The short supply of special education teachers

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A child in a wheelchair at the park with his special education teacher

By the School of Education

Special education teachers ensure an equitable education to millions of students across the nation. With 14 percent of students needing some type of special education service, these teachers play a key role in making sure all students have a chance to thrive academically. General education teachers and students alike rely on special education teachers’ specialized knowledge in skills assessment and the development of learning activities with special needs and disabilities in mind. For this reason, the current special education teacher shortage is especially worrying. So, what’s causing this shortage, and how can leaders begin to address it?

Current and aspiring educators looking for a deeper analysis of the issue should consider American University’s Online School of Education, which offers students expert knowledge about special education challenges, preparing them to address the current shortage.

An Overview of the Current Special Education Teacher Shortage
Special education teacher shortages have persisted for years, putting the education of the country’s most vulnerable students in a precarious position. The Office of Special Education Programs currently lists the national shortage at 8 percent. This large and growing problem affects schools across the country, but the shortage pertains to more than just insufficient numbers of special education teachers.

The shortage also refers to inadequate numbers of properly trained special education teachers. In fact, many first-year special education teachers across the country have not completed special education preparation programs. In California for example, of the 8,470 new special education teachers hired in 2017-18, only 3,274 were fully credentialed.

To gain more insight into the special education teacher shortage, consider the following statistics:

  • Forty-eight states and the District of Columbia lack sufficient special education teachers.
  • Special education teachers leave teaching at almost double the rate of general education teachers.
  • More than half of all school districts struggle to staff well-qualified special education teachers.
  • Ninety percent of high-poverty school districts struggle to staff well-qualified special education teachers.
  • Up to 29 percent of vacated special education teacher positions are due to attrition.
  • Unequal Distributions of the Special Education Teacher Shortage

    While the special education teacher shortage affects schools across the spectrum, it tends to impact high-poverty schools most acutely. They face the greatest challenges when it comes to attracting properly trained and experienced special education teachers.

    In recent years, enrollment in all teacher preparation programs has dropped considerably, and the number of people completing special education programs has dropped 14 percent, meaning fewer credentialed teachers are available for a growing number of vacancies. Low-income and rural schools find it especially hard to attract and retain the dwindling number of special education teachers. The special education teachers these schools do manage to hire often have less experience than those hired by more affluent schools. For example, many special education teachers in urban and rural districts work with provisional licenses after meeting just a few requirements:

  • An undergraduate degree
  • Nine credit hours of coursework covering both general and special education
  • Successful completion of a basic skills exam
  • Typically, special education teachers at high-poverty schools have received less special education training and are more likely to hold certifications in areas other than special education compared with teachers at low-poverty schools.

    Attrition and the Consequences of the Special Education Teacher Shortage

    Data shows that teachers with limited preparation tend to drop out of the profession more frequently than those who finish traditional preparation programs. The reliance on provisional and alternative credentialing programs that send underprepared special education teachers into classrooms contributes to the high teacher turnover rate.

    This constant churn of losing and rebuilding teaching faculties comes at a price. Several studies have shown teacher attrition can lower student achievement in English language arts and math and hurt the overall effectiveness of teachers in a school. In addition to the academic price, teacher attrition has a huge financial price tag: the Learning Policy Institute estimates it costs approximately $8 billion dollars a year. As teachers cycle through the profession in increasing numbers, districts must funnel huge amounts of money into recruiting and training new educators to replace them.

    The public school system is based on equity. The reputations of the teaching profession and the system rest on their ability to provide stable learning environments to all students. As such, the ongoing special education teacher shortage compromises the entire public school system and tarnishes the profession’s reputation. It creates instability, limits students’ learning opportunities, and results in countless hours of lost instructional time. Additionally, the fact the shortages disproportionately affect marginalized students widens the achievement gap and raises questions of educational equity.

    A Look at the Reasons Behind the Special Education Teacher Shortage

    Several factors are driving the special education teacher shortage. As mentioned, steep enrollment declines in teacher education programs, alongside high attrition for special education teachers, contribute to the shortage. Working conditions, low pay, and insufficient training and support also factor heavily.

    Stressful Working Conditions for Special Education Teachers

    Special education teachers often work in stressful environments. Just like general education teachers, they must deal with the challenges of student poverty, insufficient parental involvement, student absenteeism, and a lack of resources. However, they also must contend with excessive paperwork and overwhelming caseloads without the support they need.

