By Ron Sandison
“Brewability culture is fun, we are a bar after all. The staff loves to sing and dance while serving beer. Most importantly, my team of employees is learning to socialize and their self-esteem is skyrocketing.”
Tiffany Fixter, the founder of Brewability
Tiffany Fixter is the founder of Brewability and Pizzability in Englewood, Colorado, which empowers people with Autism and other disabilities to experience meaningful employment in a fun and inclusive environment. Currently in the U.S., only 20% of individuals with Autism are employed and only 3% are gainfully employed. Tiffany is transforming the workplace culture for people with different abilities.
Each year, Spectrum Inclusion awards two Honey Badger awards to fierce advocates in the Autism community. The mission of Spectrum Inclusion is to empower people with Autism for employment and provide resources to equip them to learn life skills for independence.
Tiffany Fixter was chosen for the 2024 Honey Badger Award for her service, advocacy, and commitment to the Autism and disability community. She demonstrates the qualities of a honey badger as an innovator entrepreneur and a fierce advocate, a force to be reckoned with. On November 30, I spoke at Brewability on My Amazing Journey with Autism and awarded Tiffany the Honey Badger Award. Tiffany’s perseverance and passion for helping people with different abilities inspired me and I was excited to share her story. As a child, Tiffany gravitated towards helping people with special needs and desired to be a teacher, so she attended Northwest Missouri State University and earned a degree in Elementary Education and then a master’s in Special Education/Autism Spectrum Disorders from the University of Kansas.
After finishing her Master’s for seven-years, Tiffany taught students with learning disabilities and Autism. She enjoyed learning from her students and discovering their unique interests, talents, and ability to absorb knowledge. She eventually left teaching to be a day programmer director for adults with disabilities.
“When I was hired, I knew very little about day programs. I was baffled and distraught that approximately 80 out of 100 of my adult clients learned basic reading, writing, and arithmetic skills, yet could not use the restroom independently, cross the street, and lacked other daily life skills that are vital for transiting into adulthood.”
“Our education system dropped the ball with them. Since when did memorizing multiplication facts become more important than learning to pull up your own damn pants? I was absolutely appalled by the number of people who are dependent on assistance with no motivation to do anything by themselves. This inspired me to empower these individuals for independence and train them for employment.”
“I wanted to do something that was cool, purposeful and gave people with disabilities an opportunity to show their abilities. I hoped to be an example for other businesses to think outside the box. That’s when you really see what people are capable of and that we’re all members of the community.”
Teaching and directing the adult day program prepared Tiffany for her next adventure of Brewability and Pizzability, which is the first brewery to hire adults with developmental disabilities. Tiffany’s hospitality companies train people with disabilities to use their abilities for employment.
“For me, teaching was a series of trial and errors. Trying to discover what works best for the student to learn. My teaching background prepared me to do the training aspect of Brewability and Pizzability, yet it did not prepare me for the brutal life of entrepreneurship.”
As an entrepreneur, Tiffany’s greatest challenge was finance. “Funding, financing and balancing cash flow is extremely difficult. I think financial hardship is the biggest challenge for any business. I started small, applied for local grants and worked my way into proving my concept. My only investors to this day are my parents. As business owners themselves, they understand how difficult it can be. I learned from them to persevere through hard work and be dedicated to your customers and product. I am blessed to have their support and would not be in business today without them.”
Brewability received a response of both praise and persecution from the community of Englewood, CO. Some people expressed concerns about people with disabilities being around alcohol. Tiffany responded with: “We are brewing, not drinking. They are adults! This is precisely why I chose a brewery. It is an adult industry. Infantilizing of adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDDs) must stop.”
Tiffany learned the “Dos and Don’ts” in entrepreneurship and developed perseverance. Her first attempt was to partner up with a pre-existing business, but it wasn’t working the way she wanted it to. Tiffany went on to purchase an affordable turnkey brewery in “a rough part of town” and, from there, the business went through various transitions, including a Pizzability restaurant in a prestigious neighborhood where she did not feel her idea was embraced. Finally, she found a turnkey brewery only five minutes from her house and bought the premises.
“We are thrilled with our current location. It is located on Broadway, a main street, in downtown Englewood. We are a few blocks from Craig Hospital (the leading TBI hospital in the US) and Swedish Medical. We are near low-income housing, many of whom use wheelchairs. We are steps from public transit, which is extremely important for my staff to get around. In short, we found our sweet spot! We are working to make the neighborhood as accessible as possible. Not only for people who use wheelchairs, but adding accommodation for everyone to feel safe and comfortable.”
Brewability focuses on each individual’s abilities. “The bartenders have Autism, Down Syndrome and Cerebral Palsy. Some are blind, deaf, or have traumatic brain injuries. All my staff are expected to work. There is minimum hand-holding here. If someone needs extra support, we provide that. There are days when the staff comes in upset due to something that happened on the bus, etc. We process through the situation and then get back to work.”
“Each staff member understands the expectations. I try to be consistent with scheduling and work tasks. I provide modification for learning disabilities with color-coded beer taps and using a visual menu: ‘orange’ for amber ale, ‘green’ India Pale Ale. Braille was added to the taps, making it easier for employees who can’t read. Our step-by-step brewing process appeals to those with Autism, who crave routine. The culture is fun, we are a bar after all. The staff loves to sing and dance while serving beer. Most importantly, my team of employees is learning to socialize and their self-esteem is skyrocketing.”
Brewability employees enhance the workplace with positive energy. “People with disabilities add so much to the workforce. My staff come bounding into work, just happy to be there. Of course everyone has good and bad days/moods, but most of the time they exude a positive vibe and you can’t help but smile. It is contagious!”
Tiffany desires to change people’s perspectives of individuals with disabilities and empower them for employment. “I want to inspire businesses to employ people with disabilities and become accessible. We need to revamp the way the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation funds and places people with IDD. I believe small businesses are an excellent fit for most people with IDD because they are able to provide the focused attention and support needed. I am frustrated with the current system that places individuals with IDD in remedial positions where they get lost in the system and are not offered the support or accommodations to succeed.”
“The current system heavily funds job placement, but not job retention. I have seen how the system has been manipulated so that the job coach can maximize profits at the expense of the individual. They will train someone to interview well, dress them up, then after they are placed in a job, there is little incentive for them to help them keep the job.”
Tiffany encourages parents and special education teachers to focus on practical skills like daily living, safety, socializing, and work. This enables young adults with disabilities to gain independence and be functioning members of society. Tiffany urges parents and educators to begin teaching life skills in elementary school and to use the Temple Grandin’s model of hands-on learning vocational trade skills to prepare for employment.
Ron Sandison works full time in the medical field and is a professor of theology at Destiny School of Ministry. He is an advisory board member of Autism Society Faith Initiative of Autism Society of America. Sandison has a Master of Divinity from Oral Roberts University and is the author of A Parent’s Guide to Autism: Practical Advice. Biblical Wisdom, published by Charisma House and Thought, Choice, Action. Ron has memorized over 10,000 Scriptures including 22 complete books of the New Testament and over 5,000 quotes. Ron’s third book Views from the Spectrum was released in May 2021.
Ron frequently guest speaks at colleges, conferences, autism centers, and churches. Ron and his wife, Kristen, reside in Rochester Hills, MI, with a baby daughter, Makayla Marie born on March 20, 2016.
You can contact Ron at his website www.spectruminclusion.com or email him at email@example.com