Author Archives: Debra Caldow

Taking Off The Mask

Podcast Episode 66 It’s fine to be aware and even try and understand autism but actually what matters most is acceptance. This is the view of Kieran Rose, also known as The Autistic Advocate. Kieran has autism so he speaks from personal experiences and explains why he believes that acceptance is what is needed even more than awareness.

Kieran shares his personal journey and provides practical advice for both parents and young people with autism on how to manage the challenges they will face. He also discusses the way people with autism are often stereotyped and the impact that has. He also talks about what he sees as an industry that has been built around autism, and how that is actually contributing to delaying real change.

Kieran might be talking specifically about autism, but the really his message applies to everyone with an additional need. Barriers would fall much quicker, especially in things like employment, if people focused on positive acceptance of each individual’s strengths and their weaknesses, not just passive awareness.

Show Full Transcript
Podcast Transcript
DEBRA: Welcome to Episode 66 of the Journey Skills podcast. This week, I am talking to Kieran Rose who’s known as the Autistic Advocate. Kieran was diagnosed with autism later in life so he’s able to offer insights on how that feels and how autism impacted on his early life and how it impacts on his life today.

Not only that, Kieran, as the autistic advocate is on a mission to change perceptions about people with autism. He talks not about awareness or understanding but about acceptance. Because as he explains, he has autism and he still doesn’t understand it. As he also says, most people are actually aware of autism now so the next step now is acceptance. And accepting people as they are and for who they are.

This isn’t just relevant for anyone who has autism or any additional need; this is about every single one of us. As a parent of a young person with additional needs, I think her focus is about being able to do what every other person does and that comes straight back to acceptance of her for who she is.

You’ll also hear that Kieran has some very strong opinions on not only the way people with autism are stereotyped, but also the industry that’s been built around autism. This is definitely a podcast to get you thinking about some of the bigger issues.

DEBRA: Can you just tell me your story, your journey?

KIERAN: Absolutely. I was born in Essex in the UK and struggled all my life from pre-school. Kept a lot of it inside me and sort of always felt on the outside of everything but just kind of try to stuffed it within me and carry on going and carry on going. Until eventually, I was diagnosed as autistic at the age of twenty three which was sixteen/seventeen years ago.

And at that time, there were very few autistic adults publicly around. Obviously, the internet was just beginning back then so I didn’t really know what to do because everything that I read was about children and so none of it was relatable to me really. So I just popped it and carried on, went through a cycle with getting jobs, losing jobs, burning out, going through quite severe mental could kind of mental health crisis and things like that.

And then, when I was 33, I was constructively debarred from my job and my third baby on the way in obviously kind of panicking at that point and realized that I needed to sort myself out and find out what was going on with me.

So I stumbled across the autistic community online and learned an immense amount about myself and found so many relatable situations in people’s experiences that were the same as mine and eventually I kind of pushed on through that and have become an advocate. It’s my full time thing now to the point now where I also serve the social enterprise now to support parents and autistic adult like diagnosed autistic adults and I consult now for the North East Autism Society, Durham Constabulary and quite few organisations as well.

DEBRA: So, what kind of things do you do as an autism advocate?

KIERAN: Lots of autistic people advocate online and share their experiences and try to support parents where they can and I do those things but I also try to platform as many people as I can as well. So 3 of my blog I quite have guests blogs come on and I kind of blog while I was having this conversation so I have other autistic people come on share their story who don’t have a platform of their own or don’t want a platform of their own but just want to get something out.

I run campaigns. Last year, I did a social media campaign called #TakeTheMaskOff which is about autistic masking which is basically suppressing who we are and kind of going through life like that. I mean that was huge. That had to reach some blog 5 million over across all the social media platforms and things there. They’re a lot of public speaking and then the consultancy as well. I do training and helping organisations to support autistic people better.

DEBRA: So when you say training, what you do when you go in to organisations? So you’re making aware of some of the issues?

KIERAN: Yes. A lot of it is around talking to employers and like schools, businesses, public sector organisations, things like that. Going in and basically talking to them how they can support their autistic employees better or for schools, how can them support their people and students better. Things like that.

My training is very different to most autism training because a lot of autism training is very theory-based. It’s about raising awareness and I just crumple that up and throw it away. Theories are theories at the end of the day. They are effectively irrelevant. They don’t practically help people. So, I what I deliver is a lot about identity and the importance of acceptance over awareness because awareness is passive, it’s you know, you’re aware about something, that’s where you need to be. But acceptance is actually doing something. So a lot of my training is about collectiveness and actively supporting people.

DEBRA: What do you mean by acceptance?

KIERAN: Acceptance is things like well, autistic people we stim which is a physical movements, vocal movement, vocal repetition, things like that. We might make noises in things and I jiggle awful lot and a hand flat is kind of a.. the stims that I do were quite kind of traditionally what you’d expect them; the physical side of all autistic people would do.

So accepting that we have very different communication styles quite often we can be quite blunt and honest, very direct and honest and quite often just different behaviors and things which are sitting by society as abnormal. Where I come from a position of…I’m very big on neurodiversity. Neurodiversity explains that everybody in the world has slightly different brain, we have different personalities, we’re all different people but within that neurodiversity, so things like autism where our brains work very differently from the rest of the world. And a lot of what I talk about in acceptance is about accepting the fact that there are very different people in the world and just because they act differently, behave differently, speak differently, communicate differently, it doesn’t mean that they’re broken or wrong, it just means that they’re different.

DEBRA: You think we’re still at the awareness stage as opposed to the acceptance stage then, in general?

KIERAN: Yes, I think kind of. I think we just need to push past awareness completely, kind of just push it to one side. And pretty much everyone’s heard the word autism, that’s awareness. That’s it! Take that portion. Then someone acts in a way that you think is strange then you automatically start pre-judging things. Things like eye contact. A lot of autistic people don’t make eye contact with other people because it’s actually physically hurt us to do so but we judge them that. All those kind of prejudgments that come with people who act differently and acceptance is about placing the same to people you care. If someone is not looking at you, it doesn’t mean that they’re not listening.

DEBRA: So you’re saying that the sort of understanding is fine but if you’re not accepting people.. because you can understand why someone does it but you’re not necessarily accepting that it’s okay for them to do it?

KIERAN: Yes, absolutely. A lot of autistic advocates say about acceptance. People think that everybody has to understand autism. Nobody can really understand autism. I’ve been doing this my whole life and I don’t really understand autism still. Actually, we lack a lot of acceptance from a lot of people and we prejudge a lot of people and it all kind of fits into the same things.

DEBRA: Just back to the sort of thing where you said about work and you were working and then obviously didn’t keep jobs. Was that because of that general lack of acceptance of I guess of the way they were?

