A few years ago I remember going to McDonalds and the cahier taking my order had Down-Syndrome. He did the job perfectly, it was almost too good! I had never received such great service from a McDonald’s employee before.
As I got to thinking about it, I wondered why McDonald’s didn’t hire more people with disabilities? McDonald’s system is a poka-yoke (fail-safe), they’ve broken down the process into something so easy, that now even people that are handicapped can do it, and they can do it well. A realized a company really only needs to make minor adjustments to accommodate people with disabilities. Essentially, making a process (or part of a process) mistake-proof and/or eliminating certain steps can allow a company to have a person with limited abilities to perform the job function. Such would not make a huge impact on the company’s business model, but it would make all the difference in the life of a disabled person.
A few years ago Walgreens opened a new distribution center in Windsor, Connecticut designed specifically to employ people with disabilities. People who were disabled filled about one-third of the jobs. This action shows Walgreen’s long-term commitment to hiring people with disabilities. Walgreens understands that the growth of the conventional labor pool is declining and workforce ages and disability rates are increasing. Walgreens also realizes the true benefits that exist from supporting the abilities of this regularly underemployed group.
What might these benefits be? Fore starters, there are substantial tax benefits for hiring workers with disabilities. In addition, companies have the satisfaction of providing opportunities to people that will expand their individual potential and self-worth. What’s interesting is that the disabled population is one that any person can become a member of at anytime, and more people are likely to join this population as our workforce ages. Nearly 13 percent of people ages 21 to 64 are considered disabled, this percentage jumps to 30 percent for people between the ages of 65 to 74. Further, the number of people disabled over the age of 75 is 53 percent. In understanding these numbers and realizing that our workforce will be working longer, it would be a wise choice to start making accommodations now for people with disabilities, and those who will eventually become disabled.
Walgreens is an example of a successful company that makes it a priority to create a company culture that embraces and encourages diversity. In order for such a culture to be adopted, Employers need a paradigm shift when it comes to viewing people with disabilities.
It starts with reassessing how work, productivity and accommodation can come together. Walgreens didn't lower its standards for productivity; rather it made the work more natural through the use of technology and job redesign. In one instance keyboards were replaced with touch screens that had large icons and no words, which made it easier for people with cognitive disabilities to learn and complete tasks.
Paul Hill, Ph.D.
I design, plan, and evaluate economic development programs for Utah State University.
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