    For example, special education teachers can find themselves in classrooms without aides trying to teach 20 students with different special needs who require customized instruction. On top of that, they may have a caseload of 20 students who require individualized education programs (IEPs), annual testing, and regular meetings with parents and other teachers. Additionally, failing to meet deadlines or submit necessary paperwork can constitute a federal offense, as IEPs are federally mandated, which puts further pressure on special education teachers.

    Click here to read the full article on the School of Education.

    Amazon, Starbucks and Google among best places to work for professionals with disabilities

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    Google announced the launch of the Google Cloud Autism Career Program for neurodiversity..and is one of the best places for professionals with disabilities

    By Ashton Jackson, CNBC

    In 2021, 77% of workers with disabilities said their employer has done a better job supporting them since the pandemic started. Now, companies are building on that support, with significant increases in leadership and boardroom diversity, according to the 2022 Disability Equality Index report from Disability:IN, a global organization advocating for disability inclusion in the workplace.

    “People now understand that disability inclusion is not some kind of ADA compliance issue, but it’s actually a business imperative,” says Ted Kennedy Jr., co-chair of the Disability Equality Index.

    “People today want to go to work for companies that they think are doing the right thing, that share their values, and share their vision of the world, [including] making sure that people with disabilities have an equal shot at going to work at that company every single day.”

    The Disability Equality Index is a benchmarking assessment, where leaders submit their companies to be scored in areas like technology accessibility, employment practices and culture. This year, the report covered 415 companies, including 69 from the Fortune 100, who were then ranked to identify the best places to work for disability inclusion.

    With scores of 100, these companies, along with several others, led the pack:

    Amazon
    Bank of America
    Capital One
    Deloitte
    Goldman Sachs
    Google
    Starbucks

    Increased disability inclusion in leadership is one of the most prominent trends in the report, with 126 companies having a senior executive who is internally known as a person with a disability. In 2021, only 99 companies had this kind of representation at the executive level.

    The report also found that 6% of companies now have someone who openly identifies as disabled on their corporate board, and 74% of companies have investments with disability-owned businesses, showing not only an internal change, but an effort to diversify outside relationships as well.

    According to Jill Houghton, the president and CEO of Disability:IN, the call for disability inclusion at work, coupled with the “global talent shortage” has made it vital for companies “to rethink how they hire, develop and cultivate talent.”

    Ninety-six percent of companies in the report offer flexible work options, making completing certain tasks more accessible and accommodating. Fifty percent are also investing in new technology to help advance digital accessibility.

    Click here to read the full article on CNBC.

    Meet the Google Dealmaker Advocating for Disabled Workers

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    Meet the Google Dealmaker Advocating for Disabled Workers

    By , Times Grid

    Rising up within the south German metropolis of Tuttlingen, Patrick Schilling could not use his native library.

    Born with shortened legs and arms, Schilling’s incapacity left him reliant on an electrical wheelchair from an early age.

    However the nearest library to Schilling’s household residence was solely accessible through stairs, which means he had to make use of the web to search out studying materials.

    Talking to Insider from his residence in Zurich, the place he has labored as a strategic dealmaker at Google’s cloud computing division – though he just lately made a sideways transfer into product improvement – Schilling mentioned this expertise was emblematic of the distinctive dynamics that drove his early ardour for know-how and innovation.

    “There’s two angles to it. The primary is that if you happen to use an electrical wheelchair, the primary time it breaks down, you develop an intrinsic motivation to make it possible for know-how that is being constructed for hundreds of thousands of individuals really works,” he mentioned.

    “Then again, I take pleasure in the advantages of technological developments fairly early on. My native library was solely accessible through stairs. When the web got here alongside, I may immediately learn virtually something I needed to within the digital realm.”

    In line with the World Well being Group, near a billion individuals worldwide are in want of assistive gadgets to go about their day, however solely a fraction of them have entry to such know-how.

    Rising up in a working-class household with little “mental publicity to this space,” Schilling mentioned he may have a tough time navigating an unkind world.

    “I acquired confronted with the nice, the unhealthy, and the ugly of rising up with a bodily incapacity fairly early on,” he mentioned. “I used to be born to 2 great mother and father, who weren’t ready for this to occur in any respect. However ever since day one, they took this method the place they mentioned: ‘You may both make your life depend, or do not.’

    “I attempt to make each day depend.”

