business Administration, which promotes Veterans Business Outreach Centers.

Another site useful for veterans with disabilities is the Vocational Rehabilitation & Employment Service (www.vba.va.gov/bln/vre/emp_resources.htm). This site cites tax credits available to businesses employing disabled individuals.

(Source: Chicago Tribune)

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