Unique business hoping to create brighter futures for people with special abilities

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The Catozzi family

By Andrea Albers, WTMJ

As graduation approaches, many teens are preparing for life beyond high school, but some with special needs are struggling to find options. One Elkhorn mother decided to create her own solution, and it could lead to a brighter future for her daughter. 16-year-old Stephanie Catozzi loves to draw smiley faces. And that smile jumps right off the page when she’s with her family. “She can’t write her name so she would sign cards, and everything, with smiley faces,” explained Becky Catozzi, her mother.

The Catozzis want to keep that smile shining big and bright but they worry about Stephanie’s future. “At this point, we assume she’s always going to be living with us,” continued Becky. “That’s the safest for her now.”

Stephanie has been diagnosed with autism, apraxia, and a learning disability. As her peers start exploring options after high school — like college or a job — Stephanie’s mom says Stephanie struggles with people crowding her space, and overstimulation, and it can come out as aggression. “Something could happen — and she gets upset and we don’t know how that would work in a regular job with other people, around strangers, around noises,” said Becky.

That’s why the family launched Stephanie’s Shirt Shop. They hope to build an online business big enough to create a stable future for Stephanie and eventually hire others with special abilities in the area.

Once Stephanie turns 18, she becomes eligible to receive support from the Walworth County Aging & Disability Resource Center. Every county in Wisconsin has an ADRC.

“The options that are available — you’d be surprised,” said Hazel Miller, an ADRC supervisor for Milwaukee County. “There are a lot of free resources in the community that are available for people with disabilities.” In Milwaukee County, Miller works with nearly three dozen counselors focused on meeting with families to set goals, find resources, and create action plans. “I’m always talking with families and parents and saying ‘Hey — you’re not doing this alone, we’re here. We have the resources, we have the services, we wanna walk this with you.'”

The Catozzis are open to exploring programs for adults with disabilities and as Autism Awareness Month comes to an end, they hope you carry forward the message of inclusion they’re working to spread. “Just learning that they (people living with Autism) are still people,” said Becky. “There’s nothing wrong with them. They don’t need to be fixed or cured. Accept them for who they are. Stephanie is just is a happy 16-year-old girl.”

Click here to read the full article on WTMJ.

This 31-year-old woman with Down syndrome launched a cookie company 5 years ago — and has already made over $1.2 million

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iVitto is the CEO and COO of Collettey’s Cookies, a fast-growing bakery start-up that sells cookies online, at 7-Eleven convenience stores and at the TD Garden sports arena in Boston.

By Cory Stieg, CNBC

At age 26, Collete DiVitto had just graduated from Clemson University. She moved to Boston in hopes of working and living on her own — but hiring managers kept saying she “wasn’t a good fit.”

“I was ready to be independent,” DiVitto, now 31, tells CNBC Make It. ”[But] it was hard to find jobs.”

Coming from a family of entrepreneurs, DiVitto — who was born with the genetic disorder Down syndrome — had quiet aspirations to turn her baking hobby into her own business. The process felt daunting, so her mother, Rosemary Alfredo, decided to teach her the basics of getting a small business up and running.

Today, DiVitto is the CEO and COO of Collettey’s Cookies, a fast-growing bakery start-up that sells cookies online, at 7-Eleven convenience stores and at the TD Garden sports arena in Boston. The Charlestown, Massachusetts-based company has made $1.2 million in lifetime revenue since launching in December 2016, according to a CNBC Make It estimate, which the company confirmed.

Collettey’s Cookies is also profitable, the company says — no small feat in a daunting food industry.

The company has 15 employees, many of whom also have disabilities, which DiVitto says is intentional: A challenging job market is an unfortunate reality for the majority of adults with disabilities in the United States. In 2020, only 17.9 percent of people with a disability were employed, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

DiVitto says she makes a point to personally train her employees with disabilities, one-on-one. “Creating more jobs for people who are disabled,” she says. “That’s my whole mission.”

Crafting a recipe for a small business
Entrepreneurship runs in DiVitto’s family.

Her maternal grandfather owned a small landscaping business. Today, Alfredo and her siblings each own several businesses. “We’re all kind of sassy and stubborn,” Alfredo says, citing both as valuable qualities when you’re working for yourself and tasked with regularly making big decisions.

Alfredo’s first step to teaching entrepreneurship: walking DiVitto through the logistical steps of determining a legal structure, registering the business, designing a logo and creating a website. Then, DiVitto — who has been baking since age 4 — brought samples of her chocolate chip cinnamon cookies to a local Boston shop called Golden Goose Market.

Perhaps she got lucky, or the desserts were really tasty, or both: The market’s owner, intrigued, ordered 100 12-packs of cookies. “We’re buying 40-pound bags of flour, bringing them into our apartment, thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, I don’t know what’s gonna happen,’” Alfredo recalls.

“I was so scared at the very beginning,” DiVitto adds. But landing the deal, she says, made her feel “amazing and confident. I never, ever felt that way in my entire life.”

