This October, we join the U.S. Department of Labor (“DOL”) and organizations around the country in promoting National Disability Employment Awareness Month. This year’s theme is “Advancing Access and Equity.”
Normally, we at AKF like to share hard numbers – statistics, trends, growth rates, etc. But this month we begin by sharing a story that encapsulates DOL’s theme.
We first heard about Bitty and Beau’s Coffee this summer on CNBC. But they’ve been in the news quite a bit, and for good reason. Bitty and Beau’s is not just another neighborhood coffee shop. According to its website, it’s a “human rights mission disguised as a coffee shop.” Amy and Ben Wright, parents of four children, three of whom were born with disabilities, launched Bitty and Beau’s in 2016. The business was founded upon and remains committed to a simple, yet “radically inclusive” idea: people with disabilities deserve to work, and businesses should be proud to hire them.
The first Bitty and Beau’s opened in North Carolina and employed 19 workers with disabilities. A year later, in 2017, Amy Wright was named CNN’s Hero of the Year. Today, Bitty and Beau’s has approximately 25 locations across 13 States and employs over 400 individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. This is a coffee shop on a mission.
We couldn’t agree more with this mission. But it needs more champions and more help.
Currently, people with disabilities are much less likely to be employed than individuals without a disability. 1 Only 21% of people with disabilities were employed in 2022, compared with 65% of people without disabilities. 2
This employment gap does not reflect employment desires, though. Recent research by the Financial Health Network shows that 40% of non-working individuals with disabilities want to work. 3 And many who are employed wish they could work more. 4
Closing this employment gap won’t just advance equity – it will also improve economics for businesses. Inclusive workplaces see lower employee turnover, lower absenteeism, and higher productivity. 5 The research is clear: the hiring of people with disabilities benefits both employee and employer.
Today, a number of online resources can help people find their own version of Bitty and Beau’s. Abilityjobs.com offers opportunities both in the US and internationally by aggregating jobs from many employers in one place. Applicants can simply search for occupations that best suit their disability. USA Jobs and the Social Security Administration also each have an online presence to recruit employees with disabilities. Finally, the Small Business Association also maintains a website that provides valuable information for small employers looking for new talent.
State ABLE Plan Administrators have a role to play in employment efforts as well. The ABLE to Work provision of Section 529A, 6 which allows working individuals to make additional contributions to ABLE accounts, will sunset at the end of 2025. ABLE Plans can participate in legislative advocacy efforts aimed at making this law permanent, further securing work incentives for people with disabilities. ABLE Plans can also step up involvement with employer initiatives being spearheaded by the ABLE Savings Plans Network (a branch of the National Association of State Treasurers).
Opportunities abound, but businesses and States must continue putting in the effort. It is our hope that “Access and Equity” continue to expand this October, and for many Octobers to come.
We’ll be glad to meet over a cup at a nearby Bitty and Beau’s to continue the conversation!
We would be happy to discuss these insights in more detail at any time. Please contact us if we have piqued your interest.
AKF Consulting is a leading SEC- and MSRB-registered Municipal Advisor to public administrators of 529, ABLE, and State-run Retirement Programs. We work with State governments and public entities nationwide to structure programs that help people save for education, disability-related expenses, and retirement.