How employing people with disabilities transformed a business

We read this story by Joseph Sunde a few days ago on ActonPowerBlog and thought it was well worth sharing. Joseph himself was responding to a news story  that appeared recently in Christianity Today:

I was…heartened to read the story of Randy Lewis, a senior vice president at Walgreens, whose son, Austin, faced similar obstacles as someone with autism, but who responded by creating new opportunities for Austin and others like him. Lewis outlines the full story in his book,No Greatness without Goodness, but offers a good summary in a recent article for Christianity Today,

In that article Lewis writes,

“As a parent and an employer, I saw the obstacles that people with disabilities face in securing employment. They may not be able to get through the on-line application process, may not interview well, may not be able to learn the way we are used to training, may have inconsistency in their employment history. They face death by a thousand cuts. And the unkindest cut? The belief by 99.999% of us that people with disabilities really cannot do any job as well as a typically-abled person.

Watching my son progress taught me that we underestimate the abilities and contribution of people on the margins. Seeing the way Austin is dismissed or ignored by others gave me the courage to stand up for those who are unjustly overlooked and ignored. Loving my son helped me understand the pain of parents everywhere who lie in bed at night worrying about what will happen to their children after they are gone. A job could change the arc of a life. A job could provide independence. It could mean friends and a social life. A job could be a source of satisfaction and purpose.”

Because of Lewis’ position with Walgreens, he was able to encourage Walgreens to build a new distribution center it was planning with the goal of employing 200 people with disabilities:

This was the chance I’d been waiting for,” he writes. “Why couldn’t we build this super center in such a way that people with disabilities would be able to perform as well as anyone in the world?

And build it they did, with the eventual goal of employing 200 people with disabilities, each of whom would perform “the same jobs, held to the same standards, earning the same pay” as everyone else.

What happened? As Lewis tells it:

Employing people with disabilities unleashed a tremendous source of creativity – the kind that can only come from a lifetime of having to learn how to do things differently because you can’t do things like everyone else. Everyone benefited, not just people with disabilities.

We learned a lot about employing people with disabilities effectively. More importantly, we learned a lot as leaders and we learned a lot about ourselves.We found that we were all better people than we thought we were – more resourceful and more compassionate, more willing to work together and more intent on bringing out the best in all of us.

This was a success because it tapped into that deep longing in each of us to become part of something bigger than ourselves and to leave the world a better place. That inborn desire is a great force just waiting to be set free. Not only in private life but in the work world. And as this story shows, business can do good and be profitable too.

Hop on over to the PowerBlog to check out the rest of the story, links to Lewis’ book and article, and to other resources and related posts on this topic.  We ran a post by Jordan Ballor on the issue in this space a while ago, too.

Image: “I’m Powered by Disability” by Alexandre Moreau, used under a Creative Commons license.

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