The following week, the pair secured space in a commercial kitchen, giving DiVitto more cookie-making space. Altogether, Alfredo says, it cost “less than $20,000” in out-of-pocket expenses to get the business off the ground — with most of that going to kitchen rent.

And then, as Alfredo puts it, DiVitto’s story “went viral.”

DiVitto says she sold 4,000 cookies in her first three months of business, and more than 550,000 since launching. As of Monday, Collettey’s Cookies has more than 40,000 followers on Facebook, and another 28,000-plus on Instagram.

According to the company: DiVitto’s chocolate chip cinnamon cookie — called “The Amazing Cookie” — remains the most popular of the company’s five flavor options.

Paying it forward to aspiring entrepreneurs
When it comes to developing recipes and baking the cookies, DiVitto is the expert and authority. “My mom and also her family, they don’t know anything about baking,” she says. She’s in the commercial kitchen six days per week, often starting work at 4 a.m.

She’s also born much of the weight of growing the company. Alfredo says Collettey’s Cookies has never received outside funding, though not for lack of trying: “That was our biggest challenge, people questioning [DiVitto’s] abilities and the potential success of the company with her as the CEO and COO.”

Nadya Rousseau, the founder and CEO of marketing and PR firm Alter New Media, credits DiVitto’s success to a mix of ambition and direct candor — the same factors, she says, that drew her to work with Collettey’s Cookies pro bono earlier this year.

“I just was struck with how authentic she was, and straightforward,” Rousseau says. “So many people have layer upon layer in front of them and they can’t just speak their truth. She’s always speaking her truth.”

Click here to read the full article on CNBC.

Reebok Introduces Adaptive Footwear Offerings in Partnership with Zappos.com

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reebok adaptive shoes

By Robbie Wild Hudson, Boxrox

BOSTON, Mass., yesterday Reebok, the iconic lifestyle brand, and leading experiential e-commerce and customer service company Zappos.com announce the launch of Reebok’s first-ever adaptive footwear collection: Reebok Fit to Fit.

Inclusive of both performance and lifestyle, the collection was designed in collaboration with Zappos Adaptive, a curated shopping experience by Zappos featuring functional and fashionable products to make life easier for all. The partnership was established by Reebok Design Group (RDG), the brand’s global hub for all design, development, innovation and creative services.

Building on Reebok’s iconic design heritage and silhouettes, the collection aims to enhance the quality of life for everyone by providing functional products that don’t compromise style or performance. Each style within the collection offers enhanced features to help people with disabilities gain more independence.

“At RDG, we continue to prioritize innovation by creating products that inspire physical activity,” says Todd Krinsky, Senior Vice President, GM, Product at Reebok Design Group (RDG). “We’re proud to introduce our first official adaptive footwear collection to help those with disabilities thrive – from sports and fitness to everyday life.”

Key highlights of the Reebok Fit to Fit Footwear Collection include:

Nanoflex Parafit TR ($90): The performance focused Nanoflex Parafit TR offers a Breathable Mesh Upper that’s lightweight yet durable. The product features a Medial Zip Closure and Heel Pull Tab that makes it easier when putting on your shoes. Available in adult unisex sizing.

Club MEMT Parafit ($65): Designed with style in mind for everyday moments, the Club MEMT Parafit offers a Medial Zip Closure for easy on and off functionality, Extra 4E for wider foot support, a Low-Cut Design for easy mobility, and Removable Sockliner for a custom fit. Available in adult unisex sizing.
“First-hand feedback from the disability community is essential when designing or modifying a product that is accessible and also delivers on fashion,” says Dana Zumbo, Business Development Manager at Zappos Adaptive. “We’re thrilled to have partnered with RDG on their Fit to Fit Collection, and for the opportunity to introduce our first functional and fashionable athletic shoe to the Zappos Adaptive shopping experience.”

Click here to read the full article on Boxrox.

Shopify’s Inclusive Accessibility Tool For Small Businesses

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toy blocks with a rocket going up drawn on them to represent accessibility and their accessibility tool

By Marketing Technology Insights

Accessibility Spark transforms web accessibility for Shopify stores by replacing a costly, manual compliance process with an automated, state-of-the-art AI technology. Accessibility Spark strives to achieve the vision of ‘Accessibility for all made accessible to all ’ by offering an affordable one-stop solution to small businesses.

According to the United States Census Bureau, over 2.1 billion people have a disability. That’s almost one-fifth of the global population. In the United States, that number is estimated at 56 million people or 20 percent of the population. Digital accessibility compliance ensures that inclusive practices are implemented for people with disabilities to participate fully in society. With Accessibility Spark, small businesses can explore an untapped market and offer a wider and more inclusive experience. It unlocks expansive possibilities of enhancing conversion, increasing website visitors, and boosting the probability of higher ranking on search engines.

Digital accessibility ensures websites are usable by everyone and people with disabilities have access to the same user experience as everyone else. This includes everything from making websites and apps accessible to people with disabilities to ensuring that they are presented with similar opportunities as everyone else. ‘There is a severe lack of awareness regarding the need for accessibility on the internet. As we continue to digitize every aspect of our life, accessibility on the web is as essential as making the world more accessible and inclusive.

