Making a difference for people with autism through a popular summer treat

Rita's Italian Ice aims to be inclusive

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Chip Bryers and Andrew Collins recently opened a Rita's Italian Ice and frozen custard store in Lake Buena Vista, and they're using it to set a positive example for other employers.

"I've actually had someone tell me, 'Until you figure out how to talk, we can't work with you'" Bryers, who has autism, said.

 They were hurtful words but that didn't stop the 25-year-old from pushing forward as an entrepreneur. 

"People need to look past, like, what they see on the surface," Bryers said.

Three years ago, while they were working as Disney cast members, he pitched an idea to his co worker, Collins, to start their own business.

"We kind of realized that what we wanted was to kind of be our own business owners, and Chip here actually saw an advertisement on Facebook from the area developer," Collins said. 

They reached that goal almost two months ago when they opened the doors to their franchise.

For both men, it wasn't just about becoming business owners. They also wanted to offer a workplace for people who have autism or some type of special condition. 

Currently, half of their workers are diagnosed autism. 

"They will surprise you and they will do a great job if you let them," Bryers said.

For Collins, their accomplishment has a personal connection. His brother is also on the autism spectrum.

"I just know he's gonna have all these extra challenges going forward in life and I feel like people should have the ability to be able to work wherever they want and have a successful life and career," Collins said.

Bryers said he hopes other employers learn to value those employees with special needs.

"There are so many wonderful businesses around here that do hire autistic people and I am very grateful to all of them. However, if I could send a message to them, I would say: You should stop viewing it as, like, your charity, community service project and actually start looking at them as an asset and try to view them as valuable employees and not your community outreach program."

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