WEST BABYLON, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — For individuals with disabilities, finding work can be challenging and heartbreaking.
Only 1 in 9 young adults on the autism spectrum has a job.
But as CBS2’s Jennifer McLogan reported Wednesday, a Long Island company hopes to change all that.
“The jack of all trades. That’s me, Chris Cortale, proud administrative worker with autism,” Christopher Cortale said.
He works the service cart, does alphabetical filing, and delivers in-house mail at Winters Bros, the waste systems company on Long Island.
“How this makes me feel, actually, this makes me feel independent,” Cortale said.
The 31-year-old is among the lucky ones. After students age out of school, many languish in group homes or live with parents. As many as 85% of young adults with an autism spectrum disorder are unemployed.
“It touches the heart. I speak from the heart,” said Michele Winters of the Winters Center for Autism.
Winters’ youngest son, Sean, is on the spectrum. Sadly, she lost her husband, Joe, to COVID-19 in January, but the couple made a pledge before his death to use their platform to make a difference.
Sean is part of a team of employees with autism working at Winters Bros.
“My son is such an inspiration to not only my family and people in the community, but the business that we have here,” Michele Winters said.
She said she will soon open a nonprofit center for autism to train young adults in hospitality, agriculture, manufacturing, and more. Suffolk County will be partnering with the autism center.
“The work that is happening here is going to be game changing and create a model for not only our region, but really across the state and the country,” County Executive Steve Bellone said.
Suffolk’s Department of Labor will work with graduates of the new Winters Autism Program to secure internships and job placement.
“When you see these adults come in, no matter what side of the spectrum they’re on, for them to do just simple tasks and have such a sense of fulfillment, independence and joy,” Patrick Winters said.
“This makes me feel so proud of myself that I feel like I am actually part of the team,” Cortale said.
It’s a team that can grow, if more businesses would take a chance on these vibrant and capable adults.
The nonprofit autism workforce training center is expected to welcome its first students in December.