Posted by & filed under Employment Opportunities.

Around 10% of the current workforce, those between the ages of 21 and 64 are reportedly disabled. Of those, only slightly more than a third is gainfully employed. For non-disabled adults, the percentage of those employed jumps up to nearly 80%.

Special needs adults have always faced a high bar of entry to get into the workforce. It’s only been over the last couple of decades that attention and legislation has actually focused on helping special needs adults find quality work.

3 Innovators Creating Employment Opportunities for Special Needs Adults


In cities big and small from east to west, non-profits are taking the lead in innovating ways to create more employment opportunities for special needs adults. From dealing with the emotional difficulties associated with Aspergers’ for example or providing the proper equipment for the hearing or seeing impaired to placement of the recently disabled (largely veterans) operating with new types of prostheses and requiring different accommodations.

We looked for innovators making waves in the industry right now by coming up with new and inventive ways to provide fulfilling work for special needs adults. Among those, we found these 3 innovators making room for a new highly skilled special needs workforce.

1. Aspire in Chicago, IL


Chicago is attracting employers of all kinds and one non-profit is making sure that the physically and developmentally disabled are not left out. The Chicago-based Aspire is a non-profit agency dedicated to providing the type of training that will make special needs adults highly employable.

They partner with the thousands of companies that makeup Chicago’s business district to match special needs adults with job opportunities. Recently, the organization opened up a ten thousand square foot facility near downtown Chicago to house its Career Academy for adults with cerebral palsy, autism, and Down syndrome. Program attendees (around 100 trainees at a time) are trained to work in:

  • Warehousing and Distribution
  • Big-Box Retail
  • Office
  • IT
  • Culinary
  • Hospitality
  • And Fitness Centers

What we thought was so unique about this organization is the work environment simulator. The classrooms at the Academy “simulate the work environment” so that students get real life experience dealing with the types of stresses they may face which could trigger episodes, providing a controlled environment in which they are trained to learn how to cope.

2. Creative Spirit in New York, NY


In New York City, a non-profit made up of a group of high powered advertising firms have created Creative Spirit; an organization dedicated to integrating some of the estimated 8 million intellectually and developmentally challenged Americans lacking gainful employment.

Creative Spirit is also focused on employing special needs adults living with Autism and Down syndrome among other disabilities. Already, test programs have seen success in both California and New York. Several well-known ad agencies in NY including A&E Networks are partnered with Creative Spirit and are already employing 50+ special needs adults.

3. Canterbury Café in Seattle, WA

In Seattle, the Meyers are part of a growing trend of small local diners and cafes being started by families of special needs adults. The Meyers opened Sam’s Canterbury Café in order to create a place for their autistic son to work. Now, they have six autistic employees working at their very successful little coffee shop.