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Bitty & Beau’s family-owned coffee company makes a difference for disabled people across the United States by employing them in their coffee shops. The Wilmington, North Carolina-based company began in 2016 when founders Amy and Ben Wright opened a coffee shop named after two of their children, both of whom were born with Down syndrome. With the simple slogan “it’s more than a cup of coffee,” Bitty & Beau’s set out to change the way people see, love and respect those with disabilities.

The Wrights have four children of their own, two with Down syndrome and one with autism. The couple knew they wanted to create a workspace that welcomes people of all abilities. That first North Carolina shop employed 19 individuals with developmental and intellectual disabilities. The concept was immediately popular, with lines out the door.

Today, the coffee shop is franchising rapidly, with 23 shops across 12 states and more than 200 employees. Some of these employees have Down syndrome, and others have autism or cerebral palsy. For many, it’s the first job they’ve held.

Each new franchise shop opened brings the Wrights closer to making the world better for their children and for all others living with a disability. With nearly 80 percent of disabled Americans currently unemployed, each coffee shop impacts its community immensely.

“Our shops are run by people with disabilities, from the cashier to the person making drinks to the person handing off the drinks,” Amy Wright explained. “And the whole hope is that when people come into our coffee shops, that maybe they’ve never spent time with someone with a disability before and they start to see them differently and see their potential and see their value. And hopefully, the ripple effect is that those guests that come into our shops will then go back to their place of employment and hire somebody with a disability, and that’s when we can really affect this…unemployment rate.”

As word about Bitty & Beau’s spreads, people are taking notice. In fact. Amy Wright was named CNN’s Hero of the Year in 2017, an honor that helped further spread the word about their coffee shops. There are now an additional 13 new locations set to open in 2022. The Wright family is thrilled by the continually-growing momentum – and the fact that it underscores the need for these types of bridges to be built across communities.

“Creating this has given people a way to interact with people with disabilities that (they) never had before,” she said. “This is a safe place where people can test the waters and realize how much more alike we are than different. And that’s what it’s all about.”

In addition, all of the company’s proceeds go to their non-profit Able to Work USA.

But, for Amy Wright, the greatest joy is seeing employees get love and respect from customers – and the resulting sense of purpose and value each employee gains.

“We always say it’s more than a cup of coffee,” she added. “It’s a human rights movement; the coffee shop is just a vehicle for making that happen. It’s given our employees the respect that they deserve.”

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