I first heard Bailey’s story, and the story of Bailey’s Bike Bites, through a member of the Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox & Addington, Youth Employment Support (KFL&A YES) collective. After a little research I found this article from the Kingstonist from earlier this summer, and I was immediately hooked!
Bailey is seventeen years old with autism and is non-verbal, but he’s accomplished more than most teens already! Along with his father, Aaron Visser, Bailey has been running a bicycle ice cream business akin to the old Dickey Dee bikes you may remember from your youth! Admittedly, my youth was more than a while ago, so I’ll forgive the reader if you’re not familiar with the Dickey Dee phenomena that was so big in the 1970s and 1980s (though it began in the 1960s).
The YES member who first told me about the story provided contact information and I reached out to Bailey’s mother, Amber Potter, to learn more. What follows is a transcription of our conversation. At the end of the interview, I will share Bailey’s advice for other young people looking to start and sustain a business, as well as Amber’s perspective as a parent.
1. Tell me about how this amazing business came about.
Bailey has two siblings about his age who both have jobs. Bailey also was interested in finding something he would enjoy that could also earn him money. Bailey had been part of the school-to-community program at Frontenac Secondary School, and throughout most of his high school career had been part of the school’s ‘Coffee Club’. As part of this program, Bailey would deliver pre-ordered coffee and baked goods to the teachers, and learned cleaning and organization skills.
In the Spring of this year, Bailey was supposed to have a co-operative education (co-op) position in a local movie theatre – something he was very excited about – but then the pandemic struck and the co-op options disappeared. At around this time, I came across an old ice cream bike in Facebook marketplace. Now, I know Bailey loves being active and if it was up to him he would be doing something outside all day long. So, I saw the possibility and contacted the Facebook ad immediately. Unfortunately, it had already sold, but the idea stuck.
We have a family friend who had actually owned one of these carts in the past and we learned a lot from him about licensing and insurance requirements, and he ended up lending us his bike! We then followed up with the City of Kingston to learn about the health inspection process. Bailey got his business license and began his new journey at the beginning of August! Once the article from the Kingstonist came out, the business blew up! People began actually driving to the West end to meet up with Bailey! I think people were working from home and really in need of a good news story. Bailey’s Bike Bites became one of those feel good stories people respond to.
2. Tell me more about what happened after the article in the Kingstonist.
Well, Rob Driscoll is a local magician and he does a lot of local work and does a lot of networking. He heard about Bailey and wanted to help raise money for a vinyl wrap on the bike with a proper logo. Then, when he realized that we did not own the bike, he led a raffle to help raise money so Bailey could own the bike. Local businesses chipped in to offer things for the raffle and a company has offered to do the vinyl wrap for free! It’s been amazing!
3. What does Bailey sell?
We started with ice cream, popsicles, freezies, ice cream sandwiches and drumsticks, but we’ve been trying to introduce more local products like County Bounty soda, and Loon Kombucha. This fall we introduced Nanaimo bars, cheesecake, and other baked goods like butter tarts.
4. Is Bailey alone when he goes out or with someone?
He’s always with his Dad Aaron who handles the money. We always say that Bailey does the pushing and Aaron does the talking! Aaron is a computer and electrical engineer and he’s working on a solution to give Bailey more independence. Bailey uses an Ipad to speak and Aaron is working on a way to make the Ipad into a calculator and voice relay that would allow Bailey to enter the order and calculate the total amount owing. Aaron is also researching the possibility of adapting the change machine used in vending machines so that Bailey can enter the amount owing, get paid, and the change would be distributed to the customer automatically.
5. What has been the impact of the business on Bailey?
His self-confidence has gone through the roof, and he loves the feeling of any level of independence. As he gets older he is more and more aware of his autism and exceptionality. His brother works at McDonald’s and his sister at Starbucks, and he has been really aware of how his exceptionality sets him back a bit.
Bailey used to use sign-language and then he got his machine augmented communication device. This allowed him to go into a coffee shop and order something on his own, which in turn enhanced his self-confidence in a huge way.
The fact that he is able to bike a 350-pound cart for 12 km a day with difficult steering is something that amazes me, and he is proud of it. All the kids in our house do chores and know how to cook. There are no excuses for exceptionality when it comes to this. And with his business, he gets up early in the morning and stocks the cart with his father. Responsibility and confidence go together.
6. Bailey has non-verbal autism. Did this create some challenges in starting and carrying out the business? If so, what strategies/solutions did you use to overcome them?
The biggest challenge is a social barrier. People recognize that Bailey doesn’t speak but they don’t realize that he can understand them. Aaron is always really good at redirecting people to place their order with Bailey. A second challenge was that none of the kids in the neighborhood knew what an ice cream bike was. He couldn’t call out to the kids to advertise his product, but once they figured it out it was a lot easier for Bailey to take it from there.
7. What is the future of the business?
Bailey loves meeting new people and hanging out with Aaron. He wants to keep this going for himself, but he also wants to expand his business and buy another bike for another young person with an exceptionality. Bailey has proven it can work, and he wants this to carry on for years to come!
8. Does Bailey have a career/business goal other than BBB (for instance, something that he can do in the fall and winter?)
We are looking at some different options that would allow Bailey to continue to stay active and stay mobile.
Something like a sled with coffee and baked goods to bring to office buildings?
That’s a great idea! We may have to look into that.
9. Does Bailey have any advice for other kids that want to start their own business or transition from school to work?
When I asked Bailey the question, it was hard for him to articulate exactly. He just kept saying "to work" and to "get help". I think that is a fair assessment though. Bailey never doubts his own ability. He knows what he is capable of and he doesn't let obstacles get in the way of the things he loves to do. He keeps practicing. He also isn't afraid to ask for help when he needs it which, helps us a lot because I think that most people want to help but don't know how. I also think about how many neurotypical people are prevented from doing something because they won't ask for help. It is a great ability to have.
10. Do you, as a parent, have any advice for parents of youth with an exceptionality transitioning from school?
Dealing with exceptionality is about finding strengths and passion versus limitations. I know it is hard to transition out of high school for students and for parents. My advice is not to be afraid to at least try. Our family are just doers. That is who we are. We are not afraid to try things and have things fail miserably. When you make mistakes, you know something doesn’t work and you try something else. Don’t allow yourself to lose hope, and just keep trying things.
Also I like when people use the word ‘exceptionality’ rather than ‘disability’ – it sounds more empowering. There is a finality to the word ‘disabled’ suggesting you will never be able to do that thing you want to do. Exceptionality suggests you might need to work differently but we can figure out a way to do that.
I also think that about terms like ‘autism spectrum’. I feel like this is a label that neuro-typical people need to use to fit someone with an exceptionality into boxes that make sense to them. High functioning seems to fit into those boxes, whereas those on the lower levels of the spectrum are sometimes not in peoples’ comfort zones. I think we always need to challenge words. Words have a lot of power and we need to be really intentional about how we use them.
A couple of days after the interview, Amber let me know that Bailey would be coming down my street on his bike later that afternoon. She even provided me with the link to the Bailey’s Bike Bites Facebook page (just search Bailey’s Bike Bites and you’ll find it) and I was able to track Bailey’s movements throughout the day. I had the pleasure of meeting Bailey and Aaron, and sampling some of their delicious wares – though my nine-year-old daughter somehow managed to get most of the treats! It turns out this was the last day of work for the summer, and Bailey was already missing the ride. I for one can’t wait for spring 2021 when Bailey bikes down our street again! My daughter and I are going to make it one of our traditions to get our ice cream from Bailey. I welcome all of you to do the same.
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