Trailblazing a Positive Future for Autism Employment

Trailblazing Positive Futures for Autism

Boaz and Minerva Santiago are the founders of Picasso Einstein, an educational consulting firm solely focused on self-employment for persons with disabilities. They are parents to two boys on the autism spectrum. Based on the work typically offered to persons with autism, they knew that traditional employment would be challenging and lack meaning for their sons. So, at the early age of 11 and 13, they have their boys explore, learn about, and begin to develop small business ideas that will serve as meaningful sources of employment. Picasso Einstein stems from their family’s journey. They want to help create jobs that are meaningful and sustainable for all.

Why choose self-employment?

  • Self-Employment teaches in the NOW as opposed to the NOT NOW.

We have found that people with developmental disabilities mostly think and live in the NOW. When they are taught something that they cannot put into immediate practice, the learning objectives are lost. Self-employment, on the other hand, allows a person to learn financial literacy, communication skills, the need to socialize (to sell your product and make money) and other important life skills. You don’t have to wait until someone is old enough to get a traditional job—these can be learned during the “transition” years through self-employment.

One parent, who had a 12-year daughter with developmental disabilities, doubted that her daughter would be interested or even understand self-employment. Well, not only was her daughter interested, but because the business involves something she’s interested in, she was motivated to understand everything!

Today, her daughter runs a successful business selling customized wands (a product based on her own sensory needs). This young girl is aware of how money changes her options, her life, her future. She is highly interested in socializing, communicating and integrating into her community so she can sell her products. Think about it. This young lady and her parents, will never see the “transition cliff” of employment.

  • Self-Employment is most sustainable when it is intrinsically connected to the person.

One young man took our course with heightened apprehension from both of his parents. He struggled with language, communication, reading, and many skills. Yet, he did not struggle at all with the things he enjoyed.

We spent time with him looking at google images, providing him with an alternative means of expressing his desires and wants. When we shared with his parents that in addition to photos of sneakers, he often looked at photos of food trucks, they dismissed it as simply his pleasure of eating at food truck gatherings.

His parents, both very well educated (a journalist & Neurosurgeon), had many ideas of their own for his potential business. They knew their son loved sneakers but they struggled to see how that could make money. They met with their team and came up with business ideas for their son. BUT, they did not include him in those meetings.

Not surprising, their son’s reaction to their ideas was negative. Why? Because he had an idea of his own: A Mobile sneaker store using a food truck model. Today, “Sneakin-Around” (a name he came up with) is the first ever, high-end mobile retail sneaker store in South Florida. Their son is fully engaged in the business because it is connected to his internal motivation. Now that is sustainable in our books!

In addition to your job creator program, you launched Trailblazing2016. What was your vision for the event?

Trailblazing2016 and 2017Trailblazing 2016 was born out of a brief conversation between us and a parent who graduated from our Picasso Einstein Project Family Program. Our mutual interest was creating an event to highlight how innovation and technology play key roles in how business relates to disabilities and vice versa.

Can you share a few highlights of what happened at the 2016 event?

Trailblazing 2016 showcased innovative local entrepreneurs with disabilities. We focused on self-employment as a viable option for all persons with disabilities. We featured companies like SAP who are hiring persons with autism. For them, it’s not about charity but simply good business practice.

Organizations like Palisades Hudson Financial Group & Broward Score shared practical ways for budding entrepreneurs with disabilities. They discussed ways to fund their business ventures through crowd funding or finding social capitalists who want to invest in businesses that have a positive impact on society.

Lastly, Trailblazing 2016 provided a platform for companies like WIX and organizations like FAAST to demonstrate why “Universal Design” is not about creating technology to assist solely persons with disabilities, but instead, technology that is useful for all people.

Who were some of your panelists and what did they discuss?

Our three keynote speakers included Shira Galler, from New York, representing WIX. Together, WIX and Picasso Einstein have come up with a program called “WIX 4 Life” that allows individuals with disabilities, interested in self-employment to apply for a FREE WIX Premium account for the life of the business!