Accessible e-commerce space is not just a need, it is an urgency. With over 1.75 million merchants on Shopify, it was imperative to have this market space accessible to all. Small businesses are often unaware of such laws which them susceptible to expensive lawsuits. Accessibility Spark was developed to offer a one-stop solution at an affordable price to protect small businesses against such violations. It enables Shopify merchants to create ADA & WCAG compliant websites, shield their businesses against regulatory actions and reach a wider audience of approximately 56 million that might stay untapped without the ease of accessibility on websites.’ says Accessibility Spark’s CEO.

Accessibility Spark has created a medium to help all Shopify merchants to unlock their growth potential by avoiding the elusive hurdles in the process. Incorporating a web accessibility icon automatically detects your website by making it to the search engine optimization ranking. Better customer experience and wide functionality are one of the most direct paths to conversion. A boost in one of these features is an automatic boost in the other. It was estimated that the websites that used web accessibility icons attracted 30% more traffic than the websites which didn’t.

Accessibility Spark works as an automated legal expert that takes care of worldwide web accessibility legislation, up to date adherence with ADA standards, and largely reduces the risk of lawsuits. It thoroughly evaluates each website within 1-hour with an automated scanning process with an emphasis on keyboard navigation adjustments, personalized orientation for each impairment, screen-reading adjustments, and customized design for each website. Shopify store owners can ensure that their stores are accessible to all, regardless of their disability type or level of impairment, with its 100+ adjustments including accessibility adjustments for blindness, epilepsy, cognitive disorder, and motor impairment without disrupting website design elements.

The credibility of accessibility compliance is a hidden yet uncompromisable feature and Accessibility Spark is driven to equip Shopify stores with the highest standards of compliance. It offers value with a detailed accessibility statement and a certificate of performance for added transparency and higher protection. Accessibility is not limited to the website content; they also need to obtain the web accessibility icon in order to reach out to all internet users. This certification not only raises the profile of Shopify stores but also helps in building a more humane connection with its consumers. A business that cares is the business that grows.

Digital accessibility is a pressing need and Accessibility Spark ensures ‌store owners don’t have to wait any longer after installation to make their stores complaint. It is up and running within an hour of installation and within 48 hours, all accessibility issues are identified & adjusted according to adherence to ADA & WCAG standards. After the initial scanning and report, it runs daily scans to support constant compliance for any new or added content, forms, images, videos, or widgets. In addition, it delivers a professional compliance audit every month.

Click here to read the full article on Marketing Technology Insights.

How the first disabled and woman-owned NYSE floor broker is changing Wall Street

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Cynthia DiBartolo (c), rings the bell during the NYSE closing auction on July 8, 2021.

By AJ Horch, CNBC

Cynthia DiBartolo’s journey to the New York Stock Exchange floor was fraught with challenges and difficulty.

In July 2021, DiBartolo’s firm, Tigress Financial Partners, became the first disabled and woman-owned floor broker to become a member of the NYSE.

Floor brokers are members of firms who execute trades on the exchange floor on behalf of the firm’s clients. They are physically present on the trading floor and are active during the New York Stock Exchange opening and closing auctions.

Tigress Financial Partners has been co-manager or selling group member on more than 620 IPO and secondary transactions with an aggregate market value of over $321 billion, including for companies such as​ Warner Music, Monday.com, and Airbnb.

In mid-2020, Wall Street banks, which are predominately run by white men, came under intense pressure to improve diversity following the Black Lives Matter protests.

Companies vowed to improve their practices via philanthropic programs, diverse hiring practices, and internships for underprivileged candidates. DiBartolo crafted a diversity questionnaire to make it easier for companies selling stock or issuing debt to find and vet minority and women-owned firms. American Airlines has already adopted the survey, and JPMorgan has begun to create a database to help automate the process.

Prior to launching Tigress Financial in 2011, DiBartolo served as a compliance director, an attorney, and as a risk management director for some of Wall Streets’ largest firms. However, her life would change in 2009 with a diagnosis of throat and neck cancer.

DiBartolo became severely disabled following life-saving surgery that compromised her ability to eat, speak and swallow. Through reconstructive surgery, DiBartolo was able to regain her ability to speak, but can only do so several hours a day.

Cancer not only took DiBartolo’s voice but also her career, as she recalled in an interview with CNBC’s Bob Pisani. “You see, there was no place for an attorney, risk management director, compliance director who couldn’t speak,” she said.

During her recovery, DiBartolo began to understand just how marginalized people in the disabled community were. “During the time I didn’t have the ability to speak, I realized how marginalized I was not just in financial services, but in society,” she said.

Inspiration from her father convinced her that she needed to act; “They took your tongue, not your brain.” her father told her. Using her experience from decades on Wall Street and tenacity DiBartolo launched the first and nation’s only disabled and woman-owned financial services firm.

Click here to read the full article on CNBC.

How entrepreneurs with disabilities are making their own space in the business world

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Toronto-based entrepreneurs Eyra Abraham founded Lisnen, a mobile app that allows users to receive notifications of critical sounds like fire alarms and sirens.

