This is America’s most neglected workforce, with 80% unemployed

Enterprising couple and parents solve the problem of unemployment of disabled people

With national labor market data showing that the economy employs only one in five Americans with intellectual and developmental disabilities, opportunities for those with I/DD in the workforce are clearly lacking. Amy and Ben Wright, the co-founders of Bitty and Beau’s Coffee, are entrepreneurs and parents — breaking this disconnect between available labor and market demand, at a time when employers are struggling to find enough workers to fill their entire workforce. open positions.

The Wrights have four children, the youngest two of whom have been diagnosed with Down syndrome. They opened a coffee franchise named for these children, demonstrating that a business model based on hiring people with disabilities can succeed. Bitty & Beau’s has grown to 19 stores and more than 400 employees, many of whom are disabled.

“Any business organization can use this model to hire at least one person with a disability,” Ben Wright said Wednesday during an interview with CNBC’s Sharon Epperson at the Small Business Playbook virtual summit. “What I’ve seen is that when people spend time with our children, Beatty and Beau, who have Down syndrome, it changes them. They see them as real people, not just someone with a disability.”

He stressed that society and the business sector must change their views on people with disabilities who “deserve the innovations that the business world can bring to them”.

Business owners may also benefit from state and federal tax incentives for hiring people with disabilities.

“Besides the tax credits, I think there are some intangibles there. In addition to the existing tax credits, companies will see that there is a whole new level of innovation, problem-solving and creativity. When you start having people with I/DD in your four walls, you’re in a business,” Ben said.

The numbers keep getting better. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the labor force participation rate (23.1 percent) and the employment-to-population ratio (21.3 percent) for workers with disabilities increased in 2022. These were record levels for this data since the BLS began tracking it in 2008. Unemployment among disabled workers also decreased by 2.5 percentage points to 7.6% in 2022. But it is still twice as high as unemployment among non-disabled people. Meanwhile, the employment-to-population ratio for people without disabilities was 65.4% last year (the BLS notes that the older disabled population than the non-disabled population is one factor contributing to the gap).

While the Wrights find the recent improvements encouraging, they say there’s still a long way to go.

The first Bitty and Beau’s Coffee opened in 2016 in Amy’s hometown of Wilmington, North Carolina, after she left her job at another institution—a children’s theater program. After working at the financial advisory firm he founded in 2013, Ben left his job in 2020 to work full-time on the Bitty and Beau franchise. Bitty and Beau’s operates in 11 states, with 19 locations located mostly in the South, Southwest, Midwest and Northeast.

Bitty and Beau’s Coffee staff celebrate the grand opening of the new location.

Bitty and Beau’s Coffee

At a CNBC small business event, the Wrights offered some startup tips for employers to become more inclusive in hiring.

Start a conversation at your company.

Amy said it’s as simple as the owner saying “this is important to us.”

She says that getting the message out will affect employees, and by showing that you’re making it a priority, you’re setting an example for other businesses in your community.

He noted that one in five workers with disabilities in the United States may have relatives or friends who are interested in employment. That could be a “great starting point,” he said.

Identify the best jobs for employees with disabilities.

Ben said that once business leaders recognize that people with I/DD deserve to be employed, they must find the right positions for these employees within their organization.

“Understand what they can do and what ways you can innovate around them so you can be successful,” Ben said, adding that in the Wrights’ experience, the first job a disabled employee starts isn’t always the job they end up with. best job to them.

Amy noted that while most of her employees are disabled, the company hires non-disabled employees who are a key support network for the entire workforce.

Companies that get this right will demonstrate that hiring employees with I/DD can be a “winning competitive advantage for your company.”

Choose the right language for job postings.

Although it is illegal in the U.S. to discriminate against job applicants with disabilities, Epperson noted during an interview that the job description for a food service worker position at Beatty and Beau’s D.C. location reads: “Reasonable accommodations to accommodate individuals can be created. persons with disabilities to perform basic functions.”

This was notable because the language came before listing job duties.

Amy emphasized the importance of such language being prominently highlighted by other businesses. If someone wants to get started and “learn something new, we give you a chance and figure out how we can set you up for success,” he said. “That’s really how every business should look at it.”

Hiring untapped talent: Hiring employees with disabilities

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