Meaningful Employment for All

Man with Computer

The statistics are sobering. According to a June 2017 report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, “in 2016, 17.9 percent of persons with a disability were employed. In contrast, the employment-population ratio for those without a disability was 65.3 percent.” Though the 2016 figure was up 0.4 percent from 2015, the unemployment rate for people with disabilities in the U.S. remains a critical issue. In response, some parents of young adults with disabilities are taking matters into their own hands by starting businesses that will employ their children.

One example of such a business is Sam’s Canterbury Café in Baltimore, Md. When Sam Myers, a young man with autism reached his teens, his parents began thinking of starting a business where he could be gainfully employed. After Sam underwent a battery of tests, and interned in a variety of work environments, it became clear that he would thrive best in a café/restaurant. Now open for a year, Sam’s Café employs Sam as well as five other adults with autism who work in a variety of roles at the café. Sam’s father Michael Myers says it’s rewarding to see his son looking forward to going to work and he’s pleased by the way the surrounding community has embraced the business.

Long Island N.Y’s Cause Café has a similar mission. Founded in 2016, by Stacey Wohl, a mother of two young adults with autism, the café is co-owned by her children Logan and Brittney and employs 8 other adults with autism spectrum disorders. According to the café’s website, Wohl started the café in 2012 “in response to the growing concern for special-needs individuals on Long Island who are aging out of schools to find job opportunities and a learning environment to acquire real-life skills.”

Likewise, Bitty & Beau’s Coffee in Wilmington, N.C. was founded by Amy Wright, the mother of two adults with Down syndrome. The establishment also hired many other young adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities who help run the coffee shop. As Wright told health blog “The Mighty,” she hopes to open more locations and “would love Wilmington to be a model (that) integrate(s) people with disabilities into the workforce.” On Dec. 20, 2017, Wright won CNN’s Hero of the Year competition for her advocacy on behalf of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

But businesses started as meaningful workplaces for adults with autism aren’t limited to coffee shops. Spurred on by their son Himal’s talent for painting, Virginians Harish and Saket Bikmal started Zenaviv, a website where artists with special needs can market their work. According to Woman’s Day, “Currently, there are seven artists who earn 60 percent of their art’s proceeds; Harish plans to have 25 involved by the year’s end.”

Of course, not all parents of adults with disabilities have the resources to start their own businesses. Sometimes, opportunities for meaningful employment for people with disabilities can be found in unexpected places. Friendship Circle blogger Tzvi Schectman advises parents to explore possibilities for jobs on farms and ranches. “There are dozens of farms currently in the United States that offer programs and employment opportunities for individuals with special needs,” says Schectman. Jobs on farms and ranches can be good options for people with disabilities, he says, because farms and ranches are typically “slower paced and more relaxing,” offer workers training in a variety of vocational skills and can even “offer a perfect opportunity to create a sustainable business for individuals with special needs by selling their produce in the local markets.”

Love Your Ride

Izzy Wheels

In our recent Halloween blog, we shared ideas for incorporating kids’ wheelchairs into their Halloween costumes. But what if wheelchairs could be outlets for creativity and self-expression all 365 days a year? As it happens, many companies now produce unique and beautiful accessories that allow wheelchair users to personalize their rides. We scoured the internet to find examples of some of the most stylish and innovative wheelchair designs and paraphernalia out there. Here’s what we came up with:

Izzy Wheels
“If you can’t stand up, stand out.” That’s the tagline for Isabel and Ailbhe Keane’s new company, Izzy Wheels. As an art student at the National College of Art and Design in Dublin, Ireland, Ailbhe Keane wanted to create stylish, colorful and unique removable wheel covers that would help her sister Isabel, who has used a wheelchair all her life, to make her wheelchair a fashion statement. The sisters say the company’s mission is “to challenge negative associations with wheelchairs and let users celebrate their individuality by personalizing their source of independence.”  Ailbhe and Isabel “want to show the world that wheelchairs can be so much more than a medical device, they can be a piece of artistic expression.” Izzy Wheels covers are designed by fine artists and graphic designers. Some wheelchair users have more than one set of wheel covers, so they can coordinate their covers with their outfits. Check out the online store. You won’t believe the array of options. For more information, visit

Pimp My Chair
Named for the popular TV series, “Pimp My Ride,” this company, started by the mother of a son who uses a wheelchair, sells a variety of wheelchair accessories that help users to be safer, more comfortable and more stylish. Products include personalized seat covers, padded gloves, wheels with multicolored LED lights, and spoke lights that attach to wheelchair spokes.

