A mother sees an announcement in her local paper that a new brewery will soon be opening. The brewery states it wants to be a real community business and partner.
This mother, June Zoul, notices the brewery is near where her adult son lives. She knows he would love working there. She thinks, “If they are a real community partner, let’s see if they are interested in employing my son.” Then she writes the brewery a letter telling them about her son.
Her son James happens to have Down syndrome. James Zoul is married. Pictures of James and his wife are included in the letter. He is a very capable adult who just needs the right fit for his “forever job.”
Then guess what? Not only does one of the managing partners of the brewery call to say they are indeed interested in hiring James, this gentleman is genuinely EXCITED to hire James. The whole brewery wants him to be part of their team.
James fits in at My Yard Live Beer Company immediately, learning various positions in the brewery. During this time James’s friends come to the brewery to celebrate events, etc. He has three buddies who all have developmental disabilities.
After working at the brewery for a while, James is approached with an idea. Would he and his friends like to learn how to make a brew? James and his friends enthusiastically say “yes”! The guys are quickly nicknamed the 4 Dudes. The brewery decides to donate a certain amount from each batch to a local charity that the 4 Dudes choose.
As of March 2023, over $9,000 has been donated to charities, from three different 4 Dudes Brews.
This is just the beginning. The 4 Dudes are close to mastering the brewing process on their own, and the brewery has some exciting ideas for this partnership in the future. They recently launched a short film about the 4 Dudes collaboration.
This is entrepreneurship, community partnership, and civic leadership at its finest. Every time a batch is introduced to the community, a wonderful party is hosted. At this party, countless minds are opened, perceptions are changed, and a truly inclusive community is formed. Not FOR someone who has a disability, WITH someone who has a disability. Someone who is organically part of the team.
March is Developmental Disability Awareness Month. Developmental disabilities include cerebral palsy, ADHD, vision and hearing impairments, autism spectrum disorders, Down syndrome, and intellectual disabilities, among others. The purpose of this annual campaign is to raise awareness of the possibilities and barriers people with disabilities face in their everyday lives, along with the importance everyone has in our greater communities.
Awareness and inclusion start with our schools. According to The National Center for Education Statistics, the number of students with disabilities served under IDEA who spent 80% or more of their school day in general education classes in 2020 ranged as follows:
- 15% for students with multiple disabilities
- 19% for students with intellectual disabilities
- 28% for students with deaf-blindness
- 69% with visual impairments
- 75% with specific learning disabilities
- 88% with speech or language impairments.
Take some time to let those statistics sink in. Too many students today have such little chance of earning a solid education, it is like winning the lottery. Literally.
The good news, the numbers are creeping up for some students. The bad news, this rise is far too slow. Every year too many students fall by the wayside.
The next steps for any young adult after high school or college are employment and eventual independence.
According to the 2022 Department of Labor Statistics:
- 21.3% of people with a disability were employed
- Twice as many of those people with disabilities who are employed are part-time compared to people without a disability
- A higher % of people with disabilities are likely to be self-employed than those without disabilities.
The good news again, the numbers are creeping up. The bad news, 21.3 % means that there is a 78.7% unemployment rate. And that doesn’t even mention the vast underemployment that exists.
According to disabled-world.com, 17% of adults with disabilities live independently. This is for many complex reasons, including:
- low expectations from schools and some families
- inconsistent support services across the US including 37 out of 50 states having waiting lists
- unemployment, underemployment, and poverty.
There is good news as more and more successful examples of adults living with proper supports independently are shown for all to see. States such as New York, California, and Minnesota mirror for others what success looks like when everyone works together with self-directed funding.
James Zoul is an example of what can be. He lives in San Diego, California, and has the outside supports needed so he and his wife can live independently in their apartment.
Jamie Minotti is the managing partner of My Yard Live Beer Company who initially answered June Zoul’s letter. He grew up with people who had developmental disabilities. This organic knowledge led to his immediate yes in hiring James Zoul. It also led to his philosophy, “Beer has the ability to bring people together. Great beer makes a difference.”
Imagine what the world would be like with more enlightened, truly inclusive businesses. That 78.7% unemployment rate would drop sharply. Employee satisfaction and productivity would rise dramatically for all employees, and poverty statistics for people with disabilities would fall. Our world would be so much closer to a mosaic of inclusive communities.
We’re not there yet, and that is why Developmental Disability Awareness Month and other similar campaigns are still needed.
Slowly, but surely, I have to believe we will get there. Together.
On March 4, 2023, the Mother of Disability Rights, Judith Heumann, passed away suddenly. As the world mourns her loss, her many achievements shine a light that will never be dimmed. She knew that progress is messy and slow. In her words, “Change never happens at the pace we think it should. It happens over years of people joining together, strategizing, sharing, and pulling all the levers they possibly can.”
Greta Harrison is a civic leader, writer, public speaker, and the creator/host of Born Fabulous Podcast which features successful adults with intellectual disabilities. She is most proud of her wonderful husband and two daughters, the youngest of which is a young adult who has Down syndrome and Autism.