By Sarah Laing, The Globe and Mail

Eyra Abraham felt the call to entrepreneurship like an alarm ringing in the middle of the night. More specifically, one that she couldn’t hear – with potentially life-threatening consequences.

“I slept through a fire drill in this condo that I had purchased in Nova Scotia,” says Ms. Abraham, who is hard of hearing and wasn’t able to hear the alarm out in the building’s hallway. “I only found out that I missed it when the property manager [mentioned it].”

When she investigated ways to make sure that didn’t happen again, Ms. Abraham’s only options were rewiring her entire apartment (which would be expensive and inconvenient) or purchasing a device from the U.S. to amplify the sound from the hallway (one that didn’t even work because fire alarm tones are different in Canada). Knowing she was moving soon, Ms. Abraham just left things as they were.

Fast forward to her next apartment, this time in Toronto: one night Ms. Abraham woke up to the smell of smoke. She checked her phone, looking to see if the building had texted her an alert to evacuate, which is how they were supposed to accommodate people with hearing loss for emergency alerts. Nothing.

“I called the front desk and nobody was answering,” recalls Ms. Abraham of her panic as she wondered if she was the last person left in the building. “I finally Googled and found that it was a fire a couple blocks away and the smoke was just going through the building.”

It was a crystallizing moment for Ms. Abraham. She realized that what she wanted was a solution with sound recognition that worked with her own smart device, “so wherever I go I can get notifications, and I don’t need to go through the whole procedure to get assistive care or a device installed or any of that.”

Not long after, in 2017, Ms. Abraham founded Lisnen, a mobile app that uses artificial intelligence to identify sounds like fire alarms or sirens and turn those into notifications that deaf or hard of hearing people can use to be aware of everything that’s going on around them.

“I got frustrated waiting for someone else to make it,” says Ms. Abraham, who was working in communications at the time but had studied computer science at university. “I decided to take it on myself.”

That motivation – seeing a need that no one else is addressing and going for it – is a common thread in many entrepreneurial origin stories. For founders of intersecting marginalized identities, including those with a disability like Ms. Abraham, innovation often comes from living in a world built for a very narrow window of human experience, where founders can see space for new ideas because they have an outsider’s perspective.

‘Silent awkwardness’
People with disabilities are vastly under-represented in entrepreneurship – a 2021 BDO study showed that just 0.5 per cent of small or medium-sized businesses in Canada are owned by a person with a disability, despite the fact that an estimated 22 per cent of Canadians live with one or more disability. While the range of businesses helmed by people with disabilities is varied, these business owners often face common barriers.

Ms. Abraham says there is often a “silent awkwardness” when she first walks into a room with potential investors.

“The reality is, there are not a lot of people like myself coming into these meetings and having these conversations with stakeholders or partners,” Ms. Abraham says. “There’s a lot of relationship-building and trust that takes time, so I have to quickly identify commonalities with that person so they realize that I’m not different [from them].”

Ms. Abraham points out that while some might see a product like Lisnen as being solely for people with disabilities, the pioneering work of entrepreneurs with disabilities has often benefitted the masses.

“Most of the technology we have in the mainstream started with a use case to support people with disability,” says Ms. Abraham, pointing to the telephone, which Alexander Graham Bell first developed as a speech aid for deaf people, and texting, which Nokia introduced as an alternative for audio communication. She also points to voice-activated devices like Siri and Alexa, which use technology first developed as assistive technologies.

If information like that was more widely known, it could be the “missing link” to getting stakeholders and investors on board a bit easier, Ms. Abraham says.

“There’s a potential return for investors,” she says. “This is not a niche for a few thousand people. This is a product that can impact many people around the world.”

Breaking the corporate mould
For Stefani Blazevic, entrepreneurship was about carving out a career when the corporate mould didn’t fit.

While her goal had always been to start her own business eventually, Ms. Blazevic’s autoimmune condition meant that her years in corporate were, in her words, “not easy.” She had to take vacation days for medical appointments and struggled to get crucial resources such as an ergonomic keyboard. Plus, the pressure of long hours and travel caused her disease to progress.

When she was “packaged out” of her position, Ms. Blasevic says she knew it was time to launch her own venture. Now, she runs a recruiting firm, InfloHR, which affords her the autonomy, flexibility and earning power she didn’t have before.

“If I want to work part-time, I can scale back. If I want to hire someone, I can do that. It’s up to me,” she says.

Like many other people with disabilities, necessity forced Ms. Blasevic to create her own space to flourish, and it’s part of why she works hard to find those same opportunities for other people.

“It’s my calling,” she says of finding the right fit for both candidates and employers. Along the way, she shares her work/life tips – such as ways to leverage technology to automate the mundane parts of her job – to ensure that people of all abilities find the same kind of career satisfaction she’s found by forging her own path.

Role models matter, whether their precise lived experience is exactly your own or not, says content creator Molly Burke.

In Ms. Burke’s case, that role model was her mom, who was a serial entrepreneur throughout her childhood.