Our very special guest, friend and keynote speaker was Jose Hugo Velasco, the Global Lead of the “Autism at Work” initiative at SAP. He is a father to two children with autism. He shared how SAP has found business value in hiring persons with autism. The company is also helping other organizations like Microsoft & HP to implement similar initiatives, globally.

Our third and final keynote speaker was Dr. Harold “Hackie” Reitman, father, producer and director of the movie “The Square Root of 2.” The movie is about a young girl challenged with undiagnosed Asperger’s Syndrome who leaves her overprotective parents for the freedom of college. Hackie is also founder of “” a web hub full of videos and interviews focused on neurodiversity.

Who were your “blazers” and what have they accomplished?

Picasso Einstein

Our “blazers” are the people with disabilities who have created jobs for themselves. Their businesses vary from custom wooden puzzles, deejay services, “junk flipping” (buying items from garage sales and selling them online) to Italian ices sold only at night using glow-in-the-dark cups.

What were you hoping to accomplish at this first event of its kind? Did you accomplish it?

We kept our goals simple. We hoped people would find the premise of the event valuable enough to show up and, when they did, they were happy they made the decision to attend.

Share a proud moment or attendee feedback.

Our two proud moments were wonderful panel discussions with two young entrepreneurs. Tathi Piancastelli, is a young Brazilian playwright, actress & model who happens to have Down syndrome. Shawn Smith, is a Canadian entrepreneur and founder of “Don’t Dis-my-Ability” who lives with ADHD. Both of these presenters personify the level of innovation that individuals with disabilities bring to the business table.

In what ways do you want to grow and improve the event?

We want to increase the number of business executives in attendance to inspire them to follow in SAP, Microsoft & HP’s footsteps.

Our plans include improving the flow and break out engagement.  Our biggest goal for Trailblazing 2017 is having Dr. Temple Grandin as our keynote speaker. We have one year to plan so come to our website at to stay up-to-date on all our speakers, sponsors and topics!


Do you have a date for Trailblazing2017?

Set your calendars for September 16, 2017! Trailblazing2017 will be at Broward Center for the Performing Arts in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Who should attend?

  • A Business interested in hiring individuals with disabilities.
  • An HR Professional tasked with hiring individuals with disabilities.
  • An entrepreneur interested in starting a business to employ individuals with disabilities.
  • A technology company interested in learning about universal design.
  • A family and/or professional concerned about future employment for a person with disabilities.
  • An entrepreneur with disabilities.

Find out more about Picasso Einstein and Trailblazing2017:

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About Jodi Murphy

I am the founder of Geek Club Books, autism storytelling through mobile apps for awareness, acceptance and understanding. My mission is to use the art of storytelling and technology to entertain and educate for the social good. I am a 'positive' autism advocate, mother of an awesome adult on the autism spectrum, lifestyle journalist, and marketing specialist.


  1. As a father of an adult daughter with autism, I know many parents with special needs children and adults. I am on our local county task force to increase employment in our county. I am discouraged at the lack of support we get from local businesses. We can’t even get them to come to a Chamber of Commerce sponsored event where they would learn of the benefits of employing people with disabilities.

    Since this hasn’t gone well, my NPO decided to start our own business and employ and train people with disabilities. Even considered an owner-operator model. We have a great business plan developed by the Wharton School. Everything looks good. Lots of parent and local service providers interested. But we have never been able to raise the $50,000-$75,000 startup costs. I am a father and don’t go in those investor circles. I’ve spoke with those who have started these successful and valuable businesses, but still don’t have the magic wand to make the needed money appear.

    Now, after a year of trying, I am giving up or putting this idea on the bottom of our priority list and moving on to other important projects which I can actually control.

    Looking for that angel who will help.


    • Jim, I hope that you don’t give up! Perhaps rethinking your strategy. Many of us started our businesses without very much money at first. Think of it as bootstrapping like many Silicon Valley start ups do in order to create a “proof of concept.” Sometimes people need to see that the idea can work before they’ll invest. Also, if you have lots of parents and local service providers interested, would they participate in a crowdfunding campaign to help you raise some seed money? If you do a crowdfunder, I wouldn’t have a goal for the full $50-75K but something that can get you started. It’s also a good way to test your idea. We used Indiegogo but there are many platforms out there.