HDS Medallion wheelchair bags
This company designs gorgeous bags especially designed to attach to wheelchairs, walkers, powerchairs and scooters. HDS also sells two styles of basic black bags —one with a zipper closure and one with Velcro closure. Users can choose from a large number of carrying straps that accommodate their individual styles and preferences. Buy more than one to match your strap with your mood or outfit.

Side by Side Wheelchair Handle Extension
For her senior project, Israeli designer Tammy Kalinsky developed the Side by Side, a wheelchair accessory that enables side by side conversation between a wheelchair user and the person who pushes the wheelchair. It’s difficult to carry on a conversation when walking behind a companion who’s sitting in a wheelchair. The Side by side, a simple bar that connects to the side of the wheelchair makes it possible for the wheelchair pusher to walk beside the wheelchair user. According to Kalinsky’s website, the Side by Side is currently pending patent.

UK-based company PYC sells sleek, stylish wheelchair bags, straps, backrests and guards made of Cordura, an extremely durable material that’s colorfast, water-resistant and reasonably priced.

Enabling Devices Book Shelf

Loving Push

A year has passed since we last surveyed some of the newest books on topics related to disabilities. As the weather warms, and many of us look forward to reading by the pool, on the porch, or while on summer vacations, we’ve compiled a list of five notable books published or released in paperback or E-book within the past year.

Rosemary: The Hidden Kennedy Daughter” by Kate Clifford Larson

Being a Kennedy has always meant being in the public eye. Yet, due to the intellectual and physical disabilities she sustained during her birth, Rosemary Kennedy, the third child of Joe and Rose Kennedy, was kept out of the limelight. In this 2015 biography, now available in paperback, Kate Clifford Larson explores Rosemary’s tragic life.

Despite her vivacious personality and beauty, Rosemary’s parents were ashamed of her limitations and feared that the family’s image and social status would be diminished, if those outside the Kennedy clan knew about Rosemary’s disabilities. Thus, they pushed Rosemary beyond her capabilities, sent her away to schools and tried all sorts of questionable therapies including a traumatic and debilitating lobotomy in her 20s, in ill-fated attempts to “cure” her. In addition to providing a window into this fascinating family and its most vulnerable member, “Rosemary” is a sad and chilling reminder of the Eugenics Movement of the early 20th century which, “aimed at improving the genetic composition of the human race,” according to Genetics Generation.  “Historically, eugenicists advocated selective breeding to achieve these goals.” Fortunately, the movement was discredited in the U.S. after it became closely associated with Nazism. Having seen Rosemary suffer, her siblings and other Kennedy family members were influenced to promote the interests of people with disabilities through organizations such as the Eunice Kennedy Shriver’s Special Olympics, Anthony Shriver’s Best Buddies as well as legislation that benefited people with disabilities enacted by President John F. Kennedy.

“Pointing Is Rude: One Father’s Story of Autism, Adoption, and Acceptance” by Digger O’Brien

Prior to writing this heart-felt memoir, Digger O’Brien was known as an Emmy Award-winning television producer. Now, the book he has written about his family’s experience coming to terms with his son’s autism diagnosis, and the trials and tribulations that have come along with it, has re-introduced him as a talented author and disabilities advocate. O’Brien’s dry wit, and willingness to tell his story honestly, without sugar-coating the hard times, make this book deeply relatable as well as inspiring.

“The Loving Push: How Parents and Professionals Can Help Spectrum Kids Become Successful Adults” by Debra Moore Ph.D. and Temple Grandin. Ph.D.

This highly reviewed book co-written by autism expert Debra Moore and Temple Grandin, the renowned professor of animal science, autism advocate and a person with autism, helps parents and professionals to find the right balance between pushing their young adult children and clients too hard and pushing them hard enough to achieve their potential.  Including research, case studies and easy-to-implement strategies, “The Loving Push” endeavors to give young adults on the spectrum the best chance for a successful and relatively independent future.

