On Monday evening, Autism Speaks held its 9th and final Small Business Town Hall meeting, hosted by the Boston Red Sox and Fenway Enterprises at Fenway Park in Boston. Due to the tremendous need for increased employment opportunities for adults with autism, the Town Hall meeting was a great success. Adults with autism and their families, small business owners, employment service providers, educators and academics comprised the audience of more than 120 participants.
The evening featured a panel of five speakers who shared stories of their success as the owners of small businesses that employ individuals with autism. Members of the audience engaged in a dynamic Q&A discussion with the panelists, asking questions about how their businesses got started, how they balance their social missions with their business operations, and what obstacles they have faced along the way.
The five small businesses that were featured on the panel at this Town Hall meeting were:
- Extraordinary Ventures, Chapel Hill, N.C.
- Roses for Autism, Guilford, Conn.
- nonPareil Institute, Plano, Texas
- Arthur & Friends Hydroponic Farming, Newton, N.J.
- Inclusion Films, Burbank, Calif.
The presentations were inspirational and informative, focusing on the strengths and abilities of individuals with autism. Other small businesses and employment service providers also shared their products and information with the Town Hall participants. One local business, ACTabilities, was represented by a young man named Jaden Ford. “I’m the co-owner of the company. I help people with disabilities get a job and make money,” said Jaden. “All of the people that work for me are close friends of mine, and they haven’t had the shot to get a job yet. And they are 18, 19, 20, 21. All of these great people who never had a shot to work, now have a shot. I’m giving them a shot. This is what we do. I started this because I heard someone talking bad about people with learning disabilities. And that’s why I started this business – to prove that person wrong.”
Autism Speaks has been proud to host this series of Small Business Town Halls as part of a larger initiative, “Advancing the Role and Impact of Small Businesses in Employing Adults with Autism,” funded by a generous grant from the Ireland Family Foundation. “This whole series of town halls that we’ve held around the country these last couple of months were meant not only to incent small businesses to hire people on the spectrum, but also to educate business in general about what kinds of assets and capabilities people on the spectrum can bring to their businesses,” said Liz Feld, president of Autism Speaks. “It’s obvious that it’s a good thing to do and it’s the right thing to do, but it’s also good business. And this is not that complicated – you don’t need a master business plan. As a small business owner or a Mom & Pop shop, this can start right in your own backyard.”
Liz Feld concluded her remarks by stating, “I’m so grateful that Bob and Suzanne Wright, the founders of Autism Speaks, and our entire board are behind us on this initiative. As this generation of young kids with autism has grown up to be young adults with autism, the needs and the interests of the adult autism community has become a strategic priority for us. So we are very focused not only on employment, but on housing, community integration and transition issues that are associated with kids who are aging out of school-based services. You are going to hear a lot from us about this over the next couple of years. So this is just the beginning, and thanks to Gregg and Lori Ireland, it is the beginning of something very important.”
Fox 25 Boston interiewed Russ Kenn, executive director of Autism Speaks New England, about the Small Business Initiative. Watch the interview here.