Brewery Serves Up Careers With Beers For Adults With Special Needs
When you take a seat at the bar at Brewability Lab in Denver, prepare to pick a color to order your beer. A large chalkboard sign displays the brewery’s beer selection in hues: red for the strawberry blond, white for the pale ale and purple for the coffee porter. It’s a gimmick with a purpose — ordering a beer by its color makes the work easier for those “beertenders” at Brewability who are on the autism spectrum and can’t read.
Brewability’s mission isn’t just to make beer. The brewery’s founder wants to provide good jobs and even a social setting for people with disabilities.
Brewability Lab founder Tiffany Fixter ran a day program for adults with developmental disabilities before she opened the brewery a year ago amid some warehouses in northeast Denver. She wanted to create a business that would employ adults with disabilities because she saw how difficult it can be for them to find meaningful jobs. She liked the idea of running a brewery because they’re social places, and many adults with disabilities feel isolated from other adults.
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“I wanted a community space. I wanted (Brewability Lab’s employees) to be social in their active community, and it’s working,” Fixter said. “Every single one of them is significantly better than the day they started.”
Patrick Hill spoke only a few words at a time when he started working at Brewability, and his shifts often ended after 10 minutes, Fixter said. Now, Hill works 10 hours a week as a beertender and talks with co-workers and customers. He has a “fan club” of guests, Fixter said, who enjoy his company and his antics, like dancing and singing along to songs like “I Want It That Way” by the Backstreet Boys.
“I think (Brewability Lab) is a great opportunity for people like my son,” said Patrick Hill’s mother, Bernie Hill. “He gets a lot of fulfillment out of working here, and he’s more confident in himself since he started working here.”
If Hill’s not at the bar, you might find Nick Wrape serving beers — and singing at the top of his lungs when his “drinking song,” “Raise Your Glass” by Pink, comes over the sound system. His customers smile and join Wrape in a toast when Pink sings “Come on and raise your glass!”
And if Wrape isn’t serving drinks, you might find Alex Randall at the bar. He’s the reason the taps are labeled in Braille. Randall, who is blind, is a social guy, eager to share his knowledge of music, bowling and the beer he serves. His work at Brewability has led to friendships, he said, and he’s learned a lot about how beer is made.
“I had never had the opportunity to actually figure out how beer is made until I came here,” he said. “I wasn’t too sure if I was going to like (working at Brewability Lab), but I have loved it and the people here that I’ve met.”
Brewability Lab is set up to help its six employees with disabilities fully function as part of the brewery’s team. Photos and checklists are posted to help workers complete regular tasks like washing dishes and cleaning the bar. Fixter, the “brewery mom,” holds them accountable for their responsibilities, and they respect her for that. She finds people who need a leg up in the work world through referrals, and Brewability Lab has a wait list of people eager to land a job there. The brewery interacts with the community in other ways, too, hosting events like dog adoptions, birthday parties and fundraisers.
“Some of the conversations that I’ve had here with people have been profound and beyond anything I’ve gotten anywhere else,” said Anthony Jacobs, who is a regular at Brewability. It has changed his perspective of what autism is and how capable people can be, he said.
“I gained a new appreciation for people with autism.”
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