Breaking Down Barriers
The Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP), a division of
the U.S. Department of Labor, states, “Despite their ability to occupy a
variety of jobs, people with disabilities only account for 19.8 percent of
the workforce, have more than double the unemployment rate compared
to the general population, and continue to face barriers finding work.”
Since 2010, the department’s Disability Employment Initiative has
awarded grants of more than $123 million to 49 projects in 28 states to
improve education, training and employment outcomes of youth and
adults with disabilities.
Congress authorized ODEP in 2001 to meet a need for a national
policy to ensure that people with disabilities are fully integrated into the
ODEP identifies 40 million Americans with disabilities, yet the
Americans with Disabilities Act, a civil rights law prohibiting school and
job discrimination against individuals with disabilities, was not signed
into law until 1990, under the first Bush presidency.
North Carolina is one of 35 states exploring how to create policies
and implement practices and funding to increase competitive pay for
workers with disabilities. With the backing of the disability community
and other allies, including the North Carolina Parent Teacher Association,
the bill to officially designate October as Disability History and Awareness
month in the state was signed into law in July 2007.
LIGNING WITH the Wrights’ goal
of moving the needle toward the
general population’s acceptance
and understanding of people
with IDD, McCarthy adds, “It’s
not just about what we have to share with them,
but what they have to share with us.”
One of the most impressive visuals of how
expansive the Wrights’ mission has become
hangs on the wall right behind Matt Dean as
he takes orders. A map holds what looks to
be at least 1,000 pushpins indicating where a
visitor has journeyed from to experience Bitty
& Beau’s Coffee.
It, too, has become a topic of friendly conver-sation
“Where in the world would you want to go
if you could go anywhere?” he asks. The visi-tor
answers, “Big Sky, Montana,” and points to
the map. Matt replies he wants to go to Hawaii
some day and adds, “Did you know I have
already been to an island, but have never been
in a plane?” The patron looks stumped for a
second, until Matt points to the Bahamas, and
remarks that he got there “by boat,” referring to
a cruise ship.
The patron chuckles as Matt hands him a
pushpin to mark the place from where he has
While Matt holds a conversation about favor-ite
places, Katie Zeigler shows a guest her pink
nails as a manager shares about Katie being
selected to take part in the “I am Beautiful
Fashion Show” for women with disabilities.
Katie is 25, petite with chestnut curls. She wears
glasses and a larger-than-life smile, a perfect attri-bute
for someone whose job is to greet guests
and bid them a great day when they leave.
Matt, always polite, offers a “thank you so
much, thank you all for coming” as someone
hands him back a clipboard with receipt.
Tricia Nagorski tells Lauren it’s time to go. But
she’ll be back.
“I probably couldn’t even define what the
Wrights have done for our community just in
general, but for the disability community it has
been outstanding because you just come for a
cup of coffee but you leave with such joy because
they have just made it so welcoming,” she says.
“They have done it right. I can’t think of any-thing
they could have done better.”
Kate Zeigler in March 2017.
PHOTO BY MATTHEW RAY