KIERAN: Yes, to a degree. I burnt out of college, couldn’t cope with college anymore, lots of sensory pressures and I was struggling to understand myself obviously at the time of things. And I got a job working for a customs and excise. It was two weeks on, two weeks off, just processing the IT forms so I can sit with my headphones and listen to music for two weeks and then go home for two weeks kind of thing.

It was absolutely perfect for me but then I got a promotion, transferred over to the office of fair trading so I had an hour and a half commuting to London and obviously walking through the big city and being an office with new people and it was a really, really strange environment as well because if you didn’t ask for work, you didn’t get work. So effectively, I could have sat in the office all day and done nothing which was a really hard thing for me to do because I like to be at projects and be active and so I burnt out of that.

And then started working in schools as a teaching assistant and that’s where a lot of my career’s been now, around education. But a lot around that was around before I disclose to people, attitudes change towards me. They treated me differently. Explain as I was going along and so like I was hiding, I was acting neuro typically and acting normally. Everything was fine then but the moment I stop doing that or the moment I told someone I was autistic, that was it. It was kind of everything changed. And I was pushed out at a lot of jobs, I would say my whole life after that. So that’s been a kind of path, being pushed away.

DEBRA: Can I just talk about that then, the idea of disclosure. Do you think that is something that we need to be talking about more so that people feel that they can say, ‘Actually, look I’ve these, I’ve got autism or I’ve got an additional need’. Do it upfront? Rather than and I’m kind of speaking a little bit of my own daughter thinking that she would rather that she didn’t say anything because she didn’t want people to prejudge her ability.

KIERAN: My attitude towards work if you have any kind of disability is to put on the application form. Autism is a kind of a gray area because it you know some people say that’s not a disability, some people say it is. I think it kind of is a mixture of both because society disables an awful lot of us. But there are aspects of autism which are kind of disabling so I think you need to be upfront about that and if an employee takes you to interview knowing that you’re autistic or knowing that you have a disability then at least they know that upfront they’re taking that on board.

I think a lot of the issues arise when people don’t want to disclose then they might get a job, they might make it through the interview, they might actually get into the workplace but then issue start coming up and they still don’t want to disclose but more issues start coming out and then it becomes a reason to get rid of you and then if you do disclose then obviously like I said it’s that prejudgment. There’s this assumption that goes with autism and work that autistic people are going to lead loads of financial adjustments and loads of support and it becomes a big effort for the employer to actually keep that person on or to take that person on.

When actually, that’s not true. I saw a lot of reasonable judgments are very easy to make and actually benefits lots in and lots down a little bit. You know, not having open plan offices where everybody’s talking across each other and phones are ringing and all those kind of little tiny things that make a huge difference to an autistic person. A lot of non-autistic people benefit from that as well.

So, a lot other things that when employers think about taking on autistic person, just a more mess for them, don’t be afraid that it’s going to cost you a fortune because actually the positive side of autistic people is quite often they’re very focused. You know, like I said about projects, lots of this love projects and things we can get a tiff into and manage and control, you know. So there are a lot of positives to employing autistic people but again it’s that pre-assumption that there’s negatives attached to it.

DEBRA: Back to there you saying that put it on the application form, but I guess a lot people’s mistake is that they go actually they don’t want to because I won’t even get to an interview for a start.

KIERAN: But then the question you got to ask yourself then is that if you put it on the application form and then they’re not going to give you an interview because of it, why would you want to work there in the first place? It’s a very basic and easy thing to say because obviously, there is a record statistically huge unemployment rate amongst autistic people.

Part of the reason for that is lots of autistic people who are in jobs aren’t engaging with the statistics about employment first of all because they’re safe. So that kind of excused it anyway. But to my mind, it’s kind of a lot of autistic people are out of work and part of the reason for that is because of employers and because of attitude. So, it is to admit to say kind of you know, you don’t want to work there, they’re not going to give you the job in the first place. What’s the point of them applying to them kind of thing.

It’s about weighing up your financial situation and weighing up your mental health because if you’re going to work for an employer that doesn’t want you there because you’re autistic, that’s going to break you. It really is. So, it’s kind of your life is worth much more than that.

DEBRA: Do you think it’s changed, our employers becoming better at making those reasonable adjustments?

KIERAN: Obviously, it very much depends on the employer. I think more people (this goes back to awareness thing) becoming aware of the benefits to employing autistic people and other neurodiverse people as well. Neurodiversity has become a bit of a buzz word in the in the world of work. They have a lot of employers use it but they don’t really understand what it means, either. I think things have improved but we have a very long way to go before autistic people are given equity.

DEBRA: Do you think that’s because of the employers or because when people getting I’m thinking it’s kind of like a macro/micro to me, but macro where you got the employers understanding that someone with autism can be a valuable employee and it doesn’t cost that much but when they get into the workplace, don’t you then need that acceptance of your fellow employees?

KIERAN: Absolutely. I think it’s huge societal issue. I talk a lot about there’s a negative narrative around autism and it’s driven by a lot of autism professionals, it’s driven historically by the diagnosis and about how autism has been looked at. Society has a very binary way of thinking. You’re either one thing or you’re not. Quite a lot a lot of aspects of society, binary thinking is something that autistic people are accused quite a lot. And a lot of it is a big projection I think. So, in terms of societal culture, autism is looked on negative thing, it’s looked on autistic people are incompetent, you know we can’t advocate for ourselves, we can’t talk for ourselves, there’s a lot of issues around the lack of support, the lack of money, autism, the rising diagnostic rate.

So the negative narrative, there’s lots of assumptions and expectations made around autistic people and there’s an autism industry that makes a huge amount of money out of autistic people and their families. It’s worth billions around the world. So there’s negativity that is carried around autism which is driven by this industry is actually having this social impact.

You know, all of this kind of thing that’s carried with it and that feeds into the whole employment thing as well because you put the word autism on the application form and the majority of the employers are going be like that runs through their heads, subconsciously. All of these negativity, they’re like ‘No, we’re not having that’ but then, you get into the workplace and maybe disclose to your employer or your coworkers, your colleagues, and then all of that negativity is running through their heads. Or they know a child that’s autistic who might have meltdowns, might have sensory needs, and it’s like ‘You don’t look like autistic, you’re not like this’ and so all of these kind of feeds into their head.

You’re absolutely right, this awareness (going back to the question) but you need that, you need the awareness from employers first of all, you need that understanding that there isn’t these negativities or hype and is actually not a rear reflection of is actually happening in the world. But from colleagues and things, you do need that acceptance, you need to understand that certain people just communicate differently. They might read emails rather than being spoken to. Or you know, they might like to sit quietly at lunch time and not coming to the staff room and things like that. It’s all these little tiny things that really add up and make a huge difference to autistic people and how happy they are.