Cycle of Hope: A Journey from Paralysis to Possibility” by Tricia Downing

This memoir by competitive cyclist and first-time author Tricia Downing chronicles her journey back from a 2000 accident that left her a paralyzed from the chest down. This emotionally honest and tremendously inspiring story chronicles Downing’s journey from the devastating accident through her arduous rehabilitation to her gradual acceptance of her new life and identity as a woman with a disability and her return to athletics as a competitive wheelchair racer. “Cycle of Hope” will encourage those with and without disabilities to accept their challenges and pursue their dreams.

Notes on Blindness: A Journey Through the Dark by John M. Hull

The late John Hull’s memoir about his experiences coping with the gradual loss of his eye-sight is praised by authors and disabilities scholars from the late Oliver Sacks to author and psychiatrist Andrew Solomon. Adapted from audiotaped diaries Hull began to record about three years after becoming totally blind, this beautifully written memoir explores his path from loss and depression to his eventual acceptance of his disability and his embrace of a different, yet no less fulfilling way of life.


Five TED Talks to Watch Today

TED Talks logo

Here at Enabling Devices, we can’t think of a more enjoyable or powerful way to learn, than by watching a really fine TED Talk. For the uninitiated, “TED is a nonprofit devoted to spreading ideas, usually in the form of short, powerful talks (18 minutes or less).”

There are TED Talks on just about any topic you can imagine including all sorts of topics related to disabilities. TED Talks challenge viewers to reconsider their beliefs and assumptions and to discover new ways of thinking about nearly everything under the sun.

For your viewing pleasure, we’ve taken the liberty of curating a list of the best TED Talks from people living and thriving with disabilities.

1. In search of the man who broke my neck

At 19 years of age, Joshua Prager was hit by a truck driven by a man with 27 prior moving violations, while riding in a mini-bus in Jerusalem. The accident, left him with quadriplegia, and though he eventually regained the ability to walk, albeit with a limp and using a cane, his life was changed forever. Determined to win an apology from the man who caused his life-long disability, Prager returned to Jerusalem and gained some unexpected insights.

2. Deep sea diving in a wheelchair

When performance artist, Sue Austin got her first power wheelchair, she was thrilled by her newfound freedom. But she was surprised to find that others viewed the wheelchair through a different and decidedly negative lens. Even more puzzling,  Austin felt that once she began using a wheelchair, “people couldn’t see me anymore.” In time, Austin found that she began to see herself through their eyes. So Austin took action. She developed an arts practice and discovered that through the creative activities she pursued while in her wheelchair, Austin was able to “remake her identity and transform preconceptions …”

3. My twelve pairs of legs

Born without fibula bones, athlete, actress, model and advocate, Aimee Mullins had her lower legs amputated at the age on 1 year old. The disability didn’t stop her from becoming—among many other things— an internationally-known athlete, who is the first person without legs of either gender, to have competed against able-bodied people in NCAA Division I track and field events, to serve as iconic fashion designer, Alexander McQueen’s  muse, and to be voted one of People Magazine’s 50 Most Beautiful People In the World. In this popular TED Talk, Mullins, displays her 12 separate pairs of legs, and shares how thanks to the combination of art and technology, people with disabilities can be the “architects of their own identities.”

4. I’m not your inspiration, thank you very much

Stella Young, an Australian comedian, journalist and disability rights activist who was born with a congenital bone disorder wants people without disabilities to know that she and other people with disabilities are no more inspirational or exceptional than anyone else. Her entertaining, yet meaningful TED Talk points out the ways in which “inspiration porn” objectifies people with disabilities to benefit people without them.

5. I got 99 problems …palsy is just one

Stand-up comedian, actress and disabilities advocate, Maysoon Zayid was born with cerebral palsy. As a woman who is Palestinian, Muslim and [she jokes], lives in New Jersey, Zayid says that she’s got lots of issues beyond her disability to contend with. In this humorous, and upbeat TED Talk, Zayid shares how her parents’ determination that she would do everything her three non-disabled sisters did helped her to overcome many of the obstacles she faced. Zayid hopes that through her comedy and social action, she can help to create a more positive image of disability.