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The United Nations dedicated April 2 to recognizing people with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). This year for Autism Awareness Day, we’re highlighting a business that employs 95 percent of people with mental disabilities and encourages others to remove the stigma against mental disorders. 

Serving Coffee with a Purpose

Photo with Lightbulb; Next to the lightbulb, it says "Shine A Light on Autism"

Special Needz Coffee is an Ontario-based coffee truck that employs people with mental disorders. They name their drinks after mental disorders to “raise awareness and empower individuals who live with these challenges” (Special Needz Coffee). The purpose is also to diminish the stigma associated with mental illness.

People say their coffee orders all the time, right? And it’s done with no hesitation, no awkwardness, and no embarrassment. I think Special Needz Coffee wants people to feel the same about mental disorders. Schizophrenia and Bipolar Disorder aren’t bad words. Saying and hearing “Generalized Anxiety Disorder” shouldn’t make you uncomfortable. Much like a simple coffee order, mental illness should be considered normal and unabashed. 

Founder Larry Humphreys worked for 30 years in mental health and behavioral therapy, and is also a Board Certified Behavioral Analyst and CEO of Behavioral Autism Therapies. Wife and co-founder Mia Humphreys also works in Behavioral Autism Therapies as owner and Administrative Director. They’ve dedicated their lives to advocating for ASD and mental health, which is incredibly admirable and inspiring. 

Autism in the Workplace

Not only should we normalize mental disorders, but we should also normalize hiring people with those disorders. About 2.1 percent of adults in the United States have ASD. However, they experience high rates of unemployment and underemployment. There are many reasons for this like, ASD people not having the skills for employment, but it could also be from society’s stigma towards mental disabilities. 

According to the ADA National Network, society tends to view mental-behavioral disabilities more negatively than physical ones. Regardless, discriminating against disability is illegal and people need to remove their notions about mental disorders. Luckily, businesses like Special Needz Coffee are teaching people how to do this. 

Employing someone with ASD or other disabilities isn’t difficult. In fact, there are simple things employers can do to help employees with ASD: 

Blue post-its with inspiring words: Accept, Love, Hope, Advocate, Support, Teach, Empower
  1. Allow the person to take short breaks throughout the day when they feel unfocused. 
  2. Offer a quiet workplace for people who need more concentration.  
  3. Allowing people to work from home. 
  4. Minimize noise, lights, and distractions. Installing low lights and using noise-canceling headphones will combat this.  
  5. Training employees about ASD and other mental disorders. 

People with mental disabilities should feel comfortable when in the workplace. And if we want a more inclusive future, we need to make sure their needs are heard, understood, and enforced. 

Text in multicolor letters: "Embrace Differences"

If you want to support Special Needz Coffee and its mission to employ over 100 thousand individuals, check out their website, donate to their recommended organizations, and buy their coffee