Steps with Theera: A coffee shop for a cause

Rea Gierran
Steps with Theera: A coffee shop for a cause
This vocational training center in Bangkok aims to provide job opportunities for people with special needs

The hiring process has evolved. 

With companies using applicant tracking systems, an automated recruiting framework that screen resumes based solely on keyword usage, finding a job has become more difficult now more than ever.

Aside from the skills and experience needed to get a job, employers have also been keeping an eagle eye on other factors such as personality, temperament, culture, and opportunity for advancement which makes job seekers’ chances slimmer.

What more for people who are differently abled? 

Max Simpson, one of the founders of Steps with Theera, a vocational training center for people with special needs, saw this pressing problem when he was working at an international special needs school in Bangkok. 

“There’s little opportunity for students to move into employment at age 18,” she said.

When Max started bringing her students to a small, gluten-free bakery close to her school, she saw the potential in creating an environment which can demonstrate what people with special needs are capable of achieving.

This bakery was owned by Theera, who opened the shop to be able to spend more time with her son who has autism.

Having a younger brother who was also diagnosed with autism, Max was determined to give a fair chance to people with special needs. So, she quit her job at the school and partnered with Theera to create Thailand’s first social enterprise providing vocational training to adults with learning disabilities. 

CO-FOUNDERS. Max Simpson and Theera 'Uang' Hotrakitya work together to help people with special disabilities show what they can contribute to the society.

They offer a mix of hands-on and theory-based learning. Steps with Theera utilizes the coffee shop setup as a platform for them to learn transferable skills such as communication, interaction, following instructions, and problem solving. 

They can also spend the day working in the office, learning to code a website, and creating designs for T-shirts to be sold in their online shop. Max and Theera match the activities with their trainees’ skills to make their experience sustainable and fulfilling. 

Asked how Steps with Theera is different from other institutions that help differently abled people, Max said that they try to ensure they work with all stakeholders as they believe that it’s the key to success.

“For us, this includes our trainees, their families, our employment partners, and society. To achieve employment equality, we need to work with, support, train and connect these stakeholders,” Max said.

Steps with Theera partners with companies to provide work experience, internships, and ultimately, a paid, regular job to their trainees. 

Just recently, 3 of their students started an internship at the Hyatt Regency, their newest employment partner.

INCLUSIVE EMPLOYER. Hyatt Regency Bangkok Sukhumvit recently hired 3 of Steps with Theera's trainees for internship.

“All of Steps’ graduates have transitioned into sustainable paid employment. Over the past year, we have had trainees move into employment in admin positions, shop workers, baristas, tech admin, and bakery staff. Success is measured in different ways but when they get their first pay slip, that’s one of the magical moments,” she said. 

Steps with Theera plans to open a few more sustainable businesses in the next few months, including a zero-waste shop.

SUSTAINABLE BUSINESS. Steps with Theera plans to open a zero-waste shop to extend their reach and help more people.

If you’re in Thailand and you’d like to collaborate with Steps with Theera or enroll your friend or family member to train with them, send an email to 


#GoodRap is a weekly column that aims to feature lighthearted yet meaningful stories from here and around the globe. We hope this provides an oasis for anyone who wants to take a quick escape from the gloom and doom of the everyday world.




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