The numbers tell that employers are far less likely to hire disabled people than those who aren’t disabled. That’s how it is in the private sector, as unfair as it may seem—the cards are not dealt evenly in life. Yet, it presents a frustrating reality for the disabled who have dreams of working to support themselves.
That reality is far too familiar for 21-year-old Gabi Angelini, a skier and gymnast for the Special Olympics who has faced trouble getting companies to take her seriously even despite her tremendous work ethic.
The young woman from Raleigh, North Carolina, has Down syndrome, a genetic condition that causes physical and cognitive developmental delays. But despite spending her life dreaming of working in a restaurant, she discovered in high school that every job application she sent out went unanswered. And although she was able to get a job bagging groceries while she was in high school, it was far from the dream job she’d been hoping for.
Angelini knew firsthand just how hard it is for people with intellectual and developmental delays (IDD) to get jobs. But thanks to her own hard work and an incredibly supportive mother, she’s managed to overcome all the rejections to open up her own company—and now, she’s giving back to her community to do for others what dozens of companies wouldn’t do for her.
Angelini and her mother, Mary, opened a coffee shop in 2017 called Gabi’s Grounds. The shop started by partnering with another inclusive coffee company called Larry’s Coffee, making a special blend of grounds called “Hug in a Mug” to sell in local stores. They started by delivering coffee to businesses, driving around to make sure that people know their product. From there, they moved on to local events, selling their unique blend along with merchandise like coffee mugs and shirts while simultaneously raising awareness about their business model.
They’ve been using their current business to grow a clientele base, while they use a GoFundMe to raise the seed capital to open a brick-and-mortar shop. From there, they hope to serve as a place for individuals living with IDD to train and work as employees, operating using both a paid and intern-based combo model according to their mission statement.
“Gabi’s Grounds is an advocate for the value, inclusion, and acceptance of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Gabi’s Grounds is dedicated to making the world a better place for children and others living with IDD,” they write on their website.
Ultimately, Gabi and her mother hope to be able to turn their coffee shop into a franchise, opening locations to provide employment for members of the disability community across the United States.
For now, though, they’re focused on the incredibly tough work required to get a new business off the ground—and on making sure that Gabi is able to live out her employment dreams.