DEBRA: Can you give some advice then for parents because kind of what you’re basically saying there is that there’s lots of negativity around autism in general, about the impact it has on the individual and the impact it has on the family. I know what you mentioned before about some employment (maybe some of the figures are a bit fudge) but genuinely, there’s very low rates of employment for young people with autism. So, can you give some ideas to parents and how they deal with that, their young people as well, what can they do to help change those ideas and think more positive for themselves?

KIERAN: Absolutely, I mean a lot of it like I said the negativity tends to stop when you stop accessing the diagnostic pathway and we have a child confessing by the mental children health teams are that there’s no support. There’s a lot of negativity, you know, so it’s like if you get a diagnosis no one’s going to be there to help you at the other end. So, a lot of the support comes around peer support, from parents and things like that but there are amazing parents in this world and I work with a lot of amazing parents that don’t understand their children necessarily but are desperate to and really want to, want to make that difference in their lives but with the problem with things like peer support groups is that a lot of the negativity that I spoke about before can be passed around. Those peer support groups and it becomes very like negative cycle. And that affects how you view your child and affects how you view their futures as well. Because you look at a small child and you make assumptions about, you know, you have expectations about what you want for them. Their pathway is they’re going to school, they get a job, they got a family, you know, your grandchildren and you have this whole life mapped out for your child before they’re even born really.

And a disable child comes into that mix and then smashes all those thoughts. You go for a kind of grieving process for that which is absolutely natural. You now have to live your life very differently but a lot about supporting that child is understanding that what you see in your child right now isn’t necessarily what you’re going to see in them when they’re fifteen or when they’re twenty-five or when they’re forty-five. You know, people grow. Everybody grows and changes over the course of their lives and so you look at your child as a child all your life and you make assumptions about them but you can’t do that.

What you need to do is to instil in them positivity about themselves. You need to help them understand themselves as best you can. I mean for autistic kids, the best way for them to learn is for their parents to go and engage with the autistic community and so many blogs and vlogs and people doing things like I’m doing all over the world. So, there’s so much information out there to be found which is really positive, really engaging, practical advice and things and instilling that in your child, making them understand that autism isn’t just part of them, it’s their whole neurology.

I talk about autism being neurology. Autism is neurology and neurology describes brain, nervous system, fingertips to toes kind of thing. All of that is autism. Your whole child is autistic. That’s their neurology. They have completely different way of thinking, completely body works in a very different way, they process information in a very different way and trying to carve a part of that out is actually really negative for that person because it’s smashing their identity effectively.

And I spoke about masking earlier and lots of parents will understand what masking is and lots of autistic children go to school, they buckle everything up for the day and then unleash it when they get home or hold it in for years or whatever it is that they do. And it’s about helping them understand that they don’t have to mask, that what other people think really isn’t that important, that they need to be happy within themselves and accept themselves. Keep yourself safe, yes, that’s the most important thing but just that understanding of themselves and about recognizing, embracing that autistic identity is really, really important.

DEBRA: As an advocate, where do you think we’re going in terms of acceptance?

KIERAN: I see it at the minute there are, not being binary, but there are kind of two trains; one struggling forward with positivity, understanding, wanting to accept autistic people and there’s another one channelling backwards, especially in the UK as well. The reason the education system is just tumbling bounce into behaviour and zero tolerance, DNA test with its 10 year plan is once it’s roll out behaviour therapy, the front row treatment for autistic children.

So, you have this one train that’s going forward and understanding that autistic people needs to be accepted, the difference is okay, that everybody needs to wants to compromise together and then you have this other train which is about making autistic people behave, making them acting the way that isn’t autistic. At the minute I think, in the UK especially we’re in a really kind of balancing on a knife edge of where to go and I’m hoping because just from the reactions of things that happen on social media or on online, a lot of people hopefully are changing their tuner and jumping on the acceptance train rather than heading backwards, because there’s a legacy or the impact of normalizations of things as we do have a huge suicide rate amongst the autistic community.

All of these things, all of these negativities are feeding into early death rates and mental health issues and things, so embracing the positive side of it, not just accepting. You know, obviously like I said, there are disabling aspects and there are negative points to being autistic, but it’s about not focusing on those all the time and actually looking at these people and say, “Oh hold on a minute, you have strengths. You can do this. You’re amazing at this. Let’s embrace that. Let’s let that lead. Let’s follow that lead. You look at what you need to make yourself happy.” It’s about shifting that attitudes. So like I said, I’m hopeful. It’s going to take a long time.

DEBRA: Do you think that those inspiring stories of someone who’s done well that has autism, do they help?

KIERAN: It’s kind of a 50/50 thing. I think sometimes it helps parents to look at other children or autistic adults to say ‘You know you’ve achieved something’ but I think the problem is, from my perspective and from an autistic person’s perspective, you see things like that and it’s kind of… There was one I saw the other day and it was the ffirst autistic person to pass the bar in the US to become a lawyer and I was like I’m sure there’s plenty of other autistic people that have passed that bar.

You know, it’s become a kind of “Well done, you’ve done this despite being autistic”. And probably because she was autistic that she passed the bar, you know, because of her intense focus or her ability to do these things and to have a creative and out of the box way of thinking. They’re the huge skills. It’s inspiring for some people but then it also has this really negative effects on the community, on the autistic community. Everyone who’s disable has that kind of negative kind of connotations to it and that child rightness, you know what I said before about kind of making assumptions about people’s lives and it’s that kind that feeds into that. The masking plays into that because it’s assumed that we go out of autism, but we never do because it’s us.

DEBRA: Those inspiring stories always strike me as what you just said about a well done you rather than actually that’s to be expected.

KIERAN: The connotation there is that you have the assumption that someone who’s autistic could never do that thing. When you actually look at it from that perspective, it’s actually a really, really negative thing. It’s really obviously the achievement should be applauded, everybody’s achievement should be applauded but you know, when you see something like that around social media and there’s 10 million people saying ,clapping maybe it’s good for that person but as a way of changing that societal filter power autism is looked at, it’s actually negative.

DEBRA: Yes, because it’s almost like what you said about that person is kind of fitted into a box, haven’t they? And had done a job that other people do so therefore they’re okay, people say fit in to that box as supposed to doing something a bit different and being congratulated for that. Or, you know, that sort of job is seen as being aspirational, isn’t it?

KIERAN: Absolutely, yes, it plays into a kind of a whole hierarchical thing, doesn’t it? And that we’re having that culture. You’d never celebrate an autistic person being a bean man, why not? Why would you have these assumptions about certain job. This is why I do what I do. It’s obviously very focused on autism but it’s not just about that.