      SMILE Biscotti started small and in their kitchen. Check them out:

      I’d also make contact with Picasso Einstein people as they may have ideas for you too. I’ll make sure that they see your comment here. ~ Jodi

    • Jim, my wife and I are saddened to hear about the lack of support you have received from your business community. We have found that the businesses are more agreeable to offer support when the “ask” is intrinsically related to a business need they already serve (i.e. – a small boutique website design firm being asked to assist in designing a website for an entrepreneur with disabilities, guaranteeing that the website would celebrate the efforts made by that firm as part of their outlet for social responsibility). We have lots of tools that can help you & your organization including a recent eBook at We would also welcome a phone call with you anytime to see if there is anything we can do to keep your interest in self-employment a joyous journey instead of a painful path. We believe with the right model, you can not only garnish supports, but more importantly, make the employment experience for the person both meaningful & sustainable.

      Bravo to you for your efforts thus far. Don’t give up!!!
      Picasso Einstein, LLC

  2. Castissima says:

    Dear Jodi
    Thank so much for having this platform for us-Parents and young autistic adults.Congratulations.
    My name is Castissima a mother to Haroun – 22years old son. I am writing to you from Tanzania in Africa.
    ( I came to know about you as Iwas searching for material for a chapter in a book where I chose to write on ‘autism at work’ (The peculiarity of autistic adults in industrialization) as part of the initiative to amplify this challenge in africa.
    My son was diagnosed with cardiac problem when he was four months old and treated in India at the age of 4years. We could not realize that he had autism(because were not aware of its existence) until he was 8years(after facing learning disability),when we were posted to Saud Arabia as diplomats family. It was through Dr Phil/Opra shows in MBC4 channel.He went through a lot of torture,bullying etc just like many other autistic children.
    We were luck to find a special needs school in Saud Arabia -the Multinational school.They did help us a lot from teaching ,getting access to speech therapist,neurologist etc.though they are expensive practices but it pays.
    We returned back to Tanzania when he was 12years and start struggling for a suitable school as the awareness on the issue is very low todate!here.
    Two years latter we managed to find a special school in Kenya where he went for secondary school education , did edxel exams and got a certificate in may 2016.
    As for now he has done the two levels of Cisco system exams;the IT essential at Open University of Tanzania and (about to finish by 2/1/2017) CCNA- at Dar es salaam Institute of Technology DIT in Tanzania. We supported him after knowing his passion in IT. He is happy and is doing very well.
    After seen this page and think of what we can do together for our children,I am of the suggestion that ; As a family we planned to find him a job in communication networking companies but this page has drastically changed us. We are now going to open a computer maintenance office for him by February 2017. After consulting several friends who are IT specialists, Ihave come to realize that this area is full of people who are not skilfull enough,not committed,trustworh and so generally are not reliable. Fake parts are all over and people are looking for reputable places to buy genuine computer parts and maintanance.
    Therefore I thought this is an area for us to take, were IT specialist Autistic adults from America will collaborate with colleagues in Tanzania to cover this need. Since you have access to Cisco system they can also have direct control of a station where their exams and professionalism will be offered, microsoft will also connect to us their needs on markets in this place, in turn we will secure jobs . Hp can also even have a place where their genuine spare parts are available and have access for inspection like that.
    On our side if this idea seems positive, we can keep on building on it, and if their is a need for someone to visit Tanzania we can offer him accommodation but s/ he has to pay for his/her air ticket.
    If you find the idea viable, let me know so that I can do follow up on permits and all other legal related issues for decency/ assurance before incurring any expenses and give false hopes to ourselves. For assurance and safety I THINK American Embassy can be overseers-I DONT KNOW If this is right but I just wanna see this working!
    Dear Jodi lets make this a work.
    Thank you again, hope to hear from you soon.

    Haroun’s mum

  3. Castissima says:

    Hi Jodi
    W:hat are the procedures to follow if one from out of America wants to attend /do presentation in Picasso Einstein and Trailblazing2017:


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