Spectrum Designs Find the Perfect Fit with Inclusion

Three young men, Spectrum employees, sitting on chairs and one standing; all four are in a storage room with shelves and supplies. A sign in the background says: Fulfill your dreams.

Special Olympics is excited to celebrate National Disability Employment Awareness Month!
Each week in October, we will spotlight one company that is making bold, innovative strides in creating a fully inclusive workplace.

This week, we take a look a Spectrum Designs Foundation, a Port Washington, NY custom print shop founded with a mission to provide top-notch products while giving its staff (largely comprised of teens and young adults with Autism), a chance to lead safe, happy and productive lives through their work. Spectrum Designs is 501(c)3 nonprofit organization whose entire operating costs are covered by sales, so all proceeds go directly towards supporting their mission of providing employment to those with intellectual disabilities.

The sales numbers are impressive. Founded in 2011, Spectrum Designs has grown 80% per year generating in excess of $5 million in revenue. Among their clients are Special Olympics, Uber and Google. They have grown to employ 23 individuals who are on the autism spectrum and 16 who are not, working side by side in a unified environment. The intersection of mission and results is garnering the company impressive media attention. In addition to news coverage, The Business of Autism, a documentary inspired by and featuring Spectrum Designs, sold out its premiere showing and has been accepted into 5 film festivals.

It is the company’s belief that as the prevalence of Autism Spectrum Disorder grows (about 1.2% each year in the U.S. according to the CDC), so will the need for social enterprises like theirs that provide a hand-up to those with disabilities. “The more orders we produce, sales we make, support and partnerships we receive from like-minded organizations such as Special Olympics and prinkshop, the wider we are able to open our doors to so many more people who just need to be given a chance to thrive in a work environment.” States Patrick Bardsley, Co-founder and CEO of Spectrum Designs.

In 2017 Spectrum Designs, Special Olympics and prinkshop, an advocacy organization that uses graphic design to spark social dialogue, teamed up for a special joint venture. prinkshop produces 90% of its merchandise with Spectrum and is very proud of their partnership. The three companies created a line of wearables that celebrates the 50th Anniversary of Special Olympics and the #InclusionRevolution campaign. Partnering with a brand like prinkshop increases awareness of Special Olympics and raises funds, with a portion of the proceeds from sales being donated to Special Olympics.

Many Spectrum Designs employees with Autism and other intellectual disabilities not only love their work but also enjoy the freedom that full-time employment allows them outside of work. Lead Production Assistant, Josh Mirsky says, “I paid my mom back for my fiancée’s engagement ring. I am also able to pay my fair share of rent. I want to be independent, and money gives you independence. I have the ability to not have to live off funding or my parents. I feel really good because I am able to take a financial burden off of my family, which I never thought I would be able to do. I am currently saving up to take my fiancée to Florida and I am not allowing my parents to give me a penny. I did all of the research and already saved 200 dollars!”

But it’s Spectrum Designs itself that reaps the biggest rewards by employing the differently abled. Tim Howe, Spectrum Designs’ Chief Operating Officer, says that “employees like Josh, who come to work with a can-do attitude, strong attention to detail and a commitment to doing a great job are the real secret behind our model’s success. Our employees with disabilities lead the #InclusionRevolution every day here at Spectrum, and give us not only a diversity of thought and creativity, but also the unique approach to problem solving that only a neurodiverse workforce can provide.”