This Coffee Shop Changes The Stigma Around Special Needs Workers

Inspiration | By Sabrina Crosby | December 9, 2019

Finding a job can be tough for someone new to the workforce. In fact, it can be tough for just about anybody depending on the economic climate or the area they live in. Some places just don't have the jobs available for everyone. Even those who want or need to work can get left behind.

There are certain groups that have an incredibly hard time finding work, like ex convicts, or in the case of this story, people with special needs. The term special needs runs the gamut of different meanings. Some people have autism, aspergers, or maybe even a physical condition that impairs them.

The workforce isn't especially kind to people with special needs. In the fast paced, capitalistic workforce, there is no time for patience and understanding, though that's exactly what these people need. This coffee shop is looking to change that by hiring nothing but special needs employees which is helping to change the stigma.

Ethan and the Bean Coffee Shop

People with special needs have an incredibly high unemployment rate, but it doesn't have to stay that way. There is a coffee shop that is looking to change the stigma around special needs workers. Pam Donovan is the mother of a special needs child, Ethan Donovan. He has had special needs his whole life which come in the form of being non-verbal due to his autism. He's had a speech pathologist for a long time, Marcia Gurian, and when Ethan was ready and willing to enter the workforce, Marcia and Ethan's mom had an idea.

On November 16th they started a non-profit coffee shop in Little Falls, New Jersey that hired adults with special needs. It is called Ethan and the Bean, and their goal is to hire and educate adults with special needs who need to gain valuable experience in the workforce.

"There's no reason today why an employer can't hire these people."

Pam Donovan told TODAY, "Our biggest reason definitely for starting Ethan and the Bean is my son. What was he going to do when he graduates high school? Even though there are jobs, they're so few and far between. Unemployment right now for people with special needs is somewhere between 80 and 85%. Our mission is to employ individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities and change the mindset of society one cup of coffee at a time."

Marcia Gurian has developed a method for Ethan to communicate using an iPad. He can even greet customers with the iPad's voice technology. Gurian remarked, "There is no reason today why an employer can't hire these people because they are all able to communicate." The company pays its employees at least minimum wage, which oddly enough is not the norm for people with special needs.

A Community Effort with the Local College

Usually special needs employees get below minimum wage or only tips since they are classified as volunteers. At Ethan and the Bean, they are given responsibilities like making drinks, operating the register, and speaking with the customers. Gurian said, "They'll now have a bank account and maybe they'll be able to get their own apartment. Everybody deserves to have a purpose, and I think Ethan and the Bean has created a purpose."

The coffee shop also employees Ph.D. students at a nearby university to help train the special needs staff. One of the Ph.D employees, Thomas Karkoviak, said, "It's just so incredible, finally to be working for something major. I feel like this is going to be my big break. It can show that even with a disability, some people can have full potential doing such very excellent service!"



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