“Whenever I would get stressed about the lack of opportunities for a blind woman like me, my mom would tell me, ‘You don’t have to rely on somebody to hire you. You can start your own business,’” recalls Ms. Burke, who gradually lost her sight as a child due to retinitis pigmentosa.

“Starting my own business wasn’t scary to me because it was something that I had been taught was very much in my realm of capability,” she says, adding that she launched her first business – a motivational speaking venture – after binging Dragon’s Den and Shark Tank.

Ms. Burke now runs a thriving multimedia company (which includes a YouTube account with nearly two million subscribers) and employs several people. “If everything I built goes away one day, I will still follow the path of entrepreneurship,” she says. “Every dream I have is a dream of starting a business of some kind. I think blindness just helped me find a specific path at a younger age.”

Having said that, Ms. Burke notes that blindness has also been a source of discrimination in her life and work.

“I used to get comments from people saying that I wouldn’t be a successful YouTuber if I wasn’t blind,” she says. “I hate that people put my success down to my biggest challenge in life, because that’s not fair.”

In fact, Ms. Burke’s manager was told not to bother taking her on because “there’s no space for a blind person in this industry.” But her persistence has helped paved the way for other content creators with disabilities, something she’s incredibly proud of.

Ms. Burke says that the resilience people with disabilities are forced to develop is an asset when it comes to building a business.

Click here to read the full article on The Globe and Mail.

Building a Future for the Disabled, One Cup of Coffee at a Time

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Team members at a Bitty & Beau’s in Annapolis, Md.Source: Bitty & Beau cafe for a cup of coffee

By , Bloomberg.

While businesses across the U.S. struggle to find enough employees, Bitty & Beau’s coffee shops say their attrition rate is near zero and they’re inundated with applications every time a location opens. That’s because the chain primarily hires workers from a demographic advocates say has an unemployment rate above 80%: people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. “There’s an untapped labor force of people with disabilities in every community,” says Amy Wright, who co-founded the company with her husband, Ben, six years ago. “Most of our employees have never had a job before.”

Almost 90% of the 350-plus employees at Bitty & Beau’s 11 locations have a disability, doing everything from working as baristas to helping plan strategy in the corporate office. The Wrights decline to share specifics, but they say Bitty & Beau’s is both fast-growing and profitable—no small feat in an industry dominated by the likes of StarbucksDunkin’, and Peet’s. “We’re trying to shift the way society thinks about people with disabilities from charity to prosperity,” Ben Wright says. “You can run a profitable business that employs people with disabilities.”

The couple were inspired to get into the business after two of their four children (son Beau, 17, and daughter Bitty, 12) were born with Down syndrome. Although neither parent had experience running a coffee shop or any other type of hospitality or retail operation—they met as actors in New York before Ben switched to a career in finance and Amy shifted her focus to raising the family—they decided to open their first shop after relocating to Wilmington, N.C. Initiatives with a similar mission exist as nonprofits, but the Wrights wanted Bitty & Beau’s to be a profit-generating company to ensure that it remains sustainable. “If the nonprofit world had been able to solve this,” Amy says, “it would’ve already.”

Businesses such as Bitty & Beau’s can play an important leadership role, says Silvia Bonaccio, a professor of workplace psychology at the University of Ottawa’s Telfer School of Management. Some advocates for disability employment say it would be better if all types of companies were to hire employees with disabilities rather than “segregating” them at places such as coffee shops, but that’s not happening. So it’s important, Bonaccio says, for someone to demonstrate the contributions such people can make. “Employers continue to overlook a significant pool of talent,” she says. “One business can be a catalyst for change.”

In 2020, Bitty & Beau’s shifted to a franchise model. On their own the Wrights could open only about one location each year, and they were fielding requests from people across the U.S. who wanted a shop in their town. The company says it’s on track to expand to 27 locations in more than a dozen states in the next year or so, and within a decade the Wrights aim to have at least one shop in all 50 states.

a woman is seated in the Bitty & Beaus coffee house with decorative artwork on the walls
A Bitty & Beau’s in Athens, Ga.
Photographer: Kayla Renie/USAToday/IMAGN

The cost of opening a location ranges from $350,000 to more than $700,000, including a $40,000 franchise fee (roughly in line with what big fast-food chains charge). In exchange, franchisees are given the right to use the name, along with training and detailed guidelines for furnishing and operating the shop. The Wrights say that given the number of requests they get, a big part of their job now is vetting potential franchisees to ensure they’re going into the business with the right intentions and will abide by their rules for running a shop. “We say no to people more than we say yes,” Amy says.

At the recently opened outlet in Bethlehem, Pa., one wall is packed with clothing, beach towels, mugs, and other merchandise bearing awareness-raising messages like “radically inclusive” and “not broken.” Even the Wi-Fi password—“abletowork”—underscores the chain’s mission of providing jobs to people with disabilities. Every cup of coffee, pastry, and product sold comes with a handwritten note of gratitude.

Click here to read the full article on Bloomberg.

Meet 2022 Gerber Baby! Isa Slish, Born with Limb Difference, Is ‘Amazing Little Girl,’ Says Mom

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2022 Gerber Baby Isa Slish

By Shafiq Najib, People

Introducing the new Gerber Baby!