I see it as a civil rights movement. It really, really is. And say alongside like feminism, race issues and it’s kind of that acceptance thing there as well because obviously you wouldn’t celebrate a woman for becoming a lawyer. The whole 10 million people on social media don’t applaud that so why would you assume it with other things as well? It’s really that kind of that thing.

DEBRA: You’ve kind of touched on tips for parents in that but what about a young person who’s struggling at the moment, going through some of the things like you went through. What kind of things can you say to them to help them or maybe their parents can tell them?

KIERAN: It’s obviously very hard in the moment, thinking back to where I was in, just a trigger warning for your listeners. I took an overdose at 14. It was because I’d muffed for years, I’ve never melted down, I was shut down, I’m selectively mute as well so I went a long period of that without actually speaking to people and sometimes week. And all of that related to kind of anxiety and things and I understand in the moment, as a child and feeling the way that I did, I couldn’t see that there was a way through that or way out of it.

It’s taken me a very long time to get to where I am and to fully kind of fully accept myself and understand there are just some things that I can’t do and there are things that I need help with and that’s not necessarily my fault. And a lot of that is about blame. A lot of autistic children aren’t given the opportunity to learn about themselves. A child gets a diagnosis, teachers get training, parents get training (it might not be very good training) but you know, they have general awareness, and the one person that never gets any training is the child. It’s expected that the parents going to pass all this information on to the child. It’s kind of it’s difficult for parents because the parents can’t get their heads around it either. And so a lot of it is about learning to accept yourself and just be yourself.

And again it’s a very easy and simple thing for me to say because it took me so long to do it but out there right now is a wealth of support and information that I never had at a young age. And I think a lot of parents don’t actually realize how much positive information is out there. I would find blogs by autistic adults and there are blogs by autistic young people, autistic teenagers, all the people who are out there putting themselves on the line and putting their life out there in public but that’s all out there for you to learn from and there are such a wealth of positive brilliance out there for you to learn from.

DEBRA: Kieran, thank you so much for your time.

KIERAN: Lovely talking to you.

DEBRA: Key takeaway? Acceptance over awareness and acceptance over understanding. It’s nice to have the first two, but in reality, only acceptance will move things forward especially when it comes to things like work for young people with additional needs.

Resources
The Autistic Advocate Website
The Autistic Advocate on Facebook

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Finding The Right Fit Into Work


Podcast Episode 65 It’s not only about finding work, it’s about matching the skills of the person with the job. This is the view of Derek Groves, from Employment Futures, who discusses the idea of vocational matching and the many benefits it brings to a young person with additional needs and to employers. He also talks about how employers still have some way to go in terms of being flexible in their employment practices, especially when it comes to the use of a traditional interviewing process which simply does not allow some young people to showcase their strengths.

Another issue that Derek addresses is positive disclosure, that is how much to disclose to an employer about an individual’s additional needs. Although, as he says, its a personal choice in many instances, it can help the employer match the person with a job role and ensure that reasonable adjustments are possible without being costly or disruptive to the workplace.

The work of organizations like Employment Futures is so important in breaking down the barriers into work and helping employers change their perceptions about employing young people with additional needs.

Show Full Transcript
Podcast Transcript
DEBRA: Welcome to Episode 65 of the Journey Skills podcast. No prizes but guessing the theme of this week’s podcast, yes it’s work, but to be honest I make no apology for that because I believe that this particular interview will add to our knowledge around work and that’s no bad thing.

I’m talking to Derek from the North East Autism Society about their Employment Futures program. And again, although it’s a UK-based organization, it’s a bit like the last episode when I spoke to the Able Coffee Roaster guys in Los Angeles, much of the information that’s shared is universal. Although the North East Autism Society is clearly focused on helping a particular group, what Derek says is very transferable for anyone looking at the employment issue.

Derek explains how the Employment Futures program works by being very person-centric and trying to find people jobs that fit their specific skills or Vocational Matching as Derek calls it. He also talks about the dreaded reasonable adjustments and again highlights the lack of understanding of this term. He also shares some of the challenges they see and provides I think some key advice, especially around positive disclosure.

You could say this is an all Australian final as you may have noticed that Derek is from my part of the world and it’s a final because the podcast will now take a short holiday break and we’ll be back again on September the 9th. However, I’ll be taking the opportunity to do a series of videos over the summer highlighting previous podcast episodes, not just about work but also, about daily living skills and relationships.

DEBRA: Today I’m talking to Derek Groves who’s the Employment Service Manager for Employment Futures which is the department of North East Autism Society which is based in the North East of England. Employment Futures is an organization which is focused on helping young people with additional needs access employment opportunities. Welcome, Derek!

DEREK: Hi, thank you very much, Debra, for the opportunity to talk today.

DEBRA: Can you tell me a little bit about first of all yourself and then also about what Employment Futures is all about?

DEREK: Yes, so, I’m a father of a son who’s on the spectrum and so I’m very keen to make some changes happen within the field of employment. From a personal level, to see that he can go on and get into a satisfactory job which he can contribute, add value and enjoy and also the work that I do now; working with individuals and seeing once they do find that right fit in an environment that’s good and productive. The joy that comes from that, it’s a very special feeling.

DEBRA: What does Employment Futures do? It’s part of a large organization, so how is it different than the rest of that organization?

DEREK: I guess we consider ourselves the baby of the organization. The North East Autism Society as a charity has been around for over 35 years. It is grown from a small collective of parents starting a school to now delivering education services, residential care services, family support, day programs. They didn’t have an employment service and it’s only 3 years ago that we identified really that there was that gap in provision, a need for that and demand out there and so along with the CEO and the support of the trustees, we launched Employment Futures as a department. It started up very small, just the 2 of us as a team working with a very small provision to support a handful of people. It’s grown over that 3 year period to now having 12 staff and last year, we reached 191 people. So, it’s growing and we believe that it’s having an impact. Certainly, the joy of seeing somebody in their first job and being productive and enjoying that is fantastic.

DEBRA: What kind of programs do you have within Employment Futures?

DEREK: So all of our programs and employment services start with quite a thorough assessment. We really believe in person-centered planning; putting the individual and their needs at the centre rather than trying to fit them into a standardized program or training course. So we need to start that by really understanding what’s going on for that individual in their world. That profiling we use a tool called Dua Profiler which really gives quite a holistic look in terms of financial position, what’s their situation with regard to benefits, mental health position, a sensory profile so understanding what environmental factors need to be considered in looking at workplace and putting all that information together really gives us the opportunity to develop that person-centered plan. And that’s how we start all our programs.

