Breweries are about more than just making beer. Taprooms have evolved into modern meeting spaces for friends and families who are looking to support local, seek out flavor, and have experiences beyond the norm.
Breweries are also looking to be spaces of inclusion, and Tiffany Fixter the owner and founder of Brewability, a Colorado brewery and pizzeria that primarily staffed by adults with developmental disabilities, wants to bring awareness to her peers on ways to create accessible environments for individuals with disabilities,
According to Fixter, Brewability offers color-coded beer menus and taps, a sensory dining area, and weighted silverware. Today the brewery announced that it has installed a vibrational dancefloor so that patrons who are deaf or hard of hearing can feel beats from live or recorded music.
Fixter spoke to All About Beer editor John Holl about Brewability and its initiatives.
John Holl: Can you tell me more about Brewability and its history?
Tiffany Fixter: I was originally a special education teacher with a master’s degree in autism spectrum disorders. I also ran a day program for adults with special needs.
During my years in special education, I became increasingly frustrated with the lack of valuable job opportunities for people with developmental disabilities, which led me to opening Brewability in October of 2016 with our head brewer, Tanner Schneller.
Our entire goal was to be the change we wanted to see in creating jobs specifically for adults with developmental disabilities and helping them gain a sense of purpose and independence. Brewability shows what our bartenders, servers and other staff are capable of when given the right tools and support.
John Holl: What are some of the initiatives Brewability has enacted since it opened?
Tiffany Fixter: Adaptation is crucial to giving our employees and our guests the support they need. The first thing people notice is that our beer menu is color-coded to match our tap handles. Another thing that people get excited about is our sensory area which has a marble wall and giant Lite Brite.
We also offer braille, large print and picture-based menus, weighted silverware, plate guards, and shirt protectors for adults and children.
We’re actually working on a Gastrostomy tube (G-tube)-friendly menu now, and we are in the process of flattening our outdoor patio thresholds for better wheelchair access and building an adjustable adult changing table in the restroom. We host a variety of inclusive events in our space including Autistic LGBTQ+ Adult Socials with the Autism Society of Colorado, Drag Bingo, live music, fundraisers and more! It’s important to us that everyone who walks or rolls through our doors feels welcome.
John Holl: You’re adding a vibrational dance floor. How does that work and what will it add to the brewery and the space?
Tiffany Fixter: The technology is the same as bone-conduction headphones, just on a larger scale. The 12-by-12-foot dance floor transmits sound vibrations through the bones so patrons can feel all aspects of the music, not just the bass. This way, the bone-conduction technology allows users to experience every instrument and every type of music.
We worked with nonprofit Feel the Beat, an organization dedicated to creating sound accessible environments using vibrotactile technology for children who are deaf, hard of hearing and with disabilities. We’re also very thankful for the support from Developmental Pathways, which provided the grant to fund the dance floor.
Live music is a big part of our brewery experience, so this dance floor means we can provide a new level of inclusivity for those who are deaf or hard of hearing. Music may not be something certain staff members and customers have ever experienced in a restaurant before, so we’re excited for everyone to have the same opportunity.
John Holl: What can other breweries be doing or thinking about when it comes to making dining out or drinking easier for patrons with disabilities?
Tiffany Fixter: Breweries need to consider every interaction and situation that could occur once a patron with a disability enters the location. Can this patron physically access a patio, bar top, or entertainment area? Is it easy for them to understand a menu and order a drink or food item? What assistance might someone need in the restroom?
All of these answers may look different depending on someone’s disability, and breweries need to design their space with these differences in mind. For example, some patrons may get overwhelmed in a crowded space, so it’s a good idea to have sensory-friendly areas that are quieter and dimmer. If a sensory friendly area isn’t an option, they could offer noise-cancelling headphones for their customers to check our or borrow.
Ultimately, breweries need to take a hard look at how they can make their locations more physically accessible, comfortable and inclusive. Dining and drinking out can be a stressful experience for both patrons with disabilities and their families and friends, so it’s your job to help make the experience as enjoyable as possible.
Everyone has the right to eat, drink, dance and have a good time while out in public.
John Holl: Where should future efforts – in the beer space – be focused?
Tiffany Fixter: A good brewery is a communal space where people can come together. Unfortunately, adults with disabilities are oftentimes excluded from these social environments. The effort our team makes to create an inclusive experience for all patrons should be the norm, not the exception.
I’d love to see more focus on making the craft beer space more comfortable and accessible for all individuals, regardless of ability, gender identity, or sexual orientation.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.