Giannis Hatziaragiriou, Eleni Alberto, Michalis Sideris, and Giorgos Vradis are young Greek citizens with autism. Upon graduating from specialized vocation laboratories, the team started their own snack business 3S School Synergy Snacks. They mainly sell cereal bars made with almonds, sesame, peanuts, olives, and honey.
“Although my life was difficult, I managed to achieve what my soul wanted. A baking–pastry degree that gave me some supplies and the privilege of continuing my career professionally,” says Alberto in an interview.
It is a challenge for people with disabilities to find a place to work in. Usually, family businesses are the ones that hire them. There’s always the stigma attached to PWD employees, which is mainly rooted in the lack of information and ignorance.
“Although the legislature envisaged social cooperative businesses to facilitate the integration of people with disabilities and the safeguarding of their right to work, which is an essential element of human dignity, bureaucracy and responsibility are still going strong, making our lives sometimes difficult,” says Vaso Evangelos, Hatziaragiriou’s mother.
In Rhode Island, Michael Coyne used the rejections he received from various jobs as motivation to instead create his own business. He now works in his own “beacon of hope”—his very own café called Red, White and Brew.
Prior to operating his coffeeshop, he took business classes in his town’s Development Disability Center. He was a former Special Olympics athlete and even participated in a hospitality program, hoping to land a job in the same field. Now, as he thinks about the future of his café, Coyne aims to create an inclusive working environment by hiring employees with disabilities. Aside from autism, Coyne is also living with attention deficit hyper disorder and bipolar disorder.
The craft store across—Budding Violet—sells homemade products by some of Coyne’s peers who also have special needs. Coyne’s mother, Sheila Coyne, noted the importance of technology in business practices involving operations run by people with disability. A point of sale system with a barcode scanner and an automatic milk steamer will improve productivity and greatly assist individuals in the spectrum.
It didn’t take long before Coyne’s café became a safe haven for families and individuals with developmental struggles. This only shows that there is a strong community among people with disabilities, and that they’ll continue eliminating labels and breaking down barriers that are creating a stigma around them.
The Philippines has yet to see a full-fledged PWD-owned store, but local companies have been openly hiring them and acknowledging their contribution to the industry. It’s about time they take on bigger roles, working not just in commissaries or as part of the service crew but also showing their capability to rise through the ranks.