DEBRA: So once you find out information about them, what’s the next step after that?

DEREK: So we develop with them an individual action plan from all of the things I’ve identified. It might be really poor sleep routines and poor sleep habits and trying to withdraw and address that before putting them into all a situation of a workplace. We develop that action plan in agreement with them around what are the priorities, what do we really need to focus on. And some of them are real health and well-being stuff so, you know, sleep patterns is a big issue for many of the participants we work with. Then the action plan goes through usually one to one, working with a job coach to support them through those activities to move them forward.

And then we can engage in the actual process of linking them with an employer. So there’s a second person from my team called an Employer Engagement Officer, which is a full-time role, out there educating employers out there representing the individuals we work with and selling the skills and abilities and the talents that they’ve got to employers. And their role is really pivotal but it’s the combination of the two. One we can work with participant and overcome some of the barriers that they might currently have but you’ve also got to work with the employers and educate them and talk to them about reasonable adjustments. So that’s the two working together.

DEBRA: When you said before you put together a personal plan, sometimes do you find that people will come and they need to upskill before they can even get to the employer?

DEREK: Yes, certainly, for many people progression to structured training may be part of their pathway to employment. So, we try and work by matching people to both their skills and their interests. If you can find a job that you’re good at and you enjoy, you’re streets ahead; you’re a long way there to making it work for the long-term. So, we start with that mentality, but in many cases, there will be some skills that they need in order to get into a career in that field. So, we do work with training providers and access different provisions that will get them that next step along the way.

DEBRA: Let’s say they find a role for a young person that you’re helping; is there an interview process that they go through with the employer?

DEREK: Yes, we deliver our training with the employer. So, often our employers will have some or limited knowledge about autism but because the employer engagement officer also knows the individual and how autism specifically affects them, they’re able to deliver meaningful training, able to give training to a line manager or a supervisor so that they can understand how to best support this person in the workplace.

We’re also disability confident lead, leader organization, so we promote and advocate for disability confident, reasonable adjustments in the workplace. We also, with some employers are doing what’s known as a workplace assessment so if they feel that the circumstances, the environment, the factors that were mentioned before regarding a sensory profile may contribute to a person’s anxiety or distress, we can go into the workplace with the support of the employer and understand the environment the person’s going to be working in, make some reasonable adjustment recommendations for them as well. So really, in order to make it sustainable and working for both the employer and the employee, you got to be talking about that full picture and reasonable adjustments.

DEBRA: What kind of employers have you been able to work with so far?

DEREK: They’re really quite a broad range. It’s necessary because the variety of personal interests that people who come with, you need to work across a broad range of industries and sectors. There is definitely the IT community whether it’s from their ability to make reasonable adjustments; I’m seeing larger employers across the region who are quite flexible in a way that they can support individuals. It’s also an area where there is a skills shortage and skills in demand for that sector. So it seems more amicable to taking people in and making those kinds of adjustments in order to make it work. But we work across a really broad range of sectors.

DEBRA: Can you give me some examples of reasonable adjustments? What have employers done?

DEREK: Yes, they can be quite simple things. So, one of the misconceptions that we overcome with the employers is that it’s going to be expensive, that they’re going to have to change a lot of things in order to make it work. And in many cases, the adjustments are really quite simple. The young man who’s working in an open-plan office, for example, is wearing headphones and playing his own music to tune out all of the peripheral noises that would be otherwise be quite distractive for him, would build up and cause him some sense of sensory overload but being to wear headphones and letting the employer know that this is part of his strategy. It works for both the employer and for the employee.

DEBRA: Can you give me some examples of challenges that you’ve found with the reasonable adjustments where I guess organizations have maybe struggled? Have there been examples of that?

DEREK: Yes, one of the things that I think we would like to see more progress in is around standardized recruitment. Many of the larger organizations struggle with adjusting the interview application process to suit people that might have challenges with social communication. It’s, to some level, somewhat frustrating because we know that the evidence is that interviewing people for 20 minutes doesn’t necessarily get you the best person for the job. And we’re strong advocator of working interviews, we try and encourage employers where they’re able to adapt to providing a working interview situation where the person can go in and practically demonstrate what they can do rather than trying to sit and talk about it for 20 minutes.

DEBRA: The young people that come to you? Do they come through the North East Autism Society or did they come from external?

DEREK: Mostly, they’re external referrals. Some through self-referral, they’ll identify from the website or our Facebook presence that actually we’ve got some services they might want to access. Others will come from a Job Centre referral, so they are registered with an unemployment service. I think the specialism that we have and the differences that we have any provision make us attractive for job center to refer them to us as well.

DEBRA: I guess as a parent of a young person who’s getting to work age and you want to look for roles for them, what kind of tips would you have for parents to help them I guess make the transition into work and make it easier for their young person?

DEREK: So vocational matching. The idea of trying to match the job and the role to the skills and abilities of the person. There is a bit of a science to it but if you can start with what their key interests are, what things really they get enthusiastic about and what things are their strengths, what are their good characteristics and traits. And everybody has a combination of those. If you can work with those, identify those and then look at how do I match those particular employers that value those skills and abilities. It’s the strongest way to go forward by vocational matching.

DEBRA: You mentioned about the job coach, what’s their role with the young person?

DEREK: Yes, so they’ll be working with them on the individual aspects that they’ve identified. For many individuals, it will be about things like managing their anxiety and teaching them some self-regulation techniques where they might be able to identify when they’re getting anxious and identify some strategies that work for them, that they can use and implement to kind of self-manage that to some degree. It could be around practical things like CVs and then preparing for a combination of talking with employers.

One of the things that I do think still differentiates us is we talk about positive disclosure: How do you talk to an employer? When do you talk to the employer and what do you say if you’re going to disclose that you’ve got autism? It’s an area that I don’t think there is enough conversation about. I think that it’s a very important conversation to have. And I think that people often walk into it unprepared. So, preparing an individual for that conversation in the workplace is an important part of what we do as well.

DEBRA: Do you think that transparency is an essential part at the very beginning?

DEREK: It is a personal choice and we always advocate it’s not a legal requirement that they have to disclose and many will have reservations about doing so because of a past experience that they’ve had but we do encourage that. Particularly a disability confident employer, if you’re able to disclose and do so when it’s framed in a positive manner, the employer usually has a desire to help and support so if they’re not informed, don’t know about the needs, they’re not able to do all they could in order to support an individual.

DEBRA: Have you noticed that employers changing then in their perception of employing young people with additional needs? You’ve been going for about 3 years you said, so have you noticed changes?

