Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) currently affects 1 in every 59 children and is a lifelong diagnosis. ASD severity can range from minor social problems to being completely non-verbal or having significant sensory sensitivities.
Sara Mae Pratt is keenly aware of ASD, as her sister is on the lower-functioning end of the spectrum. As her sister approached adulthood, Sara wondered what options there would be for for her to work, which led her to think of something sweet and amazing.
In 2015, Sara Mae opened Puzzles Bakery & Cafe which offers employment opportunities for disabled people. Currently, about 50% of her workforce is disabled and have a variety of jobs that include preparing food in the kitchen as well as customer-facing roles.
The restaurant is a breath of fresh air for the employees. One employee said that she loves working there because she had always been treated like she “didn’t have a brain” before this job, and she was always made to feel “less than” because of her disability.
Sara Mae has seen that “less than” treatment towards her sister. So, when she thought up the idea for Puzzles, she knew she wanted it to be a place of inclusivity and respect. It is also a safe place for those with disabilities to be themselves – which sometimes means a public meltdown that may not be tolerated at a typical workplace.
Sara Mae has thought of it all, so much so that the cafe is overwhelmed with applications to the point where they have to, unfortunately, turn people away because there aren’t enough jobs.
It is Sara Mae’s hope to eventually franchise the cafe to allow for more opportunities. However, she notes that she’s only 28-years-old and doesn’t have the capacity to do that quite yet. So, she hopes that her cafe (and its success) will inspire other business owners to create an inclusive environment that offers opportunities to those with disabilities – and not just the jobs in the back office that no one else wants to do.
Check out the video below to hear more of Sara Mae’s story and see the amazing impact she’s had on the community. Be sure to share this inspiring story with your friends!
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