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A Feel for Business - A Business Article

The Denver Post

A feel for business
Blind entrepreneurs from across the U.S. gather to swap expertise at trade show
By Will Shanley
Denver Post Staff Writer

 

Thursday, April 14, 2005 - Gerry Leary is a crack auto mechanic. But because he was born blind, he said no car repair shop would hire him.

So, when he moved from California to Boulder in 1977, he opened his own auto repair business, which he ran until 2001.

Then he hit on a new passion: roasting coffee beans. He attended the San Francisco Coffee Training Institute in 2003 to become a gourmet roaster. Once again, he said he couldn't get hired because he couldn't see.

Undaunted, Leary founded his own roasting company, The Unseen Bean.

&;It's difficult for some people to think I can roast coffee without seeing the beans,&; said Leary, 52, of Boulder. &;So I had to do it on my own.&;

Leary runs the company in Longmont with his girlfriend, Cathy, and he navigates with the help of Midnight, a 7-year-old black Lab.

He's able to roast the beans by using talking timers and talking thermometers. His products include Zambia, Malawi and Indonesian Sumatra roasts, which he sells to specialty shops and friends.

He hopes to open a cafe one day. &;It's getting close,&; he said.

Leary was one of several hundred blind business owners and entrepreneurs who attended BLAST - Business, Leadership, and Superior Training - a trade show that began Tuesday and continues through Friday at the Adam's Mark Hotel in Denver.

About 35 blind business owners were from Colorado, many of whom work in the vending and food service industry.

Buna Dahal, who is blind, provides job-placement assistance for blind people through the Colorado Center for the Blind in the Littleton.

Dahal said some companies are more open to hiring blind people than others, and that her job is to &;educate blind people that they can compete&; with sighted people.

&;It's very exciting when a company gives a blind person a chance,&; she said.

This is the first time Denver has hosted this particular event, organized by the Aurora-based National Association of Blind Merchants.

Kevan Worley, 48, president of the association, said the event helps entrepreneurs cultivate new business partners and learn ways to improve their operations. Among the exhibitors were Nestlé, Sam's Club and Pepsi.

&;I hope attendees are empowered to serve people and make some money,&; Worley said.

Worley said blind people sometimes struggle to find work because some business owners are skeptical that blind workers can get the job done.

&;We are truly a minority group, but we have innate capacity like anyone else,&; Worley said.

Worley, who is also blind, employs 46 people at his food-service business, High Frontier Dining, at Buckley Air Force Base in Aurora.

Many blind business owners work at military bases through the Randolph-Sheppard program, a federal initiative that gives blind entrepreneurs the right of first refusal to operate businesses in any state or federally owned government building.

Those government facilities generated more than $430 million in sales for the Randolph- Sheppard program in 2004, according to Worley.

Staff writer Will Shanley can be reached at 303-820-1473 or wshanley@denverpost.com .

2 million Legally blind people in the United States

5,000 Blind business owners in U.S., 2,700 in the Randolph-Sheppard Program, a federal initiative that dates back to 1936 and provides blind entrepreneurs the right of first refusal to run vending businesses in any state or federally owned government building.

50 Blind business owners in Colorado

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