For many young people living with Cerebral Palsy, a distant goal is independence. As we all know, CP varies in severity and expression depending on the severity of the brain damage that the individual sustained. For some, their minds are perfectly in tact but their nervous systems and muscles suffer from abnormalities of form and function. For others, though, the condition can leave them nearly incapable of ever living life independently.
One common path to independence, though? Food. For many who live with CP, the food industry provides a welcome road to a more independent lifestyle, complete with repetitive tasks, support from business owners, interactions with customers, and wages. Some large-scale operations like Whole Foods and Giant have already made commitments to hiring more individuals with disabilities and providing them with the attention and training they need to be successful. In Pennsylvania, Leg Up Farmers Market trains and employs adults with disabilities and walks them through the entire process, from farming the food to marketing and selling it to customers.
On a smaller scale, though, small businesses have a greater ability to provide those with disabilities a personalized working experience that is mutually beneficial. Whereas larger stores and restaurants entertain more customers and thus may not have time to nurture an employee with special needs, small stores, local cafes, and other good-hearted small business owners can employ individuals who may need some extra time and attention.
Take, for example, Victoria Reedy of Schenectady, N.Y. NPR recently ran a story about a young woman who lives with Panhypopituitarism, a disease that drastically limits growth hormone production and can also cause some other physical, mental, and cognitive inhibitions. Reedy struggled in school with both the content and the motor skills required to perform, but as a 26-year-old woman, she’s found new life working in Puzzles Bakery & Cafe, where she participates in the food service work and enjoys some tasks like washing dishes and
In another example, one young man with CP turned his dietary restrictions into a platform for his passion as a food critic. Alex Jenkins of Charlotte, North Carolina, lives with Cerebral Palsy, and as a result, has some pretty intense dietary restrictions. In addition, Alex experiences some limited mobility and reduced fine motor skills, so he often asks his waiters to cut his food for him. Writing under the pseudonym The Dude, Alex pens reviews of the restaurants that includes discussions of their accessibility to individuals with handicaps and their ability to accommodate him. With his mother and his caregiver, Alex regularly visits restaurants, and afterwards, he and his mother draft and post reviews on his blog, Food with the Dude. In this way, Alex has harnessed his disability into a positive, informative outlet.
For many with disabilities, food is an open door to freedom and mobility. It’s a common ground, a learning space, and a way for these individuals to earn a small income.