Friday, September 6, 2013

Finding a Better Bottom Line

At the end of last week's post, I mentioned the new plan to increase the number of people with disabilities employed by companies that do business with the federal government. While this plan has a solid philanthropic base, companies like Walgreens are hiring more people with disabilities not out of moral obligation, but because it's economically sound.

Right now, companies are typically asked to employ people with disabilities out of kindness or civic responsibility. Even the aforementioned federal plan is more focused on philanthropy than smart business planning. Governor Jack Markell of Delaware thinks this mindset will soon change, and he hopes to galvanize that change with his blueprint, “A Better Bottom Line: Employing Individuals with Disabilities”.

Governor Markell talked with CEO of Walgreens, Greg Wasson, about his high percentage of employees with disabilities. Approximately 50 percent of employees at Walgreens distribution centers in Connecticut and South Carolina have some sort of mental or physical disability, and Wasson says it's no accident. Those centers perform as well as, if not better than, any other Walgreens facility. Markell also talked to Neill Christopher, vice president of Maryland company Acadia Windows and Doors. Christopher says that although he was at first reluctant to hire his first employee with a disability for fear that window manufacturing would pose too great a danger, he is now happy to report that six out of 60 employees have disabilities, and the company is operating more safely than ever. He also points out that, along with increased safety, his new employees make the company kinder.

Further, Computer Aid, Inc., an IT company, recently pledged to make people with autism three percent of their consultant base, and global software company, SAP, has also recognized that because of their focus and attention to detail, people with autism often excel at software testing.

After talking with company heads and seeing firsthand the gratitude and happiness of employed members of the disabled community, Markell teamed up with Governor Dennis Daugaard of South Dakota, who happens to be a CODA (child of deaf adults), to devise a blueprint that gives governors the necessary tools to increase employment within the disabled community. Markell says the real focus of the blueprint is on the ability and not the disability. (Three cheers for that!) He foresees the Department of Labor partnering with companies who are looking for employees with certain skills, disabled or not. It's what they are able to do that matters.

The blueprint also includes plans for better preparing youths with disabilities, hopefully encouraging employment and more independence through education and access to career opportunities and exploration.

Markell says the plan is a win-win. Employers will have qualified, specialized employees, and those employees will gain a certain sense of pride and fulfillment. Additionally, Markell notes that taxpayers also win as fewer people rely on benefits and join the workforce themselves.

I think the best part about this is that it seems so direct: the plan looks straight past disability and squarely at ability. That sounds like simple logic to me.

What do you think about this blueprint? Do you think it will catch on?

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