    Schilling says residing with incapacity has taught him invaluable life expertise.
    4 years into his profession at Google, Schilling attributes a lot of his success to an inner “narrative shift” he began engaged on in his teenage years.

    In his late adolescence, Schilling discovered himself “in a not-so-great spot.” “I used to be like, ‘Why is it me? Why do I’ve to stay by this?’”

    However disposing of a broken-down wheelchair prompted a rethink. “This chair had let me down a few occasions. It had prevented me from taking the bus, or leaping in a cab and assembly a good friend for dinner,” he mentioned.

    “However the whole lot I might performed over time – from residing and learning overseas to only sustaining nice friendships – was solely doable due to it. That shifted my considering away from a story centered on the negatives.”

    Schilling’s realization – {that a} lifelong dependency on a wheelchair had helped him construct a powerful roster of life expertise – helped him meet his potential.

    “In the event you’re in a wheelchair and also you wanna take a practice, that is an entire challenge in itself. Is the practice accessible? Is the station accessible? That is challenge administration,” he mentioned. “If you are going to should ask individuals on the road for assist, you are going to want communication expertise.

    “These are strengths, they usually’re strengths that each corporations, and society at massive, can profit from.”

    Schillings is looking forward to the subsequent technology of disabled staff.
    Whereas Schilling’s expertise at Google has been overwhelmingly optimistic, he’s removed from complacent concerning the continued want for activism within the office, admitting “hardly per week goes by” with out him being invited to talk on one panel or one other, or meet one other younger particular person going through comparable challenges.

    Primarily based on common conferences with the “seven or eight” mentees he meets with recurrently, Schilling feels the way forward for office incapacity advocacy is in good arms.

    “I am 27 now, proper? I used to be the primary particular person ever with a incapacity to attend my highschool. However the of us which can be 10 years youthful than I’m and, nicely, they aren’t taking it.”

    He recounts the story of 1 younger particular person he is aware of. This particular person was interviewing for a job, and felt the recruiter wasn’t comfy with the very fact he did not have arms.

    Click here to read the full article on Times Grid.

    Can Virtual Reality Help Autistic Children Navigate the Real World?

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    Mr. Ravindran adjusts his son’s VR headset between lessons. “It was one of the first times I’d seen him do pretend play like that,” Mr. Ravindran said of the time when his son used Google Street View through a headset, then went into his playroom and acted out what he had experienced in VR. “It ended up being a light bulb moment.

    By Gautham Nagesh, New York Times

    This article is part of Upstart, a series on young companies harnessing new science and technology.

    Vijay Ravindran has always been fascinated with technology. At Amazon, he oversaw the team that built and started Amazon Prime. Later, he joined the Washington Post as chief digital officer, where he advised Donald E. Graham on the sale of the newspaper to his former boss, Jeff Bezos, in 2013.

    By late 2015, Mr. Ravindran was winding down his time at the renamed Graham Holdings Company. But his primary focus was his son, who was then 6 years old and undergoing therapy for autism.

    “Then an amazing thing happened,” Mr. Ravindran said.

    Mr. Ravindran was noodling around with a virtual reality headset when his son asked to try it out. After spending 30 minutes using the headset in Google Street View, the child went to his playroom and started acting out what he had done in virtual reality.

    “It was one of the first times I’d seen him do pretend play like that,” Mr. Ravindran said. “It ended up being a light bulb moment.”

    Like many autistic children, Mr. Ravindran’s son struggled with pretend play and other social skills. His son’s ability to translate his virtual reality experience to the real world sparked an idea. A year later, Mr. Ravindran started a company called Floreo, which is developing virtual reality lessons designed to help behavioral therapists, speech therapists, special educators and parents who work with autistic children.

    The idea of using virtual reality to help autistic people has been around for some time, but Mr. Ravindran said the widespread availability of commercial virtual reality headsets since 2015 had enabled research and commercial deployment at much larger scale. Floreo has developed almost 200 virtual reality lessons that are designed to help children build social skills and train for real world experiences like crossing the street or choosing where to sit in the school cafeteria.

    Last year, as the pandemic exploded demand for telehealth and remote learning services, the company delivered 17,000 lessons to customers in the United States. Experts in autism believe the company’s flexible platform could go global in the near future.

    That’s because the demand for behavioral and speech therapy as well as other forms of intervention to address autism is so vast. Getting a diagnosis for autism can take months — crucial time in a child’s development when therapeutic intervention can be vital. And such therapy can be costly and require enormous investments of time and resources by parents.

