By Nick Aziz
As part of their continuing efforts to advocate for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, the owners of local cafe Bitty & Beau’s Coffee recently attended and testified at a Senate Special Committee on Aging hearing called, “Supporting Economic Stability and Self-Sufficiency as Americans with Disabilities and their Families Age.”
Ben Wright, who owns the coffee shop with his wife Amy, spoke about the importance of reducing the stigma that could prevent employers from hiring those with disabilities.
“People need a fresh perspective on this issue. They need to know and understand that people with intellectual or developmental disabilities are not broken,” Wright said at the hearing. “What is broken is the lens through which we view people with intellectual or developmental disabilities. Bitty & Beau’s Coffee is a new lens, and it’s changing the way people see other people, offering a new perspective that once seen, cannot be unseen.”
Wright went on to state that, despite an unemployment rate of more than 70 percent for those with intellectual or developmental disorders, the attitude towards people with disabilities’ lack of employment is complacent and Wright calls for outrage at such staggering numbers.
“I believe what we are really dealing with is not a classic unemployment problem driven by the economy,” Wright said, “but a bonafide social and cultural problem. Doesn’t it seem that people with I/DD are not ascribed the same values in our society as those of us without disabilities? What other group of law-abiding citizens can be paid a sub-minimum wage just because of who they are?”
Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC), who sits on the Special Committee on Aging, applauded Wright and his family on their service to an often overlooked group of society.
“I want to thank you, Ben, for starting this incredible business and for your work to bring the Wilmington community together,” Tillis said. “When I visited last year, we talked about what more we can do to really provide more opportunities for a lot of people with disabilities who want to work. They want to work in part to make money, but they also want to work to have independence.”
Tillis’ counterpart, Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), has also championed legislation that would help people with intellectual and developmental disabilities become more independent. Burr co-authored the 2014 Stephen Beck, Jr. Achieving a Better Life Act, also known as the “ABLE Act,” and its 2016 addendum, called the “ABLE to Work Act.”
Bitty & Beau’s originally opened in January 2016 as Beau’s Coffee in a small space on the corner of Kerr and Wrightsville Avenues and has been an advocate for those with intellectual and developmental disabilities ever since. The coffee shop employs people with these disabilities, including the Wright’s two youngest children, the namesakes of the cafe, who have Down Syndrome. Bitty & Beau’s, which also has a location in Charleston, South Carolina has announced that Savannah, Georgia, will be the site of the company’s third location.