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.

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.

How this TikTok star became an ‘accidental’ disability rights activist

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TikTok influencer

By Sarah Jacoby, TODAY

Mya Pol recalls being full of energy and “super rambunctious” as a child. “I would literally run laps around the house,” she told TODAY’s Sheinelle Jones.

But as she got older, Pol said she began to experience puzzling symptoms, which hit a peak in her sophomore year of college. At first, she shrugged it off as a side effect of her life as a student.

But “the weakness and fatigue continued to get worse until it reached a point where I was collapsing walking back from my classes,” she said.

Pol was diagnosed with a genetic condition, as well as a probable neurological disorder, that made it necessary for her to use a wheelchair. She soon realized how much more challenging it was for her to navigate the world. So Pol, who calls herself an “accidental activist,” decided to join TikTok to shed light on the challenges that people with disabilities encounter regularly.

With the username @immarollwith it, Pol posts joyful dance routines, answers questions about her life with a disability and shares resources for others who need mobility aids, for instance.

“I pride myself in being positive and searching for joy wherever I can,” Pol said. “And regardless of what life throws at me, I want to roll with it.”

She also shares TikTok videos that show some of the challenges she encounters as a wheelchair user, like the curbs outside of her school’s dining hall, as well as the little changes that make environments more accessible, such as the doorstop-like devices in her dorm room and campus bathroom, which people may not realize can be adjusted to make the doors close more slowly.

“A lot of them are really tight, which makes the door extremely heavy, which reduces access for people with strength issues, with pain issues, like arthritis or wheelchair users,” she explained. Pol made a post about the doorstop, showing that it has adjustable settings. She received hundreds of positive comments, including from some people who were ready to make their own spaces more accessible.

At times, Pol told TODAY, she can feel frustrated and invisible. “To know that there’s a world out there that chooses to exclude you, that chooses to not make the necessary changes to create systems that can support you, is soul-crushing,” she said. “To know that for the rest of my life, I’m going to be looking at tens of thousands of dollars extra for anything that I want, is frustrating, soul-crushing and heartbreaking — especially when I know it doesn’t have to be this way.”

Click here to read the full article on Today.

Barbie releases first-ever doll with hearing aids. 5 other groundbreaking Barbies

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barbies now wearing a hearing aid

By Ishita Srivastava, Daily O

Barbie has been an icon and inspiration for women across the world. Since its creation in 1959, Barbie has evolved from being only a doll for young girls to a global symbol of ‘anything is possible’.

The doll, however, has a long history of lacking inclusivity, in terms of race and body shape. Celebrities like Kim Kardashian and Lizzo have made the non-Barbie body type ‘stylish’ and as social media is evolving to become a safe space for all body types and races, Barbie has begun making changes of its own.

Here are 5 groundbreaking Barbie dolls that promote body acceptance and racial diversity:

1. HEARING AID BARBIE

On May 11, Barbie’s latest Fashionistas line was announced and it was a reason for joy for many consumers with hearing disabilities. The new collection, for the first time, features a Barbie doll with behind-the-ear hearing aids.

The new line also features a doll with a prosthetic leg and a Ken doll with vitiligo.

Mattel’s Barbie team collaborated with expert and hearing loss advocate Dr Jen Richardson in order to accurately represent the doll.

“I’m honoured to have worked with Barbie to create an accurate reflection of a doll with behind-the-ear hearing aids. As an educational audiologist with over 18 years of experience working in hearing loss advocacy, it’s inspiring to see those who experience hearing loss reflected in a doll,” said Dr Richardson.

While in 2020, Mattel did release a Barbie doll with vitiligo, this is the first time a Ken doll has been released with the skin disease. (Read more about vitiligo Barbie here: 11 fancy Barbie dolls we wish we had in the 90s. Just like the Queen Elizabeth one)

2. DISABLED BARBIE

Barbie’s 2019 Fashionistas line marked the first time Mattel released Barbie dolls with physical disabilities. Available to buy since June 2019, the new line featured a Barbie doll with a prosthetic leg and another doll with a wheelchair.

Similar to Mattel’s collaboration with Dr Richardson to create a Barbie doll with hearing aids, Mattel joined hands with 13-year-old disability activist who was born without a left forearm, Jordan Reeves in 2019 to create the Barbie doll with a prosthetic leg.