    The Floreo system requires an iPhone (version 7 or later) and a V.R. headset (a low-end model costs as little as $15 to $30), as well as an iPad, which can be used by a parent, teacher or coach in-person or remotely. The cost of the program is roughly $50 per month. (Floreo is currently working to enable insurance reimbursement, and has received Medicaid approval in four states.)

    A child dons the headset and navigates the virtual reality lesson, while the coach — who can be a parent, teacher, therapist, counselor or personal aide — monitors and interacts with the child through the iPad.

    The lessons cover a wide range of situations, such as visiting the aquarium or going to the grocery store. Many of the lessons involve teaching autistic children, who may struggle to interpret nonverbal cues, to interpret body language.

    Autistic self-advocates note that behavioral therapy to treat autism is controversial among those with autism, arguing that it is not a disease to be cured and that therapy is often imposed on autistic children by their non-autistic parents or guardians. Behavioral therapy, they say, can harm or punish children for behaviors such as fidgeting. They argue that rather than conditioning autistic people to act like neurotypical individuals, society should be more welcoming of them and their different manner of experiencing the world.

    “A lot of the mismatch between autistic people and society is not the fault of autistic people, but the fault of society,” said Zoe Gross, the director of advocacy at the Autistic Self Advocacy Network. “People should be taught to interact with people who have different kinds of disabilities.”

    Mr. Ravindran said Floreo respected all voices in the autistic community, where needs are diverse. He noted that while Floreo was used by many behavioral health providers, it had been deployed in a variety of contexts, including at schools and in the home.

    “The Floreo system is designed to be positive and fun, while creating positive reinforcement to help build skills that help acclimate to the real world,” Mr. Ravindran said.

    In 2017, Floreo secured a $2 million fast track grant from the National Institutes of Health. The company is first testing whether autistic children will tolerate headsets, then conducting a randomized control trial to test the method’s usefulness in helping autistic people interact with the police.

    Early results have been promising: According to a study published in the Autism Research journal (Mr. Ravindran was one of the authors), 98 percent of the children completed their lessons, quelling concerns about autistic children with sensory sensitivities being resistant to the headsets.

    Ms. Gross said she saw potential in virtual reality lessons that helped people rehearse unfamiliar situations, such as Floreo’s lesson on crossing the street. “There are parts of Floreo to get really excited about: the airport walk through, or trick or treating — a social story for something that doesn’t happen as frequently in someone’s life,” she said, adding that she would like to see a lesson for medical procedures.

    However, she questioned a general emphasis by the behavioral therapy industry on using emerging technologies to teach autistic people social skills.

    A second randomized control trial using telehealth, conducted by Floreo using another N.I.H. grant, is underway, in hopes of showing that Floreo’s approach is as effective as in-person coaching.

    But it was those early successes that convinced Mr. Ravindran to commit fully to the project.

    “There were just a lot of really excited people.,” he said. “When I started showing families what we had developed, people would just give me a big hug. They would start crying that there was someone working on such a high-tech solution for their kids.”

    Clinicians who have used the Floreo system say the virtual reality environment makes it easier for children to focus on the skill being taught in the lessons, unlike in the real world where they might be overwhelmed by sensory stimuli.

    Celebrate the Children, a nonprofit private school in Denville, N.J., for children with autism and related challenges, hosted one of the early pilots for Floreo; Monica Osgood, the school’s co-founder and executive director, said the school had continued to use the system.

    Click here to read the full article on New York Times.

    Olney Theatre reimagines ‘The Music Man’ with a deaf Harold Hill

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    James Caverly plays professor Harold Hill in The Music Man at Olney Theatre Center. (Teresa Castracane Photography)

    By , The Washington Post

    James Caverly was working as a carpenter in Olney Theatre Center’s scene shop some seven years ago when he laid the foundation for an unconventional undertaking: a production of “The Music Man” featuring a blend of deaf and hearing actors.

    At the time, the Gallaudet University alumnus was finding roles for deaf actors hard to come by. Having recently seen Deaf West’s 2015 production of “Spring Awakening” — performed on Broadway in American Sign Language and spoken English — Caverly thought the time was right for a D.C. theater to follow suit. So when Olney Artistic Director Jason Loewith encouraged staff to approach him with ideas for shows, Caverly spoke up.

