HIRE LEARNING

While We’re Getting People with Disabilities Back to Work, We’ve Still Got Some Ways to Go

By , July 14, 2011

BusinessWeek.com published an article, Getting People with Disabilities Back to Work (July 6, 2011), that started off with the right message. It referenced several Fortune 500s (AT&T, Cisco Systems, Microsoft, Walgreens) that are trying to employ the disabled. Still, out of all the companies mentioned, Walgreens is the only company that’s able to speak about tangible hiring programs. That’s because Walgreens opened a distribution center in South Carolina that hires mostly people with autism and intellectual disabilities. They accommodated these workers and measured their productivity levels against other centers, and were surprised to learn that the S.C. location was one of the top three productive centers in the U.S. for the company. I’ve heard Randy Lewis, senior vice-president of supply chain and logistics at Walgreens, speak about this program, and it’s pretty impressive. Lewis has an autistic son.

If companies want to enjoy the accolades and brand polishing they believe they deserve for hiring the disabled, they need to put real programs in place, measure their results, and package it for public consumption. For example, Walgreens aims to increase hiring of people with disabilities to about 20 percent of its U.S. distribution center workers, up from around 10 percent in 2010.

The article mentions an upcoming career fair in New Jersey that many blue-chip companies are participating in; I’ve yet to glean hard data from a career fair — few people in the industry keep track of results. Measurement might include how many hires were made, how they were accommodated, how the candidates have progressed within the company, and how their contributions have boosted a company’s overall strategic goals.

I liked the mention of Lockheed Martin’s wounded warriors program; defense contractors like Lockheed need to hire veterans and the disabled in order to win federal contracts. So while we’re handing out laurels, we should also give the government, particularly the Dept. of Labor, a shout-out for working to enforce these regulations. Real programs, tangible results; that’s how you build and solidify your reputation as a forward-thinking company that wants to employ and reach the disability demographic.

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Author: Suzanne Robitaille

Suzanne Robitaille is the founder of abledbody.com, a website on disability issues. She is the former assistive technology columnist for BusinessWeek.com, giving rise to her fascination with technology that helps people with disabilities surmount barriers in the workplace and life space. She is also the author of The Illustrated Guide to Assistive Technology & Devices. As a writer and blogger, Suzanne is a trusted source of disability information for The Wall Street Journal, ABC News, HealthDay, Media Post, Ability Magazine, Disaboom and more. Suzanne lost her hearing at age four and grew up profoundly deaf. In 2002 she received a cochlear implant, which she credits as "the ultimate assistive technology."