Micro-Enterprise, Macro-Understanding

By: Tirthna Badhiwala – 12/14/2017

I’m a third of the way into my AmeriCorps VISTA service year with The Power of the Dream. While I often feel as though time is flying, I can’t overlook the many incredible experiences leading to the valuable realizations I’ve had about disability and employment thus far. Our last PowerUP Market was a good time to reflect (especially considering it was a 14-hour event with plenty of downtime).  

When I first learned about micro-enterprise as a viable form of customized self-employment for adults with autism and intellectual developmental disabilities (IDD), art was the last thing on my mind. Sure, I envisioned some handmade crafts being sold at pop-up markets, but I never imagined booths of almost exclusively original paintings, embroidery, and plant creations, and the meaning behind them.

Our final PowerUP Market of 2017 was on December 2nd. We were hosted at Activate Good’s Shop for Good event, with holiday shoppers and do-gooders galore. We were joined by two new people trying their hand at selling their work. They were both painters, using color primarily and boldly to create atmospheric images full of emotion. Their work wonderfully complemented our returning micro-entrepreneurs’ original and eye-catching embroidered patches and terrariums.

As a VISTA, I can only perform indirect service to our client population; I don’t get the privilege of spending much one-on-one time with our clients. Even if I did, many adults with autism/IDD have unique communication abilities and styles that may not include verbal conversation. Seeing their personal artwork on display helped me to see the bountiful and powerful other ways that these individuals communicate their feelings, desires, and interests. By centering their preferred communication methods, I was able to see who these people really were.

Even more, it made me realize how important it is to provide this platform for adults with autism/IDD who communicate through art. Micro-enterprise can be a chance for adults with autism/IDD to turn a profit from their true passions, but it’s also a chance for others to reconsider their understanding of persons with disabilities.

I’m still new to understanding disability, but if there’s one thing I can pass along after experiencing a Fall full of micro-enterprise workshops and pop-ups, it’s that adults with autism/IDD are just…communicating. They want to express their truths as much and as often as anyone else does, including through art. I believe that helping others make this realization is one of the keys to integrating the autism/IDD community.

Advocates for the autism/IDD community don’t have to be “a voice for the voiceless”; we just have to pass the mic. Including artists with autism/IDD in pop-up shops, galleries, restaurants, etc. is not only a great way to support local, disability-owned micro-enterprises, but also essential for disability inclusion in all aspects of our communities.

If you’re wondering how you can help advocate as an individual, business, event host, or more, please email info@thepowerofthedream.org.