    “It’s like when Frankenstein’s monster came up to Dr. Frankenstein and said, ‘I need a wife,’ ” Caverly says during a recent video chat. “That was me with Jason Loewith saying, ‘Hey, I need a production.’ ” (With the exception of Loewith, all interviews for this story were conducted with the assistance of an ASL interpreter.)

    The sales pitch worked: Loewith greenlighted a workshop to explore Caverly’s concept, then set the musical for the summer of 2021 before the coronavirus pandemic intervened. During the delay, Caverly’s profile spiked: He booked a recurring role on Steve Martin and Martin Short’s Hulu comedy “Only Murders in the Building,” earning widespread acclaim for a nearly silent episode focused on his morally complicated character.

    Equipped with newfound cachet, Caverly has returned to Olney — this time, leaving his carpentry tools behind. Featuring deaf, hearing and hard of hearing actors, with Caverly starring as slippery con man Harold Hill, a bilingual production of “The Music Man” marches onto the theater’s main stage this week.

    “What [Caverly] possesses is a presence and a charm and a charisma and a drive and a passion that is, in some way, Harold Hill,” Loewith says. “I mean, think about how he got this production to happen: He totally Harold Hilled me. But he’s a con man that I like.”

    Olney’s production of “The Music Man” features a cast that mixes deaf, hard of hearing and hearing actors. (Teresa Castracane Photography)

    In fitting Hill fashion, Caverly won over his mark despite some initial skepticism. Although Loewith says his concerns were mostly focused on the logistics of staging what’s traditionally a sprawling show, he also recalled pressing Caverly on the idea’s artistic merits.

    “I didn’t want to just do it as, ‘Here’s us being inclusive,’ ” Loewith says. “I wanted to be like, ‘What is a musical that needs this kind of storytelling?’ ”

    That’s when Caverly filled in Loewith on the history of Martha’s Vineyard: In the 19th century, a genetic anomaly led to such a prominent deaf population — about 1 in 25 residents — that the island’s native sign language became ubiquitous, and deaf people were fully integrated into the community.

    So what if River City, the backwater Iowa town where “The Music Man” unfolds, was like Martha’s Vineyard? Caverly, like many of his deaf peers, also learned to play an instrument in his youth — in his case, the guitar. Thus, the idea of the traveling salesman Hill swindling the locals into investing in a boys’ marching band, with the intent of skipping town before teaching them a note, held up as well.

    “The beautiful thing about this story is that Harold Hill never really teaches the kids music,” Caverly says, “so he doesn’t really have to hear music and he doesn’t have to play these musical instruments.”

    Click here to read the full article in The Washington Post.

    Soccer Star Carson Pickett First USWNT Player With Limb Difference

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    Pro soccer player Carson Pickett on the field in her uniform

    By TMZ

    Pro soccer player Carson Pickett made history on Tuesday … becoming the first player with a limb difference to hit the pitch for the United States women’s national team.

    Pickett — who was born without a left hand and forearm — started for the USWNT in its 2-0 victory over Colombia … as the Red, White and Blue extended their home win streak to 69 games.

    The 28-year-old defender — who plays for the NWSL’s North Carolina Courage — competed in the entire contest against Colombia.

    Pickett’s coach, Vlatko Andonovski, spoke about her spot on the team … saying, “Carson did very well in training for us in last week and with the management of minutes for Emily Fox that we had, we felt like Carson would be a good replacement.”

    “I’m happy that she was able to perform well for 90 minutes,” he added.

    Pickett has been very open and transparent about her limb difference … acknowledging it publicly, but also embracing the reality of her situation.

    In April — Limb Loss and Limb Difference Awareness month — Pickett spoke about it in an Instagram post, “While I know that I am confident and comfortable with showing my arm, I know there are so many people in the world who aren’t.”

    She continued … “The feeling of being different and the anxiety of not fitting in is something that I have been through. Wearing sweatshirts in the dead heat of summer to hide my arm. This month is really really special, important, and should be celebrated.”

    “I hope to encourage anyone who struggles with their limb difference to not be ashamed of who they are. I want to be an advocate for others like me, and for the longest time I didn’t use my platform well enough.”

    Click here to read the full article on TMZ.

    Be Your Own Boss: Those with Disabilities Succeed with Self-Employment

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    Be Your Own Boss: Those with Disabilities Succeed with Self-Employment.

    By Mike Moen, Public News Service

    Graduation season is in full swing, and for those with disabilities transitioning to adulthood, traditional barriers still exist in securing employment.

