On Monday evening, Autism Speaks held its sixth Small Business Town Hall meeting, hosted by Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. The Chicagoland autism community showed its recognition of the dire need for appropriate employment opportunities for adults with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs). Organized in collaboration with the University and its Speech, Language, and Learning Clinic, the Neurodevelopmental Disabilities Laboratory, and the college’s Autism Speaks U. Chapter, more than 100 attendees packed the room at the Alice Millar Chapel. Participants included adults with autism and their families, small business owners, employment service providers and academics.
The evening featured a panel of four 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 many people they employ, and what obstacles they have faced along the way. Other small businesses also exhibited materials and products to the Town Hall participants on tables around the room and shared their own stories from the audience.
The four small businesses that were featured on the panel at this Town Hall meeting were as follows:
- Extraordinary Ventures, Chapel Hill, NC
- AutonomyWorks, Oakbrook Terrace, IL
- [words] Bookstore, Maplewood, NJ
- Aspiritech, Highland Park, IL
All of the presentations celebrated the different strengths and skills shared by many individuals with autism, and many attendees left with a sense of hope about what is possible, even in the face of bleak unemployment and underemployment rates of adults with ASDs.
“The subject of employment can be a source of frustration to so many in our community due to the lack of opportunities," said Kerry Schaalack, Executive Director of the Autism Speaks Chicagoland Chapter. "It was incredibly rewarding to see the amazing work the companies represented by the panel are doing and how much thought they have put into their business models. It was also exciting to see business owners in the audience, who were not personally impacted by autism, looking for guidance on how they could employ people on the spectrum. It was a truly inspirational and I believe brought hope to many of the families in the audience.”
Autism Speaks looks forward to hosting three more Small Business Town Halls this Fall, including our next meetings on Wednesday, November 6 in St. Louis and on Monday, November 11 in Miami! Please click here to find out if we are visiting a city near you.
The Small Business Town Halls are part of an Autism Speaks initiative, “Advancing the Role and Impact of Small Businesses in Employing Adults with Autism,” funded by a generous grant from the Ireland Family Foundation.