The Bridge Initiative

By: Russell Reed

Human Rights , Specialist

There are approximately 57-million disabled people in America, and employers are continuing to discriminate against well-qualified job candidates who have a disability, according to new research.

As of January 2016, just 30.3% of working-age people with disabilities were employed, versus 75.8% for those without disabilities. This brings the jobless rate for those people with disabilities up to 10.8%.

Even for those lucky enough to have jobs, income prospects remain bleak. Only 1-to-5-percent earn enough to stop receiving disability benefits.The gap between annual earnings means disabled workers make about $9,000 less a year than non-disabled workers. According to the Census Bureau, this gulf has widened since the 1990s when there was just a $6,000 gap.

While there are several agencies out there that help people with disabilities find meaningful work, there still aren't enough job opportunities for the disabled, particularly those with developmental disabilities. We aim to bridge that gap.

Developmental disabilities is an umbrella term that describes chronic cognitive and/or physical challenges -- such as significant limitations in adaptive behavior -- which makes it difficult for the afflicted to function like everyone else. It is estimated that between 7 and 8 million Americans of all ages experience intellectual disabilities.

Although a federal law -- the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act -- requires that schools provide appropriate programs for students with intellectual disabilities, the transition from high school into the adult world is often catastrophic for young people and their families. But denying these individuals their chance to participate in society, civic life, their communities is even worse.  Currently 35% of young adults (ages 19-23) with autism have not had a job or received postgraduate education after leaving high school.

The challenge is that there are no low-interest college loans or tax-free savings plans that cover programs for young people with an IQ over 70. Thus young people identified with autism spectrum disorder (1-in-68 in the U.S.) need a bridge to help them transition from high school to the next step in life.

The Bridge Initiative identifies and solves the gap currently standing between vocational training programs for individuals with disabilities and businesses willing to hire these people. We work specifically with these training programs, learning the ins and outs of their individual curricula and the jobs people within the programs are looking for, then finding jobs that fit these descriptions from businesses in the area. The businesses are presented online, so individuals in a given program can search for jobs as anyone would. The overarching mission is to ensure job-satisfaction for both the employer and employee.

We intend to eventually charge a small sustenance fee to both the program and the businesses, but for now we are trying to work pro bono to get through some major trials. 

Team Members

  • Russell Reed

    Founder / CEO

    I am a 17-year-old social entrepreneur and high school student from San Diego, California. Growing up in a home invested in social impact-based work, it was not long before I began taking leadership roles in the impact and nonprofit sphere, most notably founding The Bridge Initiative at the MIT Launch incubator in the summer of 2014. Since then, I have also participated in research at the Harvard Business School and worked on the small administrative team out of Harvard's Carr Center for Human Rights Policy forming a working group to write the first piece of international legislation on violence against women and girls. I have also traveled on community service and cultural exchange programs to Thailand, Laos, Singapore, Myanmar, and Tanzania. I will be attending Harvard College in the fall.

Impact

Advice for my peers

March 8, 2016

One of the biggest challenges I have faced as a social entrepreneur is learning how to pivot: to identify and work through flaws in the business plan. By eventually understanding the importance of this, I have forgone the attachment many have to their original business plan, making Bridge a living, breathing organization. 

​I also believe it is REALLY IMPORTANT to ask for help! Starting a company is, in many ways, a similar process to essay writing; the more time and effort you dedicate, the more you are likely to miss while reading over it or working through it. Getting another set of eyes, or even just pitching your idea to a friend or family member to force yourself to talk it through from start to finish, will expose potential flaws and allow you to be more successful from the get-go. 

Launching a social venture

In August 2014, we decided to raise money for the Bridge Initiative. Our goal was to raise $1,000 dollars to be able to sponsor our first four participants. We were promising a stipend of $250-dollars per participant for a week-long pilot program.

We raised $1,350-dollars with 23 backers in just 21 days. It was a great experience and validated our belief that people need our solution. Below is our pitch competition describing our launch story.


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