For Michael Coyne, not having a job to call his own was simply not an option.
The second he turned 21 Michael hit the streets looking for work, only to be rejected time and time again. Michael is on the autism spectrum and has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and bipolar disorder. Many employers apparently didn’t want to deal with an employee with special needs, so Michael decided to take matters into his own very capable hands.
With help from his mother Sheila Coyne, Michael enrolled in business classes through Rhode Island’s Developmental Disabilities Council. Spurred on by the rejection he’d faced by employers, Michael then opened his own coffee shop in North Smithfield, Rhode Island, with the ambition of hiring people who also have special needs.
He called the shop Red, White & Brew, and they recently opened their doors after months of intensive planning. Sheila says the shop has already given her determined son an outlet for the strong business sense he seems to have been born with. “As parents, we look at our kids and see the value,” Sheila said. “We see what they are capable of, instead of the system that’s consistently labeling them and putting barriers.”
“What I liked about the coffee shop idea is the community. We learn on both sides,” Sheila continued. “We teach people, ‘Yeah, he has a disability, but look what he’s doing. And he’s out in the community getting his social skills.’”
Sheila and Michael have come up with small, simple ways to make things more accessible for their workers. Having lived with special needs themselves, they’re in a unique position to know how to streamline their point of sale systems and create shortcuts that will be helpful to those with disabilities. All of these efforts are designed to provide an inclusive work environment for people who might not otherwise fit into a traditional employment setting.
Red, White & Brew has already become a hot spot for local families with children who have developmental issues. It’s located next to a craft store that sells homemade products by artists with special needs, making it the perfect spot for people to gather and celebrate the differences that make them special.
“It’s just a beacon of hope for people with disabilities,” Michael said. “We’ve had parents come in with tears in their eyes with the hope that their young children will eventually be accepted into the community,” Sheila added.
Now that Michael’s business is up and running, he and his mom hope that other businesses will see the value in adding more differently-abled employees. Integration is an essential part of removing the stigma of having special needs!
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