DEREK: Yes, I think so. I think that there’s more public awareness of it and that drives employers change, behavior changes. I think that we’re starting to get more publicity around those good case scenarios and that also drives some competitive nature among businesses when they see that actually, somebody else in the same sector is doing a great initiative at working. Other employers are more likely to onboard and do their own programs and initiatives. So I think that’s a new trend that we’re seeing.

DEBRA: Do you also think there’s a better understanding that employers need support as much as the young people?

DEREK: Yes, I think that there are support mechanisms out there but I don’t think they’re widely understood. I mentioned disability confident and I know that that campaign is still growing and employers are coming on board to that initiative. There’s also access to work and many employers either are not aware or unfamiliar with just how flexible it is in terms of supporting non-physical disabled individuals. There’s a vast amount that can be done through an access to work grant.

DEBRA: In terms of the future then for I guess two parts of the future really; the future of what you’re doing at Employment Futures but what do you also think the future of young people working in a more wide range of industries will be?

DEREK: I think it’s great, potentially. I think they’ve got a lot to contribute. We know individuals who’ve been very successful in work and I think the more that that’s public and the employers are aware of that, the greater the acceptance and the greater the level that they’re prepared to, to take people on and make those reasonable adjustments in the first place. I do see it trending in the right way. I do think we’re still a long way to go. There are still organizations that are very traditionally based in their recruitment and not inclined to make those adjustments so I’d like to see that trend continue.

DEBRA: Key takeaway? The idea of vocational matching and how important that can be in terms of finding a young person a role that they really want to be in and that really takes advantage of their skills.

Resources
Employment Futures
Employment Futures on Facebook

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The Able Workers


Podcast Episode 64 What next? is a question we constantly ask ourselves as we help our young people navigate through the education system. As they get older and age out of the system, this question becomes more urgent and often the answer isn’t as easy to find. This week’s guests Adeel and Anthony asked that exact question and when no answer was obvious they created their own solution: Able Coffee Roasters.

Able Coffee Roasters is on a mission to create sustainable paid employment for young people with additional needs. Through the use of innovative techniques like point of view video modeling and focusing on making accommodations so that each young person can excel at the tasks they are given, Able Coffee Roasters is answering for some young people the question of what next.

What Anthony and Adeel are doing is not only inspiring because it has the potential to help so many young people on their journey to independence but is inspiring because it shows what is possible if we focus not on the question but on looking around for potential solutions in our own communities.

Show Full Transcript
Podcast Transcript
DEBRA: Welcome to Episode 64 of the Journey Skills podcast. One of the main things this podcast is all about is possibilities. There are many great projects out there all over the world providing the possibility for an independent future for our young people whether that surround building friendships, finding a community or even finding a home of their own. As you know by now, I believe employment is the key to everything when it comes to independence because from that will come so many other things. When it comes to what is possible in employment opportunities then this episode is a perfect fit.

I’m talking to Adeel and Anthony from Able Coffee Roasters who have taken that idea of imagining the possibilities and done something about it. They’re using their own resources to solve a problem they identified from their day jobs as educators of young people with additional needs. They saw a lack of employment options and to an extent a lack of employers’ understanding. So Able Coffee Roasters is born and is a growing business as you’ll hear from them. And it’s also one of those ideas that could be replicated and that to me is a great value in hearing about their journey.

I’m sure you’ll agree after listening that it’s incredible what Adeel and Anthony have already achieved in such a short time scale and with limited amounts of money and it illustrates what is possible when you just go out and decide to do it.

DEBRA: Today I’m talking to Adeel Asif and Anthony Palmeri from Able Coffee Roasters. Welcome.

ANTHONY: Thanks for having us.

DEBRA: Can you just tell me a little bit about what you do, your background and what Able Coffee Roasters is all about?

ANTHONY: Of course, so right now, we’re at the school site that I currently work at. I’m a teacher in South Orange County, a public high school teacher and I teach an autism specific class. I love it. I’ve been teaching for eight years and right now. I’m really working on vocational skills, functional life skills and really trying to get my students working in the community and that’s kind of what really is the passion and what has driven Adeel and I to do what we’re doing; create jobs because currently at least according to the National Labor Statistics, it’s over 83% unemployment for individuals with disabilities. So, you’ll hear in a sec why we’re so passionate about it but before I get to that, I want to introduce my co-owner, Adeel Asif.

ADEL: Alright guys. So my name is Adeel Asif, I also work for a public school system here in South Orange County. I’m currently at a middle school site, also working in an autism specific classroom and my role is actually as a behavioral interventionist. So, I work mainly with students working on all sorts of behaviors and shaping appropriate functional behaviors for them to work and have jobs.

Anthony and I actually worked previously in the same classroom, that’s where met each other and together, you know, we work on these skills and these job tasks with our students to train them and teach them the appropriate vocational and job skills for them have functional jobs in the community.

Through this, Anthony and I kind of realized that the unemployment rate for people with disabilities is over 80% and there’s a big need for that in our community and kind of saw that various communities. And so, that’s kind of where Able was born.

ANTHONY: Yes. So you know, it’s a common concern for parents and educators especially at least in California, that the age of 22 that’s when educational services cease and knowing that statistic of greater than 80% unemployment rate and so we are trying to get our students into the jobs in our community, but it’s very, very hard.

Currently, I do have my whole class, they’re working at a pizza shop down the street, folding the boxes, cleaning tables. But these are jobs that are not paid, they’re not long-term. It’s frustrating to me as an educator and also as a parent too, not for me personally but for the parents of the students in my classes, it’s extremely scary and frustrating. Adeel and I, we saw that so after school we say, “How could we better serve our students?” We formed an LLC, the able workers and we’re doing business as Able Coffee Roasters. We’ve taught ourselves how to roast over the summer and we just wanted to create the opportunity ourselves because we felt we are the most competent, the most passionate people to do this.

For instance, some students work are at the grocery store or are an apprentice at the pizza shop, but the manager at that store isn’t necessarily trained on how to help them excel or what accommodations they need to excel. These are things that we love, we’re passionate about. We were very literate. I’m using video modeling techniques and stuff on the iPad to increase independence.

These are all things that we know how to do and really, this is what got us started. Over the summer, our passion was just to create a business that creates paying jobs for individuals post 22. So all of our employees, they are the ones that are doing packaging, they are the ones that are doing labeling, they’re the ones that ship out the coffee to our customers and the whole goal is to create paying jobs for individuals with disabilities.

ADEEL: Just want to jump in and say… I think a lot of reasons we actually chose to start with coffee is because here definitely in South Orange County, coffee is a big culture and it’s a community. And we want our people living inside our community to see that our workers in this population that we work with and we teach every day are able. So, they are able to have a job. Each one of these guys is able to do a different task. We’re able to train them and teach them by breaking down those skills using our materials and our visuals, using strategies we know from school, to teach them to be able in the community.

