Meaningful Employment for All

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.”