Spreading The Inclusive Mindset, By Example


An important development was done by the owners of “Popcorn for the People”, a family business that, with the help of Dr Steven Bier and the COO Rachel Cheng, created rustle-free packaging for the snacks provided at the musical rendition of “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” at Broadway’s Lyric Theatre. This was done mainly to prevent any distractions to the performers on stage. This business also provides job opportunities for young adults that fall under the ASD. “Popcorn for the People” has since become a popular snack shop at the Lyric Theatre.

This business is a start-up that originated in Piscataway in New Jersey. They have seen a major growth each year from the day of its inception when the family acquired a popcorn store in one of the malls in their locality. They now make their own signature flavors like Chocolate Espresso, Cheddar Cheese and many more. Various job profiles are also covered, including the handling of money and the labelling of bags at football games. Profits are less valued than other missions of this organization, and that is what makes it non-profit.

Inspiration can come from anywhere

The son of Dr Steven Bier is one who is on the autism spectrum. This inspired Dr Bier to hire more employees whose lives he can change with the job he provided. The company now has 41 employees and 28 of these employees are on the autism spectrum. The problem in the society, with respect to those suffering from this condition, was recognized by Dr Bier and this is essentially a way he had found to solve it, to some extent. He realized that his son should rightfully be able to be provided with the opportunity to work with what he desires, and so should others. Through this, he also realized that autistic workers did not possess any negative qualities like having bad habits or arriving late for work.

Image Credit: Lara Stolman

Realizing the potential of these individuals

Those who are on the autism spectrum often excel at various other skills, apart from social skills or skills an average individual would have. Tapping into this potential could lead the way to a better future for them. Some of the training programs aimed at helping these ASD individuals were ill-treating them, and it was definitely not suitable or appropriate. Seeing what needed to be done, a soap and candle factory was started by Patricia Miller and Pamela Kattouf. It was initially started with a kit for their teenage boys, and they wanted the kids to have an enjoyable day choosing fragrances for soaps. Miller and Kattouf continue to employ young and motivated individuals with ASD under their company named Beloved Bath.

Image Credit: Pamela Kattouf

Other organizations that support the needs of those with ASD

Like Beloved Bath in Maplewood, New Jersey, there is another renowned start-up, a bookstore. This Words bookstore is owned by Jonah Zimiles, a former lawyer who had no initial knowledge about the retail business. They also had a son with ASD and thought to buy a closed store for training purposes. They started this in 2009 and have since trained about 100 ASD individuals. Jonah has found satisfaction in finding these individuals to be very sincere and dedicated. Others have followed Jonah by example and have also hired and encouraged more people with ASD.

Image Credit: Jonah Zimiles

Spreading the awareness

Moish Tov, who found JoyDew in New Jersey has talked about how the problem with the parents of those with ASD is that each of them has to reinvent the wheel. Having been a commander in the IDF, he had also designed a few courses to train soldiers with ASD. By having a son of his own who was affected by ASD, he has realized that raising them could be very isolating. Because of his realizations, he has decided to form a cooperative society, a village in short. He wants all the members of this village to come together to achieve the goal of empowering ASD individuals. This village also provides skills that are most essential in the 21st century, like social media and robotics, in order to allow the ASD individuals to be qualified for any recent job markets.

Image Credit: Moish Tov

Building opportunities, one step at a time

Tov had also travelled the world within a duration of 2 years. From this, he concluded that there was no program available to train these people with special needs, like his sons. He was taken aback by the lack of interest shown by the society towards these people. According to him, society has no belief in the kids. Most countries don’t have any programs to train and educate them. So he had to build the program himself.

The program offered at JoyDew assesses these individuals based on 8 major strengths that are derived from the Howard Garner’s theory of multiple intelligence. These kids he was focusing on were in fact very good in fact-checking and pattern recognition. Consequently, he decided to utilize these skills to hire them on a contract basis and to allow them to work in-house. He also looks forward to expanding JoyDew as the demand grows.  Those who take part in JoyDew are engaged in a multitude of other activities like yoga, music and other social skills. As a result, they channel all their energy into these productive activities and are hence more relaxed at home. They are also aiming at providing flexibility with the work that the kids do at JoyDew to promote a higher level of freedom. Some of these individuals are only capable of working for a maximum of 2 or 3 days a week, due to some other therapy. But ASD supportive startups like Beloved Bath, Words, Popcorn for the people and JoyDew employ them part time as and when needed.

Every year, the month of October is considered to be the month of spreading awareness about the disability and can be taken as an opportunity to be more inclusive and supportive of ASD individuals in your workplace. After all, everyone has something unique to contribute to society.

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