A coffee shop in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, is challenging the status quo and showing what a truly inclusive society can look like. The business, Yakkity Yak Coffee Shack, recently opened and employs some 20 baristas, each of whom has a diagnosis of disability. Some employees are blind or have autism or Down syndrome. All of them have found a place of employment that recognizes them for their inherent worth and many abilities.
Young adults with disabilities often struggle to find a job from which they can build a career, not because they are unable to work but because many jobs are not open to them. Although our society focuses much on acceptance and inclusion, many stigmas around disabilities remain. Unfortunately, these prejudices are perpetuated by the abortion industry that targets preborn babies for death through discriminatory abortion.
Yakkity Yak store manager Meredith Molseed told the Argus Leader that the coffee shop was intended to bring people into contact with an environment of real inclusion and to better employ people of all abilities. She said, “This helps to break the stereotype that people with different abilities can’t do anything they want and that they can’t support themselves.” She added, “If you give people a chance to do what they want, anything is possible.”
For Molseed, her commitment to the shop’s mission is personal; through her aunt, who had lifelong learning delays, Molseed met many people with special needs. Through these experiences, Molseed became comfortable interacting with people who may have learning differences or noticeable disabilities. She saw that many of her peers did not have the opportunity to meet people with special needs, and they did not know how to interact with people who were different than they.
Molseed sees Yakkity Yak as a place that would change the way people view individuals with special needs. “There’s just a stigma that they can’t do anything or can’t do it without help,” Molseed told the Argus Leader. “But the amount of independence they have here is unreal. They’re not seen as a person with different abilities. They’re just seen as a person.” Many employers find that people with special needs are highly competent in many job skills and can work well when they are given an environment that fosters independence.
At Yakitty Yak, this means that the baristas, called the “Brew Crew,” are given responsibility for all the tasks of typical coffee shop employee. The team makes homemade food and drinks, including many types of coffees and smoothies. Yakitty Yak brews coffee from a local roaster that helped the organization find equipment that would be accessible to all employees in order to facilitate that independence.
While many families are left on their own to find unique job placements that will welcome individuals with special needs, employees of the coffee shop have an entire community of support. That is because Yakitty Yak is the brainchild of Kathy Luke, a disability advocate who runs Yaks Give Back, described by the Argus Leader as a “nonprofit focused on increasing opportunities for connection and employment for people with special needs in the Sioux Falls community.”
Luke told the Leader, “We hear about change and acceptance and inclusion, but we struggle to find out where that can happen. So we’re going to be that change.” Luke also co-owns All American Gymnastics, an extracurricular program accessible to children with special needs. She explained the genesis of the gymnastics program and Yakitty Yak, saying, “We made a point going forward that we’ll build this building and provide something to show people that it’s not a disability — these people have abilities, and they can find a way to flourish and a way to feel part of something even when society has taught them otherwise.”
Specifically, Luke saw that people with special needs were not given many opportunities after graduating from school. When they did find employment, the jobs were often not challenging enough for the individuals and did not offer a path to growth. The opportunities available through Yakitty Yak are ones from which many young adults with disabilities would benefit. Although the opening of Yakitty Yak was postponed due to COVID-19, the shop is now open to the public. With examples of what is possible when communities recognize the many abilities of people with differences, we can hope that others will be inspired to launch similar Pro-Life enterprises.