    Advocates in Iowa say entrepreneurship serves as a good solution. The Bureau of Labor Statistics said nearly 10% of workers with a disability are self-employed, which is higher than the general population.

    Maureen Schletzbaum, operator of Straw Hat Farms outside Des Moines along with her daughter Marissa, who has Down syndrome, sells flowers and fresh produce. Maureen said their business was inspired after Marissa finished high school as a way to nurture their daughter’s drive for independence in a rural setting with few opportunities.

    “She has a lot of abilities, and as long as she has the correct support, she can really do a variety of things,” Schletzbaum explained.

    She pointed out Marissa excels in customer relations and attention to detail. The Iowa Development Disabilities Council urges young adults and their families to further explore their interests and carry them over into self-employment, especially if they encounter job-search challenges. Vocational Rehabilitation Services is considered a top resource in getting started.

    Marissa, who learned horticulture through FFA, said she loves engaging with customers and explaining the varieties of produce they sell.

    “Cucumbers, zucchini, cabbage,” Marissa outlined.

    Brooke Lovelace, executive director of the Iowa Developmental Disabilities Council, said while they still encourage business owners to be more inclusive in their hiring, entrepreneurship is a good avenue for those with disabilities to tap into their creativity and skill set.

    “There’s some examples of folks running their own coffee shop, or they like to bake, and so they’re doing a small bakery,” Lovelace stated.

    She also encouraged residents to support the entrepreneurs by becoming regular customers.

    Click here to read the full article on Public News Service.

    A human rights movement ‘disguised as a coffee shop’ employs and empowers people with disabilities

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    Bitty & Beau's Coffee shop

    By Jonathan Lehrfeld and Ariel Gans, USA Today

    Brendan O’Donnell, 43, grinned ear to ear as he took an eager customer’s chai latte order.

    “I have a learning disability, and at a very young age, I was told that I wouldn’t be able to walk and talk. Now, look what I can do,” said O’Donnell, who recently began work as a barista at Bitty and Beau’s Coffee, a coffee shop that primarily employs people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

    O’Donnell, a former AmeriCorps employee and courier for Massachusetts’ U.S. senators, said that unlike many people with disabilities, he has not struggled to find employment, but he has been treated differently during his job search.

    “It’s happened a lot of times in my life that people don’t respect people with learning disabilities,” O’Donnell said. “They think that we’re not the same.”

    Just 19% of people with a disability are employed
    “Disability” describes a range of physical, developmental and mental conditions. Many disabilities are invisible but still require special accommodations.

    According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, employers may not discriminate against people with disabilities and must provide “reasonable accommodations” to level the playing field to get a job and perform it successfully.

    Most people with disabilities do not have O’Donnell’s success landing jobs. In 2021, 19.1% of people with a disability were employed, compared with 63.7% of people without a disability, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

    In 2016, Amy Wright sought to help change that when she founded Bitty & Beau’s, named after her two youngest children, 12 and 17, both of whom have Down syndrome. She intends it to be a place where disabled people can do work they find empowering.

    Wright describes Bitty & Beau’s Coffee, which has grown into a chain, as a human rights movement “disguised as a coffee shop.”

    Her first shop was in Wilmington, North Carolina. She subsequently offered franchises, and the chain’s 12th location opened in Washington, D.C., on April 30. Wright said she has plans to open 14 more locations around the country.

    “What we’re really trying to do here is give people a place to see people with disabilities doing meaningful work, earning a paycheck, making a difference, saving for their futures, and when guests come in our shop and see that, they can’t unsee it,” Wright said.

    Shift thinking ‘from charity to prosperity’
    Every Bitty and Beau’s Coffee employee receives at least minimum wage, with room for advancement through promotions and raises. Many in the organization’s leadership also have disabilities, according to Wright. Bitty and Beau’s Coffee works with its employees to determine their hours, and give their full-time employees benefits.

    Click here to read the full article on USA Today.

    Disabled people are ‘invisible by exclusion’ in politics, says Assemblymember running to be the first openly autistic member of Congress

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    Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou

    By , Business Insider

    The halls of Congress have yet to see an openly autistic legislator, but New York Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou could change that.

    Niou, who was diagnosed with autism at 22, said she was “surprised” to learn she could be the first openly autistic Congressmember but also said it showed a lack of representation of disabled communities in policy making.