Mattel also worked with the UCLA Mattel Children’s Hospital and wheelchair experts to design the Barbie doll with a wheelchair.

Not only the physically disabled Barbie dolls, Mattel also introduced a Barbie DreamHouse compatible ramp to promote infrastructure accessibility for the physically disabled.

3. BODY POSITIVE BARBIE

Back in January 2016, Mattel announced that Barbie will now be available to buy in three new body shapes; tall, petite and curvy, marking the first time the popularly skinny doll was available in other body types.

At the time, spokeswoman Michelle Chidoni explained that the new Barbie dolls will allow “the product line to be a better reflection of what girls see in the world around them.”

4. ASIAN BARBIE

Named Oriental Barbie, Mattel’s first Asian Barbie doll was released in 1981. The collector doll was a part of Barbie’s Dolls of the World collection.

The Oriental Barbie was released in a long yellow dress with red trimmings and a red and golden-flowered jacket. Oriental Barbie described herself as from Hong Kong. Since Oriental Barbie was the first Barbie of its kind, the face sculpt came to be known as the Oriental / Miko / Kira Face Sculpt.

While Mattel did release an Asian Barbie in 1981, it was ultimately in March 2022 when the toymaker released its first Desi Barbie. To celebrate Women’s History Month, Mattel released a South Asian Barbie who was modelled after Deepica Mutyala, the founder and CEO of makeup brand Live Tinted.

Click here to read the full article on Daily O.

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 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.

Don’t Forget Neurodiversity in Your DEI Strategy

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Neurodiversity word cloud on a white background

By Tawanah Reeves-Ligon

The social impact nonprofit and lifelong guide for those with learning and thinking differences, Understood, released insights from a new study called the “Employee DEI Experience Study.”

Their findings suggest that while the commitments American employers made to increase workplace diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) seem to be resonating, with 85 percent of employees stating their employer is inclusive and embraces employees as their true selves, there is room to grow when it comes supporting neurodiversity.

According to the study, 64 percent of American employees feel their place of work values diversity and shows it in their actions, but less than half of employees (47 percent) saw neurodiversity as something that was supported by their organizations. In comparison, among the 64 percent of employees who say their employer values diversity:

  • White employees (68 percent) are more likely than Black employees (53 percent) to feel their employer values diversity and shows it in their actions.
  • 65 percent say their employers show it by supporting and/or empowering women.
  • 55 percent say their employers show it by supporting and/or empowering individuals with physical disabilities.
  • 50 percent say their employers show it by supporting and/or empowering the LGBTQ+ community.

The study also dissected how companies are setting up employees to thrive in the workplace, unveiling that 28 percent of employees say they have struggled with not having the right office set up, technology or tools (accommodations) needed to do their job properly.

54 percent of respondents in the “Employee DEI Experience Study” said they have asked an employer for an accommodation to help them do their job better; however, there is still work that companies must do to make sure all employees feel empowered and supported, as:

  • Employed men (54 percent) are significantly more likely than employed women (37 percent) to have asked for an accommodation that was granted.
  • Hispanic and Black employees (15 percent each) are significantly more likely to have asked for an accommodation that was denied versus white employees (8 percent).

What do these study findings tell us? While companies have made notable strides to increase their DEI efforts, they are falling short in considering the one in five employees in the U.S. who have a learning or thinking difference.

To help combat this disparity, organizations should seek additional knowledge and relevant DEI training. For example, due to their study findings, Understood unveiled a comprehensive (DEI) program that includes on-demand and virtual live, disability-inclusion training, as well as workplace assessment and action plan services for employers invested in building inclusive workplaces.

The fact remains that not everyone experiences the workplace in the same way. People with disabilities are continuously left out of recruiting and hiring efforts. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the 2021 unemployment rate for people with disabilities was twice that of people without. A key reason for this may be that 61 percent of managers and 51 percent of HR professionals have never participated in disability and inclusion training, according to Understood and Society for Human Resource Management’s Employing Abilities @Work Report. Meanwhile, the same study showed that less than 15 percent of organizations invest in disability inclusion initiatives at work.

As companies focus on improving their rhetoric and actions around neurodiversity, workplace programs like this are imperative and should be considered relevant to all levels and functions of an organization. By breaking down stigma and misconceptions, educating staff and enhancing the capabilities to implement disability inclusion, employers can support and enhance their company’s commitment to making workplaces more equitable, supportive and productive for all.