So, coffee in itself, (I don’t know if Anthony mentioned but) he used to be a chef so he kind of has a little bit of background and experience. I mean, we’re still trying to perfect ourselves with our beans and where we source them from, and the different variations of bean roasting levels and the different profiles that come in and out of the natural beans. So, that’s still for us, a learning process.

And my background before was a little bit of business and marketing so I kind of have been able to structure our social media and our website to make it a little bit more friendly for people when they see it, it’s like “Oh these two guys with some experience in this. They’re able to create merchandise and shirts and sweaters that different people in the community can purchase and wear, and represent the brand that stands for individuals with disabilities having a job.”

And I think also recently, one of the things that we’ve been focusing on is the places where we actually source our coffee beans from. We were able to get in contact with a foundation in Colombia, Guatemala known as Cafe Femenino and they actually educate and train women farmers in their countries to create paying jobs for them over there. So, we’re sourcing our beans from them and ship them here and roasting them. The jobs that are being done by the people with disabilities whether it’s the roasting, packaging, labeling, even to the shipment to the customers. I think it’s a full circle of good that we’re returning to the community and so I think our consumers really have been able to appreciate that and see the authenticity of it.

ANTHONY: And we’re also even going down to Peru this summer to visit that Cafe Femenino farm and they’re having us go down there and do like a workshop with individuals with disabilities and to also establish more relations with the farmers down there too. So, we really have been active for under a year.

ADEEL: Yes, almost a year. We started last summer and starting point was like “Oh, let’s have a coffee shop and have these guys just work in our coffee shop but we kind of came to see that to start off like that we need to be established; people need to know that we’re out there, that Able Coffee Roasters is a product. Creating coffee and creating jobs for people with disabilities. We just started off with an Able Cafe or an Able Shop, nobody would really know what we are yet, so we started the product itself.

So, when we started roasting our beans and selling our beans and our merchandise online, people start to see us and see that momentum of us in the community. And so, what we started doing was a couple of different events in Orange County and Los Angeles area. For people to come out and try our samples and see our Able workers actually working our booth, serving at our sample coffee, selling our products.

So essentially, I think our next step for Able is to have a storefront cafe where we can then create and accommodate more jobs where these guys are working as baristas and serving the community with good coffee and we’re able to create these jobs and pay them. They are included and inclusive in the community. It’s like they’re able to work.

ANTHONY: That is really our philosophy that we believe there’s a job for everybody. When Adeel and I taught ourselves how to roast, it took us a lot of time to figure out “Okay, how can we accommodate the unique needs of every employee or intern that we have working with us and how do we make that efficient so this is a fully efficient, productive business?”

We drew tap visual task analysis, breaking up the tasks using video modeling, providing breaks and ways for our employees communicate because a lot of them can’t talk. They use their iPads. The things that we’re doing, we are productive and we are able to turn a profit. We can do it. We just have to be creative and see what some of our students’ strengths are and really capitalize on that.

ADEEL: One great example, on our actual coffee packs on our labeling, we’ve simplified it to the point for individuals that are nonverbal and can’t write. We’ve broken it down and if you have a chance, definitely check out our website because you can see the packaging on there and see how it is done. All they have to do is just check off or circle a mark when the beans are roasted, what day they were roasted on, and the roast level. We have it just listed light, medium and dark and all they have to do literally is check it off. It’s very simple. Just our labeling, our different roasts, they’re just stickers and all you have to do is peel and stick. So, individuals with minimal fine motor skills, stuff like that, they’re able to do those tasks very easily.

DEBRA: Can I just take you back a little bit to the beginning of when you decided to do coffee roasting and how you set up the organization, the challenges you had because obviously, there must have been funding, finding a location, that kind of thing. How did you work through that?

ANTHONY: We’ve been funding it ourselves, with our own money and we haven’t had any investors. Everything we’ve made goes back into the business.

ADEEL: It’ all going right back into the packaging and ordering the beans and finding a commercial industrial kitchen to roast from and getting our roaster. We pretty much have it on like a lease. And we roast and when we sell, we do events, we just pay for the roaster until eventually, it will pay itself off.

Starting up I think was just kind of doing it. And Anthony had a name in mind and I liked Able because it literally defines our mission and with my background in design, Photoshop, stuff like that, I was kind of able to come up with our logo which is also in itself is a good representation of the brand. It’s actually a puzzle piece with various other different puzzle pieces coming together and there are different shades of blue and gray and black intertwined into it. Coming together to make a bigger puzzle piece. Kind of indicating that we’re not only working with individuals with autism because a lot of times, people associate the color blue and a puzzle piece with autism. So, we used all these different shades of blue and gray and making up larger pictures because we’re supporting individuals with autism but also all sorts of disabilities.

What also helped was coming up with merchandise. So, when people saw Anthony and I wearing shirts with a logo with different phrases. People start asking these questions like “Oh, what is this? What is Able?” and we told them, “Oh, this is something we’ve been working on” and we got the momentum that way.

DEBRA: So you’re actually leasing premises as you need them rather than having a permanent base?

ANTHONY: So with us, it’s all baby steps. We’ve learned this like get these big ideas and stuff like that but literally, we’re funding this with our own money and working after school and on the weekends; roasting with our students. But we are doing those baby steps.

ADEEL: Our goal is to have a permanent location where we can have our roasters set up in our own café. Our own shop where we have our cafe storefront with our barista and then we have that back area where we’re also roasting and creating our product. We will also be training these guys so we would have a training facility or room within that same permanent location where they can come in and we can teach them these tasks.

DEBRA: So given that you both have obviously full-time jobs is this a weekend that you’re doing most of your selling and marketing?

ADEEL: On the weekends there’s either two-day or three-day event. Sometimes, we have events that we literally go to after we get off work. So our school day goes to 3:00 or 3:30 and the event starts at 5:00, we have to get our stuff ready to go and we have our coffee brewed within those 2 hours. Then we’re at the event, we set up our booth and we pick up our guys, get the job done, they come to help us out. Pretty much just do it after our day jobs and on the weekends.

DEBRA: You talk a little bit about reasonable adjustments. You mentioned iPads and using that kind of thing, is that working really well?

