Amanda Kim teams up with Burnaby café to bring meaningful employment to persons with disabilities
PosAbilities employment specialist Amanda Kim placed a barista “cheat sheet” in a drawer at Joe’s Table Café in South Burnaby, BC. She crafted the laminated reference guide to detail how many pumps of syrup or shots of espresso Frances Cooper and Taylor Halpape – two of the people she supports – would need to remember on busy days working at the café.
While Amanda thought Frances and Taylor could pull out the card as needed, she realized the café manager decided to keep the sign up at all times so that other staff could use it as well. “Sometimes an adaptation for the individual can actually help the whole team,” Amanda says.
Joe’s Table Café opened with a mandate to offer meaningful employment for persons with disabilities. Founders Peter and Stephanie Chung designed the café to honour their late son, Joe Chung. Joe was a friendly 32-year-old with autism and epilepsy who loved to meet and greet people
Amanda contacted the café before it opened when she read about its construction in a local newspaper. “As an employment specialist I’m always trying to reach out to businesses and it’s hard to get that initial meeting: They hear the word disability and it’s immediately shut down.
“They think (the people we support are) not capable and I ask, ‘how do you know if you haven’t met them yet?’ Sometimes they’ve had a bad experience in the past so I’m hoping people see the success of this story and open up,” Amanda says.
Joe’s Table uses simplified coffee machines for preparing lattes to caramel macchiatos. It has buttons for small, medium and large sizes and a heart button for selecting decaffeinated coffee. Frances and Taylor quickly picked up on how to place the cup, pull down the lever, push the appropriate button and how to steam milk – which comes in handy when people order skim or almond milk.
Amanda and her team initiated an internal interviewing process at posAbilities to select the best matches for two available positions at Joe’s Table. Internal meetings helped the people the social-service organization supports feel more comfortable despite the intimidation that normally comes with interviews. PosAbilities turned the interview into more of a conversation, focusing on matching personality and abilities with the needs of the job.
“Frances has a bubbly personality and enjoys going to coffee shops, so I thought it would be a great fit for her,” says Amanda.
Frances is one of many people working with posAbilities whose untapped skills and abilities “can really help out businesses,” says Amanda.
“There’s jobs that businesses aren’t getting done that people really love to do. For example, having repetition – they like having the same job to do every shift and they can be proud of it because it’s their job.”
Amanda proudly observed the way Frances learned how to make a macchiato before some of the other employees at the café and how Taylor knew how to refill the napkin dispenser that another coworker didn’t know existed.
“Sometimes you hear them say that they don’t have skills and abilities and we talk about it and I say there are things you can do that I can’t do,” Amanda explains.
“I’m so excited when they get a job, but also how it trickles out and affects their life and how proud their parents are.”
The success of Joe’s Table and the media attention garnered highlights an opportunity for more public education around disabilities. “Don’t assume anything,” Amanda says. “There are so many different disabilities. It’s not just physical or visible where you can see it right away.”
With education in mind, Amanda worked with Joe’s Table to create a sign that informs the public about their inclusive hiring policy. It reads: “At Joe’s Table we strive to have a diverse workforce including all skills and abilities. We ask for your patience and understanding as we do the best we can to make your experience enjoyable.”
“There’s still some more education needed for people,” Amanda says. “Sometimes the store manager is open to the idea and the employees don’t have the education, so educating the employees [is important] as well.”
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