After struggling to find work, American man with autism opens cafe to change perceptions about disabilities

Tan Mei Zi
After failing to land a job, Michael Coyne decides to take matters into his own hands. — Picture from Facebook/redwhitebrewri

PETALING JAYA, Dec 5 — Michael Coyne has faced every hurdle in his life with a head-on attitude.

The Special Olympics athlete from Rhode Island, US has even endured rejection from several employers who couldn’t see past his disabilities.

“After I turned 21, I applied to multiple places. None of them would hire me,” Michael told ABC6.

The young entrepreneur lives with autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and bipolar disorder, but he’s never let his condition stop him from making an impact.

He found motivation in his failures and began taking business classes through the state’s Developmental Disabilities Council.

Upon completion, Michael and his mum Sheila Coyne founded Red, White, and Brew, a coffee shop where people with disabilities can find work and most importantly, acceptance.

The coffee beans are locally roasted and are served up alongside an assortment of pastries, muffins, and calzones.

Sheila hopes the cafe can turn around society’s negative perceptions about individuals with special needs.

“As parents, we look at our kids and see the value. We see what they are capable of, instead of the system that’s consistently labeling them and putting barriers.

“What I like about the coffee shop idea is the community. We learn on both sides,

“We teach people, ‘Yeah, he has a disability, but look what he’s doing. And he’s out in the community getting his social skills,’” she said.

The cafe has made small adjustments to their practices to fit employees with special needs, such as having a point of sale system with a barcode scanner and a milk steamer that automatically shuts off.

It’s also connected to a craft store called Budding Violet, where artists with disabilities sell handmade products.

Though the cafe only opened its doors last month, Michael said it has already provided a much-needed system of support for families with special needs children.

“It’s just a beacon of hope for people with disabilities.”

Both Michael and Sheila hope their business model can lend a hand to people with disabilities struggling to land a job and prove that they are more than able to give back to their community.