On Wednesday, Gerber revealed the winner for its 2022 photo search contest as Isa Slish of Edmond, Oklahoma. The bright-eyed baby girl will serve as 2022 Gerber Spokesbaby and take on the adorable and vital role of Chief Growing Officer (CGO) on Gerber’s Executive Committee.

Isa, whom her mother, Meredith Slish, describes as a “strong, amazing little girl” via a press release, will collaborate with Gerber to help the next generation of babies grow and thrive, which includes her serving as official Chief Taste Tester to review new baby food products as well as provide “advice” to the team.

Meredith says her daughter “loves to interact with the world around her and nothing will stop her.”

“Her smile lights up the room and her laughter is irresistible,” the proud mom notes before sharing her unique experience while pregnant with Isa, born in September 2021.

2022 Gerber Baby! Isa Slish of Oklahoma, Born with Limb Differences: 'Strong, Amazing Little Girl'
CREDIT: COURTESY GERBER

“We knew Isa was special, she has shown us that every day since she came into our lives,” Meredith explains. “We found out when I was 18 weeks pregnant that Isa would be born without a femur or a fibula in her right leg.”

“We hope Isa’s story can bring more awareness for limb differences and create greater inclusion for children like her. Because, just like Isa, they too can be or do anything they want!” she says.

Isa’s favorite foods are Gerber Sweet Potato Puffs and Gerber 1st Foods Butternut Squash. Aside from spending her days babbling to her 4-year-old sister Temperance, Isa also enjoys playing with her stuffed hippo and listening to soundtracks from her favorite movies.

The original Gerber baby in the brand’s iconic logo was Ann Turner Cook. In 2010, Photo Search was launched, inspired by the “countless photos sent by parents who see their little ones in” Gerber’s logo. Isa has now followed the tiny footsteps of baby Zane Kahin who scored the Gerber Baby title in 2021.

For the first time this year, Garber will match Isa’s cash prize with a $25,000 donation to the nonprofit March of Dimes’ maternal and infant health programs.

Click here to read the full article on People.

As a financial planner, I see people forget a critically important type of insurance over and over

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Hanna Horvath is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER talking about disability insurance. photo shows her wearing a tan sweater against a white background.

By , Insider

Insurance is a great risk management tool to financially protect yourself against unexpected events. But when most people think about financial risk, they think about a house fire or car crash. Few people think about losing one of their most valuable assets — their income.

As a financial planner, I see many people go without disability insurance because they think they don’t need it. But that couldn’t be further from the truth.

One in four adults will be out of work for at least a year due to a disability. Very few people have enough savings to cover a year in lost income — in fact, three in 10 American adults are unable to cover a $400 emergency. Disability insurance can take the sting out of these situations.

Disability insurance is for everyone
Disability insurance is not just for workers in high-risk jobs; most injuries and illnesses happen outside of work. The most common disability insurance claims are for work-induced musculoskeletal disorders, like back pain or tendinitis, cancer, pregnancy, and mental-health issues.

If you’re the breadwinner, you need disability insurance to protect your income for not just you, but your loved ones who rely on you. The same goes for those paying off debt — if you find yourself out of work, you’ll still need to be making monthly debt payments.

There are two types of disability insurance: long-term and short-term. Like the names suggest, short-term disability covers you for a shorter amount of time, typically under three months, while long-term disability insurance can cover your lost income for years, depending on the policy you have.

Other types of coverage often aren’t enough
Many people have short-term disability insurance through their employer, but that only covers you for a short amount of time. What’s more, the benefits typically only cover a portion of your salary and are taxable because your employer is paying the premium.

Unless you get injured on the job or your injury was directly related to work, workers’ compensation will typically not cover your injury or illness.

Social Security does offer some disability insurance coverage, but the application process is often very time consuming and has a 70% denial rate, and likely won’t cover your entire income. You may not have the time and savings to wait for your claim to go through after you get injured or sick. What’s more, the average monthly Social Security disability income benefit was $1,279 a month, which may not be enough to cover your lost income.

Purchasing a long-term disability insurance policy can help cover some of these gaps, and provide tax-free income if the unexpected happens.

Disability insurance isn’t as expensive as you think
The average cost of a long-term disability insurance policy is 1% to 3% your annual salary, though costs will vary.

Your job, salary, and level of health are some of the factors that determine how much your policy premiums will cost. The type of policy also affects the cost — whether it’s an any-occupation or own-occupation policy.

Any-occupation disability insurance will cover you if you’re unable to generally work in your line of work, and own-occupation covers you if you’re unable to perform your specific job. Own-occupation policies cover your income better, but are often more expensive.

How to decide on a disability insurance plan
When considering how much disability insurance to get (or if you even need it), think about your job, how much you make, and who would cover your bills if you were to become sick or injured.

Short-term policies last a maximum 26 weeks and cover around 40-60% of your income. Long-term policies can last the rest of your life and typically replace 40%-60% of your income. You should take a closer look at your current financial situation to decide how much coverage you need.

