Everyday Heroes: Beaverton baker Carina Comer's vision for inclusion
In this week's Everyday Heroes, we reconnect with Carina Comer, a legally blind vegan baker who opened her Beaverton shop a year ago.
Since then, Comer has doubled her staff of workers who are legally blind, like she is, and expanded her unique brand of baked goods.
In just under a year, Carina's Bakery and its Scandinavian delicacies has grown as customers discovered her small shop.
What hasn't changed is her dedication to hiring visually impaired or disabled workers.
“I think they’re assets,” Comer said from behind the counter of her bakery. “I hire people with physical and mental challenges who want to work but might have a barrier to work at least in the eyes of other employers.
“I take them in and find something that showcases their talent and abilities.”
Brain tumors began to rob Comer of her sight as a young child.
“I have about this much field vision,” Comer said, holding her hands together about two inches apart. “So, I have no peripheral or depth vision. No vision or light in my left eye at all. But the field that I do have is pretty clear.”
Her employees rely on shortcuts and tools to make the job easier, including a talking cash register.
“They can just quickly find it, get an audio response that they’ve gotten the right thing -- off they go, ringing up a sale,” she said.
There are also small stick-on buttons on the coffee maker.
“On all of our equipment, we have tactile dots and part of the training is what means what,” she said.
And talking measurement scales.
It also helps to keep everything in the same place day-to-day.
We try to keep the layout the same, so that every employee knows where the ingredient bins are, which one’s which. And where spices are and scoops and all of the tools that they need.”
For Jenny Howell -- legally blind since birth -- it's her first job working in food service.
She relishes the challenge.
“All the rigors and standards and procedures of food service, it’s a lot to take in, especially in the first year of doing it,” Howell said. “It’s a lot of fun -- challenge and fun.”
She wishes, however, that other employers would embrace workers like Carina Comer has.
“Try not to judge a book by their cover before they walk in,” Howell said. “OK, just because we may be lacking in one sense does not mean that we are dumb and we’re mute or we’re unintelligent.
“There’s like a 70-percent unemployment rate with the blind and visually impaired. So, I don’t want to be a statistic. I want to be part of the 30 percent who is willing to make a difference.”
Carina tells us that with the recent closure of the Beaverton Bakery, customers will discover her and her staff's baked creations, including the bestselling almond cake.
Carina's bakery celebrates its anniversary this Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.