Michael Coyne, a Rhode Island man with autism, took his future into his own hands when employers refused to hire him. He was 21, hungry for work and for social connection, and relentlessly let down by his community, who were resistant to hiring someone with autism.
So Coyne, who was also a Special Olympics athlete, took business classes through the Rhode Island Developmental Disability Center and decided to open his own business: Red, White and Brew—a café described as a “beacon of hope.”
“After I turned 21, I applied to multiple places. None of them would hire me,” he explained to CBS. But now, as a full-fledged owner of a coffee shop, he hopes to reverse that trajectory for others living with special needs by hiring them to work for him: “We just want to integrate,” he explained.
For those who aren’t entirely sure, autism spectrum disorder plays out differently within each individual, but it’s largely characterized by challenges with socializing, behaviors, speech, and communication. repetitive behaviors, speech, and nonverbal communication. Autism is not itself an intellectual disability.
His mother, Sheila, said, “We see what they are capable of, instead of the system that’s consistently labeling them and putting barriers.”
But there are so many people with special needs who have been overlooked and turned down. According to Marketwatch, the number of autistic individuals who can’t find employment is soaring:
“There will be 500,000 adults on the autism spectrum aging into adulthood over the next 10 years. Yet a whopping 85% of college grads affected by autism are unemployed, compared to the national unemployment rate of 4.5%.”
Coyne’s coffee shop is doing great things not just himself and others like him, but for the community as a whole.
Sheila Coyne also said, “What I liked about the coffee shop idea is the community. We learn on both sides. 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.”