    “I think we hear a lot of the first and only sometimes,” Niou told Insider. “While it’s an amazing thing, I think that what’s more important is that there are people understanding that it’s also a really lonely thing. And I think that it really is important to have representation because you need that lens to talk about everything in policy.”

    Niou, a progressive Democrat and Taiwanese immigrant who represents New York’s 65th district, announced her run for Congress this year in a high-profile race against Bill de Blasio and Rep. Mondaire Jones.

    Niou’s diagnosis became well known after Refinery 29 published an article discussing it in 2020. After parents and kids reached out to her relating to her, she became aware of how talking openly about her autism helped to “drive away stigma.”

    Among full-time politicians, disabled Americans are underrepresented. People with disabilities make up 6.3% of federal politicians, compared to 15.7% of all adults in America who are disabled, research from Rutgers shows.

    “People with disabilities cannot achieve equality unless they are part of government decision-making,” said Lisa Schur in the 2019 Rutgers report.

    The number of disabled Americans may have increased in the past two years. Estimates show that 1.2 million more people may have become disabled as a result of COVID-19.

    Niou also said that she knows what it feels like to be shut out of the government process. In 2016, Niou became the first Asian to serve as Assemblymember in her district, a large Asian district that includes New York’s Chinatown.

    Disabled people have been “invisible by exclusion from the policy-making process,” Niou said. Her disability status helps her bring perspective to a host of laws from transportation to housing, and she wants to make sure that neurodivergent people have more of a say in the legislative process.

    “We’re not considering all the different diverse perspectives, especially when you’re talking about neurodivergent [issues] or when we’re talking about disability issues,” Niou said.

    Disabled people are more likely to be incarcerated, are at a higher risk of homelessness, and more likely to face impoverishment.

    Click here to read the full article on Business Insider.

    4 Reasons Why Businesses Should Care About Disability Issues

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    image of stickfigure with disability to show an image for with Disability Issues

    By Andrew Pulrang, Forbes

    Disability issues like accessibility, equal service, and employment rights are important to disabled people. But are they really important to anyone else?

    Businesses are legally required to follow the Americans with Disabilities Act, state civil rights laws, and sometimes local accessibility standards as well. But there are ways to “comply” with these laws and regulations with only minimal attention and care. And too many businesses still tend to think of accessibility and disability accommodations as semi-voluntary “good deeds.”

    Disability advocates have for decades asserted that accommodating disabled employees, properly serving disabled customers, and otherwise taking disability rights issues seriously is “good for business.” But why, exactly? Disability awareness is a subject that slips much too easily into abstraction and vague moralizing. So it never hurts to get more specific by reviewing some basic facts about disability and businesses today.

    These four points are pretty obvious, or they should be. But we rarely think of them all together, and seldom really process their implications for businesses.

    1. A large percentage of the population has a disability.

    According to the CDC, about 61 million Americans have some kind of physical or mental disability. That’s 1 in 4 Americans, 26%. These numbers may be surprising, even doubtful, if the term “disability” only triggers images of wheelchair users. But there are many different types of disabilities, all of which are relevant to discussions about disability rights — for example:

    • Physical impairments, like paraplegia and quadriplegia, Muscular Dystrophy and Multiple Sclerosis, Cerebral Palsy, amputation, and a host of other anatomical conditions that make physical mobility and activities difficult.
    • Sensory and communication impairments, like being Deaf or hard of hearing, blind or visually impaired, or having speech impairments, all of which make everyday navigation and communication difficult.
    • Intellectual and developmental disabilities, including conditions affecting the brain such as Cerebral Palsy, Down Syndrome,  and traumatic brain injuries, with widely varied effects on understanding, planning, learning, communication, and decision-making skills.
    • Learning disabilities, such as dyslexia and similar conditions, which affect how the brain and senses decode and interpret information like written text and verbal speech.
    • Autism, which encompasses a wide spectrum of differences in sense and perception, that can affect how people interact with their environment and people around them.
    • Mental illness, including a range of conditions such as anxiety, depression, PTSD, schizophrenia, or bipolar disorder.
    • Chronic illnesses that can have long-term impairing effects, such as heart or lung conditions, diabetes, and chronic pain.

    Click here to read the full article on Forbes.

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

    LinkedIn
    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.

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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. Join us in D. C. for Tapia 2022!
      September 6, 2022 - September 10, 2022
    4. The 2022 Global ERG Summit
      September 19, 2022 - September 23, 2022
    5. ROMBA Conference
      October 6, 2022 - October 8, 2022