MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
Adults with intellectual disabilities often struggle to find work. In Connecticut, a group of families is tackling the need head-on by starting their own business. David DesRoches of Connecticut Public Radio reports.
DAVID DESROCHES, BYLINE: It's Monday afternoon at BeanZ & Co. in central Connecticut. The coffee is hot. The milk is steaming.
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DESROCHES: Lauren Traceski's taking orders.
LAUREN TRACESKI: Can we have a 12 ounce latte?
DESROCHES: Her boss gets to work on the espresso machine.
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DESROCHES: And Nick Sinacori gives the customer some change.
NICK SINACORI: Your change is $16.50.
DESROCHES: Traceski and Sincori are learning the ropes at this new cafe. They've had jobs before, but this is different. That's because BeanZ is trying to be more than just a cafe, says co-owner Kim Morrison.
KIM MORRISON: As much as having jobs for this community is super important, I think another part that - after the age of 21, after, you know, transitioning out of school - is the socialization and having opportunities to get together with friends.
DESROCHES: She wants BeanZ to employ people with disabilities but also be a hangout for the community. Twenty-six-year-old employee Traceski says a job like this is rare.
TRACESKI: We're trying to make this like a hangout place where you can watch TV, or you can come here with your friends or your family, you know, and make it a good time.
DESROCHES: Young adults with intellectual disabilities face a daunting challenge after their 21st birthday. That's because federally mandated services in many cases simply stop. So in addition to losing out on programs, they also lose chances to hang with friends. There are various transition programs that can help with job placement and other lifeskills. But entering the workforce is hard.
STEVE MORRIS: There's no shortage of jobs. There's a shortage of employers willing to hire people with intellectual disabilities.
DESROCHES: Steve Morris runs a nonprofit that helps with job placement and transportation.
MORRIS: There's just not enough awareness about the values that hiring people with disabilities can bring to a company.
DESROCHES: That lack of awareness is why so many adults with intellectual disabilities - upwards of 80 percent by one estimate - are underemployed or not working. BeanZ's co-founders know all about it. They each have daughters with Downs syndrome. They know the job market is tough and unforgiving. So Kim Morrison and Noelle Alix started BeanZ. They understand that most families can't afford to open a business so that their kids could get a job. But their hope is that if they hire young adults with disabilities, other businesses would do the same.
MORRISON: Just hire one adult with a disability, and that is a win for our community. So that is another goal of ours - is to have that happen.
NOELLE ALIX: And I think every employer that does have an inclusive workforce will say their company culture is the better for it.
DESROCHES: BeanZ has partnered with a Connecticut nonprofit called The Be Thoughtful movement, which paid for some adaptive equipment and designs to make it easier for everyone. And everyone is still learning - and laughing about their mistakes.
ALIX: You know what you can always say? I'm doing better than Noelle.
TRACESKI: No. Noelle, don't say that.
ALIX: Well, that may be true. That's probably true, Lauren.
TRACESKI: But don't say that.
ALIX: I won't take it personally. Don't worry.
DESROCHES: BeanZ and Co. joins a growing number of companies that are trying to do more than just offer a service. They want change. For NPR News, I'm David DesRoches in Hartford.
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