People with IDD, or intellectual and developmental disabilities, often encounter severe challenges as they try to enter the workforce. One small business has set out to chip away at the problem.

According to the National Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate for adults with IDD is twice as high as the rate for people without a disability. In 2020, only 17.9 percent of people with mental or physical disabilities were employed compared with 61.8 percent of people without disabilities. Regardless of their education level, people with IDD are less likely to be employed when compared to those without disabilities. These statistics point to widespread biases against disabled people present in today’s society. 

Rutgers University researchers conducted a field experiment to track these unconscious biases. They sent job applications to an accounting position from fictional applicants who all had the same qualifications. One-third of the applicants revealed that they had a spinal cord injury, one-third revealed that they had Asperger’s syndrome, and the remaining applicants did not mention a disability. Although the disabilities do not impact a person’s performance as an accountant, the applicants that mentioned them received 26 percent fewer responses from employers. The experiment reveals that discrimination in the workplace continues to hinder employment prospects for disabled people.

But one local business has taken strides to foster an inclusive workspace. At Beanz and Co., a café located in Avon, Connecticut, half of the staff are individuals with IDD.

The cafe was launched in 2018 when Kim Morrison and Noelle Alix, whose daughters have Down Syndrome, recognized the difficulties that people with IDD face in the workplace. In just a few years, with the support of its staff and patrons, Beanz and Co. blossomed into the vibrant community it is today. The Beanz and Co. mission is to raise awareness and inspire other businesses and organizations to assist in reducing the 82 percent unemployment rate of people with IDD.

Kim’s husband, Scott Morrison, spoke about the café’s mission within the community. 

“We have guys who come in for a cup of coffee and sit there for five minutes talking to Nick [the cashier] about the Yankees or the Red Sox,” Scott Morrison said. “He becomes part of their morning routine.”

To successfully prepare individuals with IDD for the workplace, Scott Morrison explained that the business often breaks down a task into its discrete steps until employees master the skill.  He said that businesses that want to foster an inclusive workspace “have to be willing to make it available for individuals with IDD to be successful.”

Scott Morrison explained that one of the chief misconceptions about individuals with IDD is that they do not want to or are incapable of joining the workforce. Morrison aimed to correct this bias.

“They want to contribute to the community and they can be successful given the right support,” he said.

Beanz and Co. is currently looking to expand their mission onto college campuses.