Brewability Lab, the first brewery in the U.S. staffed by adults with developmental disabilities, is making moves.
According to a recent announcement, the Denver operation is moving and rebranding as Brewability on Broadway. Founder Tiffany Fixter describes the new location as “far more accessible and conducive to business” than its original space.
Brewability on Broadway joins a small but growing number of breweries around the world that are prioritizing accessibility and inclusivity by hiring adults with disabilities as brewers, bartenders, and servers. Similar business models include London’s Ignition; Yorkshire, England’s Spotlight Brewing; Copenhagen’s People Like Us; and Puck, Poland’s Browar Spółdzielczy. Some businesses, like London’s Gipsy Hill Brewing and Glasgow’s Ride Brew Co., are taking steps to make their taprooms fully accessible to people with physical disabilities.
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“Disabled people deserve the right to work, and most with very little adaptation can perform as good as anyone able-bodied,” Dave Lannigan, founder and head brewer of Ride Brew Co., tells VinePair.
By providing meaningful work and accessible spaces for adults with disabilities, these breweries are addressing the physical, social, and economic barriers to craft beer that many with disabilities face — and raising awareness of one of the most marginalized communities in craft beer, and the world.
Brewability’s story began in 2015, when Fixter, a former special needs teacher, teamed up with Grandma’s House Brewery to teach adults with developmental disabilities how to brew. The program was successful, and she launched Brewability Lab in October 2016.
It was well received. Anthony Jacobs, a Brewability “regular,” told the Denver Post in November 2017 he had “gained a new appreciation for people with autism.” Online reviews touted the brewery as “a hidden gem” and “a must visit in Denver.”
In 2018, WalletHub ranked Denver among the best cities for those with disabilities. Though better than most, it’s nowhere near perfect: The Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition (CCDC) reports fewer than 30 percent of adults with disabilities in the state have full-time, full-year jobs; and those who do are paid one-third less than non-disabled employees. Outcomes are even worse for disabled people of color, the CCDC reports.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 19 percent of Americans with a disability are employed, compared to nearly 66 percent without one. Some reports say those with disabilities are more than twice as likely to be unemployed than those without disabilities. Numbers are similar in the U.K.
Fortunately, some companies are making strides to address this. Ignition Brewery, founded by macroeconomist Nick O’Shea in 2015, is partially staffed by adults with learning disabilities. It pays its employees the London living wage, £10.55 per hour, compared to the standard rate of £9.00 per hour in the rest of the U.K.
Spotlight Brewing, founded in 2018, is unable to pay employees thus far. However, in July 2019, founder Ric Womersley told the Hop Forward podcast, “Where we are, there’s not a lot for people with disabilities to get involved in that they don’t have to pay for.” In other words, disabled adults have to pay for programs that keep them active; Spotlight’s staff gains work experience that can help them in the future. The operation stays afloat selling beer to nearby bars and pubs.
Of course, employing those with disabilities isn’t the only way to bring them into the craft beer fold. Lannigan, of Glasgow’s Ride Brew Co., aims to build a 100-percent-accessible taproom. “I find that in the U.K. most bars/taprooms make minimum effort to be accessible to all,” Lannigan, who is disabled through loss of hearing, tells VinePair in an email. “A wheelchair-accessible toilet and that’s it. No thoughts to hearing impaired or blind people. My aim is to try and be as accessible as it can be.”
Since launching in 2014, Gipsy Hill Brewing has kept social inclusion and accessibility top of mind for its business. “We want to create a space where anyone can turn up at any time and get great service,” Michael Huddart, Gipsy Hill marketing and event manager, told The Guardian in February 2018. In the Gipsy Hill taproom, “a quarter of our bar is lowered, with no front, allowing [wheelchair] users to be served at an appropriate height. The site is one level, allowing free access for individuals with limited mobility,” a statement on its website says. In short, it constructed a space for everyone.
Diversity and inclusion are relatively new to the U.S. beer industry. The Brewers Association launched its diversity committee in 2018, and although it is making strides in areas of race, gender, and geography, few, if any, efforts specifically address those with disabilities.
But from Denver to Denmark, grassroots efforts to reach this oft-overlooked and underemployed community are responding to that need. Whether making space at the bar for those in wheelchairs, creating ordering systems for customers who can’t hear or read, or hiring brewers and servers on the autism spectrum, this small group of breweries exemplifies what a truly inclusive craft beer community might look like.