Phoenicia Coffee Shop Owner Testifies Before Congressional Panel to Advocate for Hiring People With Intellectual Disabilities

Iva Walsh, the owner of Maeve’s Place, a Phoenicia coffee shop, testified before a congressional panel on Tuesday that with government resources, employment for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities can be stepped up. Walsh, a 10-year Phoenicia resident, believes that respect, opportunity, and inclusion for people with IDDs (intellectual and developmental disabilities) are the three pillars needed to end segregation in the workforce and have growth in our community. She said that together, with government action, we can overcome the obstacles and enjoy the benefits, one cup of coffee at a time.

Molinaro, who represents the 19th Congressional District, said Walsh is an example of success. She developed a tremendous model for creating employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities at her café, Maeve’s Place. Walsh’s daughter, Maeve, who has Down Syndrome, also attended the hearing.

Walsh has spent her life heavily involved in education and advocacy, paving the road not only for her daughter but for others with intellectual and developmental disabilities. She has fought for every educational opportunity she could get for Maeve and dedicated her life to continuing the discovery and creation of opportunities that will make Maeve a successful person and a productive member of society.

Today, Maeve’s Place employs nine employees, two of whom are individuals with learning and developmental disability. The coffee shop presents an array of job opportunities, including kitchen support staff, handling prep work, slicing ingredients, making juices, baking, and portioning using a scale.

The benefits of hiring people with IDDs are plentiful. Walsh discovered the incredible benefits of working with people who have IDDs and discovered the daunting obstacles that prevent most employers from engaging these people in their operations. She believes that if our kids can imagine themselves in the workforce, then why can’t the workforce imagine having them? Earning your own way promotes self-esteem, independence, and all-around growth.

However, Walsh said that the obstacles to work for both the employer and the employee are immense. There is a huge gap between school and starting a job for people with an IDD. Employability skills should be taught and practiced at school before they go out into the world. More needs to be done about transportation, as IDD do not/cannot obtain their driver’s license.

Once an individual with an IDD graduates/finishes school, they will begin to look for a job coach to help them navigate around their work needs. Unfortunately, job coaches are limited and not every individual will receive access to one. There are approximately 7 million people in the United States who have an intellectual or developmental disability, with as many as 200 million on a global level.

Another obstacle to navigating a work-life includes weighing out the options of working for an employer versus losing their supplemental security income. Walsh testified that there are biases in the hiring process from employers because they do not know the correct questions to ask or what is available to them as an incentive such as a work opportunity credit.

Walsh said that her shop is partnered with the ARC of Hudson Valley in their pre-vocational training program. Once a week, three to five individuals ranging in ages from 20 to 40, who need work experience and exposure, come to the shop. They have the opportunity to learn and practice different tasks of their operation.

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