How One Cafe Has Helped Individuals With Autism Get A Job

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For a lot of us we take work for granted. It’s a part of our daily lives and it’s something for us to complain about at the crack of dawn on Mondays. And while some people are grouchy or even depressed about work, a lot of people see work as a dream. An opportunity to better themselves.

Some adults feel it, but some adults experience it more. In particular, it’s those with developmental disabilities, especially in those who are old enough to be out of the public education system. It’s a dream to many of them but it’s a dream that can be too far to reach. The big reason being that many businesses these days don’t give those with developmental disabilities a chance. They see it as a handicap and therefore a risk to their business. So they turn them down. And even when they do accept, these individuals are often placed on the lower levels. They’re given tasks that consist of cleaning bathrooms or sweeping floors, or they’re given a schedule where they work very few hours.

And that can be degrading for many. Especially those who aspire for more. Take Andra Moore who has autism and plans to start her own business selling ice cream. “I’ve always been treated like less than,” she said, “I was given the tasks that nobody wants to do. And then, just not expected to do much or not expected to be able to do much, not treated like I’m competent or know anything.”

Today Moore can be found now at a bakery and cafe in Schenectady, New York, called Puzzles. At Puzzles, the business has a much different approach to those with disabilities. In fact, over half of the employees that are working there have some type of developmental disability.

Sara Mae Pratt opened Puzzles in 2015 and the idea was primarily inspired by sister Emily who is on the low-functioning end of the autism spectrum. Around the time, Emily was getting to the point where she was going to be out of public education so the pair looked for resources they could use. It was around this point that they realized that there wasn’t much resources they could use.

But this one cafe isn’t enough and there still is a lot of work to be done. In 2017, there was only 18.7 percent of those with disabilities who have a job. This is a massive difference between the 65.7 percent of people without disabilities and are employed. But this movement goes beyond getting a paycheque and financial stability. There is a sense of purpose and even identity that comes when we have a job. Many of us may not realize it, but those with disabilities can certainly feel it as it’s an experience that they often don’t get to have.

Furthermore those at Puzzles feel happy to work there because they’re not given bottom of the ladder positions. Many of them are baking, cooking, serving, taking orders, and do what everyday baristas would be tasked to do.

And it’s a business like this that can inspire others as other cafes similar to this have sprouted up. To bring more awareness that people with disabilities can do great work. Examples are Bitty and Beau’s located in North Carolina which now has three locations. There’s also Two Cafe located in Cleveland which not only hires those with disabilities but provides guidance and assisting them in finding a job that suits interests and skills.

It’s from these events that have encouraged other businesses to give those with disabilities a chance and to give them a leg up by helping them with this hunt, even if it means finding a business outside of their industry. And while all of those are great, there is still much work that needs to be done.


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