How Bitty & Beau's Coffee Is Helping "End the Stereotypes" for People With I/DD in the Workplace

Amy and Ben Wright, co-founders of Bitty & Beau’s Coffee are disrupting societal prejudice toward individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD)—especially in the workforce.

By Tom White with APG Mar 15, 2024 1:00 PMTags
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As we approach World Down Syndrome Day on March 21, the topic of hiring people with disabilities in the workplace needs to be addressed. And with this year's theme "End the Stereotypes," this topic couldn't be more relevant. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, despite a 1.2 percentage point increase in employed people with a disability in 2023, "across all age groups, people with a disability were much less likely to be employed than those with no disability," and "more likely to be employed part-time than were those with no disability."

The subtle increase is a step in the right direction but not enough for the rest of the population—especially in the 21st century. The disability unemployment challenge is a very real situation and is America's most overlooked labor force with as much as 80% shut out of work.

Given this reality, there only seems to be one solution, and it rests on the shoulders of those in a position of power to make a change: companies need to diversify their workplace to include individuals with disabilities. But more than that, these individuals deserve real opportunities, not handed a role for "charity."

Amidst this barren, neglected field, two individuals are planting the seeds (coffee beans) to foster growth for the community of people with I/DD.

Parents of two children with Down syndrome, Amy and Ben Wright witnessed firsthand the limitations their daughter Bitty and son Beau faced, and rather than living with rose-tinted glasses, they instead sought to magnify the issue with 20/20 vision. In 2016, Bitty & Beau's Coffee was founded—a place where people with disabilities are valued and given opportunities for meaningful work.

Amy Wright

At Bitty & Beau's Coffee, the slogan aptly conveys this message: Leave your doubt at the door.

"Leave all of your preconceived notions about who people with disabilities are, what they're capable of doing, and step into this environment and allow yourself to have a transformative experience," she continues. And that's exactly what the human rights movement disguised as a coffee shop is providing.

Since its inception, Bitty & Beau's Coffee has gained traction throughout the U.S., and what started as a single location has grown to 20 shops across 12 states employing 400 plus individuals with disabilities. The impact on the local communities is evident, backed by a cumulative 700,000+ following base across their social media platforms and featured on Today, Good Morning America, Rachael Ray and more. Not to mention, Amy was named CNN Hero of the Year in 2017—a year after opening.

The immense support only solidifies a move, and desire, toward a more inclusive and equal-opportunity-based future, but the horizon remains at somewhat of a distance.  

Personally growing up with a family member (a 19-year-old named Jocelyn) who has a developmental disability, it's so encouraging to see initiatives like this supporting a group of people who are too often marginalized and overlooked. To know Jocelyn is to love her, and her infectious laugh, witty remarks and joyful disposition far outweigh the label "disability" society tends to place on individuals like her.

During an informative conversation with CNBC last year, Amy and Ben highlighted the importance of bringing more awareness to the disconnect between available labor and market demand.

"It's very encouraging to start to see that number tick down, and we'd like to think we're a very small part of helping that number drop. But there's such a long way to go. I think that people with disabilities need to be reframed in society as real people who just happen to have intellectual and developmental disabilities and are deserving of the innovation the business world can bring to bear on them."

It's time for businesses to start innovating around people with I/DD, rather than leaving them behind amid continuous change, something Amy and Ben have proven is not only possible but a successful business model.

"Any business can take this model of employing at least one person with a disability in their organization," Ben says. "Once you're able to reframe that as a business leader, the sky's the limit."

And as the days inch closer to World Down Syndrome Day, something else big is happening; an exciting new YouTube channel is premiering, hosted by brand namesakes Bitty & Beau alongside Amy and Ben. The Bitty & Beau's Coffee Show is releasing their first episode on March 21, further propelling their mission to change the way people see other people.

"What started as an idea in the shower has become our life's work and our legacy. We sincerely hope that others will choose to join us," Amy concludes.

Bitty & Beau's Coffeeis not just a symbol of hope but a call to action to "End the Stereotypes" people with I/DD face in the workforce. Everyone deserves an opportunity for meaningful work, and it's time the world recognizes that.

To find a location near you and experience the vibrant and welcoming atmosphere that is Bitty & Beau's Coffee, visit this link.