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.

Looking at Environmental Protection Through the Lens of Disability

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Looking at Environmental Protection Through the Lens of Disability

By Alliah Czarielle, Hemophilia News Today

Climate change has been a hot topic in our circles lately. We feel it very much in the Philippines, where hot summers in the months of April and May have quickly turned into a season of strong typhoons and dangerous floods. Recently, a major typhoon hit the province of Leyte, causing a tragic landslide.

Individuals can only do so much to “save” our planet (and humanity) from the drastic effects of climate change. But we can make a difference by doing little things. We can boycott single-use plastics if we’re in a position to do so, lower our energy consumption, and deal with waste appropriately through proper separation and recycling.

Of course, having a disability factors into the equation about how much one can do to help the earth. Many people with disabilities must resort to less eco-friendly practices in order to address health issues and to thrive, although that’s not to say disabled people can’t take steps to be eco-friendly.

For instance, my husband, Jared, infuses factor products to treat his hemophilia. This procedure involves single-use plastic tubes, metal needles, and glass bottles.

According to a 2019 National Geographic article, one expert estimated that 25% of the waste generated by U.S. healthcare facilities is plastic. This is because the equipment used to treat patients needs to be sterile, and plastic serves that need well.

When my mom was ill with cancer, she needed to drink from plastic straws due to the limitations she had. And by the time she was bedridden, she needed to use disposable adult diapers.

In Japan, a country with a rapidly aging population, adult diaper waste is a growing concern, as The New York Times reported last year. Used diapers are likely to end up in incinerators, like most of the country’s waste. Compared with other types of waste, diapers require more fuel to burn, leading to costly waste management bills and high carbon emissions.

To help alleviate this problem, the Japanese town of Houki converted one of the town’s incinerators into a diaper recycling plant, which in turn produces fuel for a public bathhouse, the Times reported. This, in turn, helps to lower natural gas costs. Japan is fortunate to have the resources to come up with this creative solution.

Since there are limitations to taking steps to protect the environment when accessing or providing healthcare by people with disabilities or those who work at treatment centers, I offer the following suggestions.

If you can afford to, avoid single-use plastics.
If using single-use plastics cannot be avoided, be mindful of how often you use them and how you dispose of them. Seek out alternatives to the plastic bags you use for shopping or carrying things. At home, stock up with multiple-use, high-quality storage containers.

Leave single-use plastic products to the ones who really need them to live. This includes people with disabilities, older people, and babies, for example.

Avoid fast fashion.
I am guilty of patronizing fast fashion — which refers to the mass production of high-fashion clothing trends — because I like dressing up. My clothing budget is quite low, hence the temptation for cheap clothes from chain retailers.

According to a 2019 article by Insider’s Morgan McFall-Johnsen, the fashion industry is responsible for producing 10% of humanity’s carbon emissions, is the second-largest consumer of the world’s water supply, and pollutes the oceans with microplastics.

What percentage of clothing in your closet do you actually wear? Think about it, and try not to buy more than you would actually use. Instead of shopping for new clothes, why not shop at secondhand stores or learn to rework old clothing into more modern styles?

Jared’s entire collection of clothes fits into just one drawer. This makes his wardrobe easier to organize. He wears a “uniform” of plain, minimalist T-shirts with classic denim jeans or shorts. When I first met him in college, he still wore clothes from as early as sixth grade! He only updated his wardrobe when he built up muscle as an adult and needed to switch to clothing a few sizes bigger.

Jared doesn’t go out as often as I do, and bleeding episodes occasionally force him to stay at home. He also considers himself more of an indoor type. So he doesn’t think he needs many clothes.

But even if one’s lifestyle is active or outgoing, we can find some perspective from people like Jared. After all, how many clothes do we really need? As my drawers are now filled to the brim with clothes, I actively try to avoid buying new ones. Furthermore, I now support a local seamstress instead of buying from retail chains. The sewing takes time, but the outcome is often top quality and looks great. It’s also more eco-friendly, and I get to support someone’s livelihood.

Click here to read the full article on Hemophilia News Today.

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    January 19, 2022 - November 4, 2022
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    February 17, 2022 - December 1, 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