ANTHONY: Yes, it is using these accommodations. These are things that our employees need. Like an accommodation is different than a modification, right? You’re not really changing anything, you’re just giving them for instance, larger print text, that’s an accommodation. Somebody might have a hard time seeing some visuals or they can’t read, so we do use a lot of visuals

ADEEL: I think the really great thing that we’ve been able to use and take advantage of is point of view (POV) video modeling. I can describe that for anyone who doesn’t know but video modeling is kind of a POV video of the person from their point of view, either scooping the coffee beans or packing them into a bag. Performing each of the steps from that person’s view and then they’re able to watch that and replicate that. Or there are other angles where you can film another person actually doing it but not from a point of view angle. So they’re watching somebody else do it and then they can also replicate that. So there are just different variations of video modeling that we use depending on the person that’s doing that job task.

ANTHONY: Video modeling is something that we really use a lot to train our employees. So with video modelling is imagine when you’re trying to learn a new task. So I use this as an example all the time, for me because I have a very, very very, hard time tying a tie, but if I was to read directions, without any visuals so just on how to tie a tie. It could help some people, right? But it wouldn’t help me. And then imagine if there was like maybe a step by step with visuals on how to tie a tie like maybe 6 steps that can help a lot more people but not me. But then maybe you watch videos of somebody doing it but not the same angle, that would help me a lot more but it’s not going to help me because I can’t generalize that vision.

Generalizing is very hard for individuals with disabilities.

Generalizing is very hard for individuals with disabilities. It’s hard to train a lot of people, it’s challenging for me. So point of view, actually doing it from the angle of the person doing the task can help. So a video on YouTube of somebody is doing a point of view tying a tie, you would get it from their angle tying a tie. So that would be a lot easier for me. That’s the best way.

Now the even better way which is to make a point of view with video modelling is that it allows you and for instance for what we’re doing to video model packing coffee or weighing their ounces, scooping it through the bundle, packaging or sticker labeling but the thing that’s gets amazing about that, about video modelling in this circumstance is we are video modelling the exact object that our employees are using.

That’s not like a random scooper on Google image or on another video on YouTube. No, it’s the one that Adeel and I already video modelled using our iPad or iPhone just direct hovering over whatever task it is. All you see is the hands doing the task; my two hands or his two hands or their two hands doing the task and it is the exact same objects into objects that they’re going to be using so they do not have to generalize.

So, why is that good? Because Adeel and I and the job coaches, we don’t have to verbally prompt the employees. That’s a concern for parents and teachers, that our students are prompt-dependent because they always have somebody saying, “Do this. Do this. Do this. Do this.” Video modelling can really help to eliminate that. So that is why we use video modelling in our company and its research-based. It also benefits other things; social skills to hygiene to anything you can think of. But we’re using it right now to package coffee because that’s what we’re having our employees do.

So I encourage our listeners, parents, video modelling look it up and there’s apps and stuff like that too. But you can also just use the video on your cell phone, on your iPad and then just maybe you need a partner to video you doing whatever task that is. That you could slow motion, you could roll forward or backwards as well.

We do cooking lessons at my school in my class and we use video modelling to do all the cooking lessons like this step by step. It’s like making nachos, putting the chips on the plate, putting the cheese, putting the beans or whatever toppings and then going to the microwave and putting it in the microwave. Somebody’s following while you do that and then when the student comes and it’s ready for them to go and then they just preview the video modeling and then you let them go. Then they can either fast forward, pause it, or go backwards so it increases independence and it eliminates the need to generalize. They’re not going to have to process your request. There is something to watch the video and then they do it on their own and it’s the objects that you’re using as well.

ADEEL: Yes, the good thing about that is like Anthony mentioned you can go back, you can go forward, you can make different little clips to teach them each of the steps individually. Each of the steps can be broken down and create a chain of different steps, tasks that you break down and teach either from the beginning to the end or from the end to the beginning depending on which area they need most assistance in.

And then eventually, the goal of it is fade out that video model, so once the task is mastered and once, they’re able to be efficient at it, each of the steps can be faded out. So say they’re able to do steps one through five, and the sixth one is mastered, you show them the first 5 clips and then the last one they do individually. And so gradually, fade out each of those steps to where they’re able to master that task fully and able to create their independence from start to finish, they can create a full-finished product.

DEBRA: Can we just finish up by talking a little bit about the future because I know you mentioned that you want to open a coffee shop and I’d like to learn a little bit more about that but also, I think what future challenges you see and the areas that you’re finding that you really need to focus on?

ADEEL As far as future for us right now I think it is just continuing to get the word out we exist here in California. I don’t think we have seen or came across anybody else doing it the way we are. And as far as any future challenges, I think it’s just going to be finding that ideal spot for us to start our shop. I think once people start to hear that we have this location and we’ve created these jobs and these opportunities, I think individuals will start coming and see that they’re able to be involved in the community.

I think one of the things that we definitely need to work on for the future is we want to try to get our coffee into the community and into different markets, farmer’s markets and natural organic shops such as The Whole Foods. Bigger grocery stores, bigger shops and stuff like that I think is a little bit more of our future challenge and getting to that larger scale. We’re so small scale right now, with our coffee only roasted in small batches. Each batches is roasted individually, packed individually by our workers. I think that large scale is going to be our biggest challenge, getting a bigger roaster to be able to hopefully accommodate those larger vendors that want to have our coffee or even other coffee shops that want to serve our beans.

It doesn’t have to be Able Coffee can only be bought at our own store but at other coffee vendors who have our beans as part of their coffee shop. Their customers will know that their supporting individuals with disabilities to have a job because the coffee that they’re using comes from Able Coffee Roasters who roasts their own beans.

ANTHONY: We don’t really want to stop with a coffee shop either. We’re working on a non-profit too that that’s essentially, it’s going to be a day program that’s going to prepare students for various jobs, in a for a profit company. So we’re not going to just have Able Coffee Roasters, we’re also working on other businesses because not every employee might be suitable for working in food service. We’re looking at possibly opening up a fresh food shop, car wash or paper shredding company.

We have a lot of different ideas we are working on including a non-profit, with programs and training facilities that’s going to be preparing individuals post 22. So once they’re done with their education, we want us to continue that education post 22 and help them continue to work on those daily living skills, those vocational skills. They might not work at a coffee shop, they might want to work at different settings and we want to be able to provide that opportunity.

Why we started an LLC was to show that employing individuals with disabilities doesn’t have to be a non-profit, it could be efficient, profitable and successful, just like any other business. I hope that comes through too because that’s what we really want to show as well. We can be successful because we are able, we just know how to accommodate our employees. And we’re not going to stop until we’re a success. And I know we will be, we’re picking up momentum already but yes, the challenges we’re looking forward to them.

DEBRA: Guys, thank you so much for your time.

ADEEL: Thank you for having us.

ANTHONY: Thank you for having us.

DEBRA: Key takeaway? If you have an idea, just go out and do it. You just need to get started.

Resources
theableworkers.com
Able Coffee Roasters on Facebook

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