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When Michael Coyne, a Special Olympics of Rhode Island athlete with autism, had trouble finding employment in his hometown, he started his very own business to help others like him.
Michael founded Red, White & Brew — a coffee shop in North Smithfield, R.I. — as a welcoming space for people with special needs. The café opened its doors in November after Michael struggled to find a job of his own, according to WPRI-TV.
“After I turned 21, I applied to multiple places. None of them would hire me,” Michael, who also lives with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and bipolar disorder, told the outlet.
Using the rejection as motivation, Michael enrolled in business classes through the state’s Developmental Disabilities Council. Upon completion, Michael and his mother Sheila Coyne set up the business so that it could include those with special needs.
“As parents, we look at our kids and see the value,” Sheila said. “We see what they are capable of, instead of the system that’s consistently labeling them and putting barriers.”
“What I liked about the coffee shop idea is the community. We learn on both sides,” she continued. “We teach people, ‘Yeah, he has a disability, but look what he’s doing. And he’s out in the community getting his social skills.'”
Michael said he hopes to create an inclusive environment with his business, hiring employees with and without special needs in the future.
His mother also believes making small adjustments to common business practices — such as having a point of sale system with a barcode scanner or a milk steamer that automatically shuts off — will be an immense help to their growing staff.
“It’s making accommodations that I think the business community thinks is going to be costly, but it’s really not,” Sheila told local newspaper The Valley Breeze.
Red, White & Brew is also connected to a craft store called Budding Violet, which sells homemade products by artists with special needs. Though the coffee shop has only been opened for a few weeks, it has already become a haven for families who have children with developmental struggles, Michael told WPRI-TV.
“It’s just a beacon of hope for people with disabilities,” he said.
“We’ve had parents come in with tears in their eyes with the hope that their young children will eventually be accepted into the community,” Sheila added.
The Coynes hope their business model will help those with special needs who may also be struggling to find employment, as well as send a message that individuals with special needs are hardworking people.
“We just want to integrate,” Michael said.
In addition to serving beverages made with locally roasted coffee beans, Red, White & Brew also sell muffins, pastries and calzones, according to the shop’s Facebook page.
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