Disability Innovation Center (pseudonym) is an NGO focusing on integration of people with disabilities into society to improve the public’s perception of this group of people. In China, people with disabilities are often restricted to certain professions. For example, the vision-impaired are often trained to work as masseuses. The Center trains people with disabilities and pilots an internship program for their trainees to work in companies in non-traditional sectors in order to increase public acceptance and inclusion. In 2019, due to challenges with funding, the Center began exploring a social enterprise approach, creating projects employing their trainees in innovative jobs, such as coffee-making, to earn commercial revenue and heighten consumer engagement with people with disabilities. The revenue from these sales is modest, but the response from coffee companies, the media and the public has been promising. The Center is now exploring ways to make these projects profitable and sustainable. They would like to set up their own coffeeshop and are also looking into other social enterprise initiatives, such as persons with vision-impairment producing cosmetics and physically disabled persons engaging in fashion design.
Theory of Change
Advancing the personal growth and employability of people with disabilities, especially in non-traditional workplaces, increases integration and reduces social bias against disabled persons.
Initially, the Center trained people with disabilities in the performing and visual arts, holding performances for the public. That effort, however, did not allow for direct engagement with the public on a regular basis, who remained unmoved and were reluctant to make donations to the NGO. In 2017, the Center changed their approach to begin assisting people with disabilities to find employment in non-traditional fields. In the midst of funding challenges, the Center found that their vision-impaired trainees enjoyed working in coffeeshops, so in 2019 they designed a program to train the vision-impaired to be baristas, with the trainees demonstrating their coffee-making skills at street festivals and other public events.
The social enterprise model provides a concrete demonstration of the value of people with disabilities and their ability to contribute to society. It also provides tangible value to the general public in exchange for donations. Accordingly, the response from companies, media and the public to the coffee-making initiative has been better than expected. The Center has been approached by various companies interested in collaboration and has been covered in mainstream media. One co-working space offered the Center a location to set up a coffee shop, allowing trainees to sell coffee, coffee packets and coffee mugs. A company producing coffeepots invited their trainees to display their skills at a product opening in Shanghai. Another company has offered the trainees to work in their high-end coffee shop.