BRYCE Lloyd has struggled to find work since leaving school because of his learning disability.
Now 20, and employed full time, Bryce says things are on the up.
“I love coming to work,” he told “CityNews”.
The hard-working kitchen hand has been given an opportunity with Bean Central cafe in Queanbeyan, which teaches those having difficulty finding a job how to make coffee, take orders, wash dishes, prepare food and wait on tables.
“This is my first job, I work here five days a week…it’s really great,” Bryce says.
Bryce is one of 13 employees who have a range of disabilities, including intellectual disabilities, autism and Down syndrome.
The cafe, which has taken up residence in the former Central Cafe premises on Monaro Street, opened its doors earlier this year and has a policy of creating jobs for people with special needs.
Matt Morrissey, 46, Bean Central owner, hopes it will turn around unemployment rates and discrimination against people with disabilities trying to find a job.
“It’s not until you give someone an opportunity, that you can see what they are capable of,” Matt says.
“When you are first placed in front of someone with a disability it’s very easy to judge and think they won’t be able to do what I can do, but once you show them a task, they nail it.”
Matt, a former public servant turned chef, says he hasn’t looked back since opening the cafe.
“The very first day I met Bryce, he wouldn’t make eye contact with me, since then the change in him has been phenomenal.
“If you are looking for someone to provide a positive experience to your business, then you need to look outside the box of regular employees.
“I would hire all of these guys again, 10 times over, and would recommend it to any business owner.”
Only 52 per cent of the estimated 2.2 million people of working age who live with a disability in Australia are in the workforce.
But young people aged between 15 and 24 living with a disability have a 10 times higher chance of facing discrimination compared to those aged over 65.
Robbie Leahy, 27, has struggled to find work since the cafe at the Queanbeyan library closed down.
The budding barista is now back behind the coffee machine and loving it.
“I like making coffee, cleaning the tables and I’m learning to take orders,” Robbie says.
Working has given him a boost and he hopes to continue making coffee in the future.
“Chef Matt is a good boss,” he says.
Disability Support Agency Valmar says employers need to do better.
“We approached nearly every cafe in Queanbeyan to try and get these guys some work, just an hour or two a week, and everyone said no,” Queanbeyan Valmar Support Services worker Amanda Ryan says.
Amanda, 42, wants to shake up the market to help people with disabilities find meaningful employment.
“Give them a go,” Amanda says.
“From where these guys were to where they are now, the change is amazing.
“Their personalities have come out, their confidence has gone through the roof, they are getting a go and they feel normal.”
Disability employment services have mixed results because usually only one in 10 people go on to attain a permanent job.
“It’s really hard to find these guys work,” Amanda says.
“I’m so thankful for Matt and this cafe, it brings me to tears every time I think about what meaningful work is doing for these guys.”
Bean Central hopes to be an example to other cafes wanting to move in a similar direction.
“If you can just give people a go, you will often be surprised just how much they can do,” Matt says.
“The guys are always on time, they have a smile on their face, they are interacting with customers and we have noticed a huge change in their demeanor.
“I want to give opportunities to people that might otherwise be overlooked.”
Steph Rowe, 27, and Kyle Burnell, 23, feel the job has given them the skills and confidence to tackle everyday life.
“We all have fun here,” says Kyle.
“I feel really happy when I step through the door, it’s great to have a job,” says Steph.
Amanda Ryan can be contacted at 0447 061237.