Amy Wright and coffee shop employees“People with disabilities have been in the shadows for far too long,” Amy Wright said as she was accepting the award for being CNN’s 2017 hero of the year. “But no more!”

In my book, Amy Wright is truly a hero in every sense of the word. She and her husband Ben have four children, and the youngest two, Bitty and Beau have Down Syndrome. In thinking about the future for their children, Mrs. Wright came upon a statistic that she found disturbing. 70% of adults with intellectual disabilities like Down Syndrome and autism and cerebral palsy are unemployed. She and her husband decided that they wanted to be part of the solution instead of part of the problem. So, in January of 2016, they opened Bitty and Beau’s coffee shop in Wilmington, North Carolina. According to a video I watched about the business, every one of the shop’s 40 employees except the two managers (who both have degrees in special education) has some kind of developmental or intellectual disability.

According to the same video, this is the first job for many of the staff who work there so I would be willing to bet there is an exuberance, a contentment in the air that would be hard to find many other places; and everyone who works there wants to do a good job. Who wouldn’t want to be a frequent customer of a place that has an atmosphere like that? One customer said that the coffee shop was “like Starbucks but with a lot of extras.” Another woman said she was “filled up every time she [was] there.” The line is often out the door. And some of the employees have become local celebrities. Many people who come in want to talk to Matt or dance with Trevor. Watching the video, it seems both the customers and the employees are often having a really good time.

“We always say that it’s more than a cup of coffee,” Amy Wright says, “It’s a human rights movement. It has given our employees an opportunity to be respected. It’s given them a chance to shine.” It was through tears that Ms. Wright finished her acceptance speech for the CNN Hero of the Year Award, and she dedicated her last few lines to her kids, Bitty and Beau, who she knew were watching at home. “I wouldn’t change you for the world,” she said, “but I will change the world for you.”

This is the 200th post on Health on Wheels: The Journey to A Better Me. As much as I have said this in the past, when I started this blog, I never imagined that I would be in the place with it that I am now. In the beginning, I just wanted to vent; it was a place where I could express the frustration and the vulnerabilities associated with being a woman with a disability. It was more about me getting out what was within me than it was about other people reading what I had to say.

But the more I wrote and noticed that I was getting some followers, the more I started to think about what I wanted other people to know.  One of the things that Amy Wright says is that she realizes people are scared of what they don’t know. So, she and her family have made the conscious decision to “live out loud” to show others around them exactly what their life is like. Over time, that is the same goal I have had with this blog. My thought is that I can share my various experiences I’ve had and what they mean to me.  If I can communicate that many of my struggles and triumphs are similar to those in the general population, then I can help break down the barrier of fear around people with disabilities and the issues we may face in our society. I want people to know that in most ways, I am just like them.

I have a book coming out in May called “More the Same than Different: A Practical Guide to Respecting and Including People with Disabilities. I agree with Ms. Wright. People tend to be scared of what they don’t know or don’t understand. That is human nature and it is perfectly valid. With this book, I hope to explain what I and many other people with disabilities might need, and the ways that we want to be treated so that we can all focus on our commonalities.

I wouldn’t trade my disability for the world, but I want to change how the world perceives disability. That seems like a good goal to strive for.

200 posts and going strong!

From the bottom of my heart, thank you to everyone who supports this effort.

We are all more the same than different.