Even if your employer offers disability insurance (and especially if they don’t) you should purchase an individual plan. It will travel with you if you leave your job, so you’ll always be covered.

One strategy I personally use and recommend is laddering your disability insurance policies, which basically involves holding both long-term and short-term disability insurance policies. Short-term disability policies have a short elimination period before paying out benefits, while long-term disability insurance policies have longer waiting periods, typically around 90 days. Laddering your policies ensures you start getting paid right after an illness or injury.

Click here to read the full article on Insider.

Equality Vs. Equitability: What’s Still Missing from a Diverse Workplace?

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Equality Vs. Equitability: What’s Still Missing from a Diverse Workplace?

By Lisa Cox, DIVERSEability Magazine

Equality in the workplace is all the buzz in the HR world. If you’re a business owner, finding ways to expand your workforce and diversify your client base will benefit your company culture and your brand’s revenue-generating potential.

As a whole, businesses have made concerted efforts towards achieving diversity, but while some of these efforts are commendable, others are clearly tokenistic in an attempt to look good on paper. We’re not seeing notable transformation in our societies or upliftment in disadvantaged communities. Which begs the question: What isn’t working?

Is equality realistic at this point?

Possibly a controversial question that begs asking: is equality realistic? We want a business industry that is high-functioning, diverse, collaborative and that ultimately boosts the entire country’s economic net-worth. We want to encourage disadvantaged members of the population to gain meaningful employment and transform the roles they play as part of our society. With businesses wanting to fulfil these needs, why are they still largely unmet? Should we examine equitability first? Let’s start by defining it.

Equity is the missing piece of the puzzle

Picture yourself attending a show. Everyone who attends the show gets the same welcome package: binoculars, popcorn and booklet. It doesn’t matter what kind of vehicle you arrived in, whether you’re male or female or if you’re disabled or use some sort of mobility aid, everyone gets the same welcome box.

This is an example of equality. It means regardless of who you are, you can expect the same treatment as every other attendee.

Equitability means that not everyone is able to attend. There are potential guests that may enjoy the show. They’re welcome to arrive. However, the show doesn’t offer wheelchair access. The show is too far away from the outlying areas where poorer people live. The show runs through the same time as most parenting duties. People with disabilities, people from low-income areas and parents, while welcome, will not be able to attend.

Regardless of the hosts’ statements regarding equality, if it’s not equitable (meaning accessible), equality still only applies to a select number of people who are in the position of privilege to be able to attend. Now, think of it as a workplace and not as a show.

How equity makes equality attainable

Equity in the workplace is slightly different from the above analogy, but that scene demonstrates the problem. We can create the most encouraging and positive work environments for a diverse range of people. However, until full-time employment is accessible and practical for disadvantaged individuals, equality remains theoretical. Examples of equality that needs equitability in order to make it work, include:

  • For women: equitability means offering both men and women maternity leave. The fact that only women get maternity leaves suggests that it is solely the woman’s job to raise a family, thus setting aside her career aspirations. This assumption also means that women of childbearing age come with added risks, expenses and stress, so employers would rather hire a man. For women, equitability also means having flexible work options.
  • For workers with disabilities: Professionals with disabilities are often asked for their thoughts on equality. Many of them feel that until workplaces have wheelchair access, provide protocols that enable time off to see specialists and remain flexible enough to allow workers to achieve their KPIs in a less rigid 9-5 schedule, working is also inequitable and largely inaccessible to them. Note: “Wheelchair access” isn’t just about access by those using a wheelchair. It can also mean people using other mobility aids or those who can walk but may have difficulty with long distances or stairs. In these instances, individuals may prefer to use access points for those of us in wheelchairs.
  • Skilled workers from disadvantaged communities: For many skilled and qualified individuals that have proven they have the tenacity to make it through university, working at high-performing firms is still not an option, regardless of how the company might embrace “workers from all walks of life.” Traveling from outlying areas makes the daily commute completely impossible while moving closer is also impractical due to financial and resource restraints. Unless companies offer remote working options, once again, equality remains theoretical simply because the opportunity for employment is not attainable to someone who isn’t already in a position of privilege.

Although workplace equity is a challenging task to tackle, it is a worthwhile investment that leads to many benefits. including increased innovation, employee engagement and retention, financial performance and contributing to the bottom line. The catch is that, in order to reap the full benefits, companies cannot just be equitable on paper. They need to dedicate time and effort to understanding the needs and challenges of certain employee groups and work to bridge those gaps while aligning their business goals. Only then can companies create an equitable and inclusive environment that attracts diverse talent and brings out the true potential in each employee.

How entrepreneurs with disabilities are making their own space in the business world

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Toronto-based entrepreneur Eyra Abraham founded Lisnen, a mobile app that allows users to receive notifications of critical sounds like fire alarms and sirens.

By Sarah Laing, The Globe and Mail

This article is part of a package produced by the Globe Women’s Collective around International Women’s Day and this year’s theme of #BreakTheBias

Eyra Abraham felt the call to entrepreneurship like an alarm ringing in the middle of the night. More specifically, one that she couldn’t hear – with potentially life-threatening consequences.

“I slept through a fire drill in this condo that I had purchased in Nova Scotia,” says Ms. Abraham, who is hard of hearing and wasn’t able to hear the alarm out in the building’s hallway. “I only found out that I missed it when the property manager [mentioned it].”

When she investigated ways to make sure that didn’t happen again, Ms. Abraham’s only options were rewiring her entire apartment (which would be expensive and inconvenient) or purchasing a device from the U.S. to amplify the sound from the hallway (one that didn’t even work because fire alarm tones are different in Canada). Knowing she was moving soon, Ms. Abraham just left things as they were.

Fast forward to her next apartment, this time in Toronto: one night Ms. Abraham woke up to the smell of smoke. She checked her phone, looking to see if the building had texted her an alert to evacuate, which is how they were supposed to accommodate people with hearing loss for emergency alerts. Nothing.

“I called the front desk and nobody was answering,” recalls Ms. Abraham of her panic as she wondered if she was the last person left in the building. “I finally Googled and found that it was a fire a couple blocks away and the smoke was just going through the building.”

It was a crystallizing moment for Ms. Abraham. She realized that what she wanted was a solution with sound recognition that worked with her own smart device, “so wherever I go I can get notifications, and I don’t need to go through the whole procedure to get assistive care or a device installed or any of that.”

Not long after, in 2017, Ms. Abraham founded Lisnen, a mobile app that uses artificial intelligence to identify sounds like fire alarms or sirens and turn those into notifications that deaf or hard of hearing people can use to be aware of everything that’s going on around them.

“I got frustrated waiting for someone else to make it,” says Ms. Abraham, who was working in communications at the time but had studied computer science at university. “I decided to take it on myself.”

That motivation – seeing a need that no one else is addressing and going for it – is a common thread in many entrepreneurial origin stories. For founders of intersecting marginalized identities, including those with a disability like Ms. Abraham, innovation often comes from living in a world built for a very narrow window of human experience, where founders can see space for new ideas because they have an outsider’s perspective.

‘Silent awkwardness’
People with disabilities are vastly under-represented in entrepreneurship – a 2021 BDO study showed that just 0.5 per cent of small or medium-sized businesses in Canada are owned by a person with a disability, despite the fact that an estimated 22 per cent of Canadians live with one or more disability. While the range of businesses helmed by people with disabilities is varied, these business owners often face common barriers.

Ms. Abraham says there is often a “silent awkwardness” when she first walks into a room with potential investors.

“The reality is, there are not a lot of people like myself coming into these meetings and having these conversations with stakeholders or partners,” Ms. Abraham says. “There’s a lot of relationship-building and trust that takes time, so I have to quickly identify commonalities with that person so they realize that I’m not different [from them].”

Ms. Abraham points out that while some might see a product like Lisnen as being solely for people with disabilities, the pioneering work of entrepreneurs with disabilities has often benefitted the masses.

“Most of the technology we have in the mainstream started with a use case to support people with disability,” says Ms. Abraham, pointing to the telephone, which Alexander Graham Bell first developed as a speech aid for deaf people, and texting, which Nokia introduced as an alternative for audio communication. She also points to voice-activated devices like Siri and Alexa, which use technology first developed as assistive technologies.

If information like that was more widely known, it could be the “missing link” to getting stakeholders and investors on board a bit easier, Ms. Abraham says.

“There’s a potential return for investors,” she says. “This is not a niche for a few thousand people. This is a product that can impact many people around the world.”

Breaking the corporate mould
For Stefani Blazevic, entrepreneurship was about carving out a career when the corporate mould didn’t fit.

While her goal had always been to start her own business eventually, Ms. Blazevic’s autoimmune condition meant that her years in corporate were, in her words, “not easy.” She had to take vacation days for medical appointments and struggled to get crucial resources such as an ergonomic keyboard. Plus, the pressure of long hours and travel caused her disease to progress.

When she was “packaged out” of her position, Ms. Blasevic says she knew it was time to launch her own venture. Now, she runs a recruiting firm, InfloHR, which affords her the autonomy, flexibility and earning power she didn’t have before.

“If I want to work part-time, I can scale back. If I want to hire someone, I can do that. It’s up to me,” she says.

Like many other people with disabilities, necessity forced Ms. Blasevic to create her own space to flourish, and it’s part of why she works hard to find those same opportunities for other people.

“It’s my calling,” she says of finding the right fit for both candidates and employers. Along the way, she shares her work/life tips – such as ways to leverage technology to automate the mundane parts of her job – to ensure that people of all abilities find the same kind of career satisfaction she’s found by forging her own path.

Click here to read the full article on The Globe and Mail.

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    January 19, 2022 - November 4, 2022
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Upcoming Events

  1. City Career Fair
    January 19, 2022 - November 4, 2022
  2. The Small Business Expo–Multiple Event Dates
    February 17, 2022 - December 1, 2022
  3. 2022 Academic Careers Workshop Apply Today!
    June 9, 2022 - June 12, 2022
  4. From Day One
    June 14, 2022
  5. From Day One
    June 22, 2022