BY RICHARD SEVEN
WORK MATTERS. It helps put food on the
table and clothes on our backs. It connects us
to the evolving world. It develops and a;rms
our identities. Even when it feels like a slog,
work engages us and shapes our potential.
When you have a disability, work can
mean even more.
Bob Brookens has cerebral palsy and is
quadriplegic and nonverbal. Yet he performs
quality-control assurance work for Direct
Interactions, a Seattle-based call center out-sourcing company. With the help of assistive
technology, a job coach, schedule ;exibility, a
caring family and a strong will, Brookens, 44,
has held the job for ;ve years.
Paige Bisbee, 23, has a severe intellectual
disability and doesn’t speak, but she distributes supplies and snacks to workers at the law
o;ce of Davis Wright Tremaine in Bellevue,
Washington. She wears a blue apron and an
ear-to-ear smile as she pushes her cart about
the o;ce. She loves work.
In fact, many more people across the
country with physical and intellectual challenges are earning wages and developing
potential by performing a wide range of tasks,
from cleaning to food services to retail to computing. So what does “supportive employment”
or “inclusive employment” do for employers?
O;en, companies get workers who bring
low rates of absenteeism and a high will to
perform. ;ese businesses can improve e;-ciency by reconfiguring workflow so bet-ter-paid and more highly trained workers can
skip the simpler tasks. ;ey also o;en report
higher morale within the sta;, goodwill from
customers and improved workforce retention.
In some cases, they can qualify for tax credits.
In other words, it is just good business.
Finding the right ;t
Still, it takes work upfront to make sure a
job is the right ;t for all involved. In 2013,
Deb Loken Zaha, office administrator for
Paige Bisbee distributes supplies
and snacks as part of an inclusive
employment program at a law
;rm in Bellevue, Washington.
Davis Wright Tremaine, was asked by a partner at the ;rm to consider hiring an applicant
with a developmental disability. She agreed to
the meeting, but was tentative.
“While I thought this was an interesting
idea, I had some concerns,” Loken Zaha
acknowledges. “How can I bring in an em-
ployee with developmental disabilities with-
out it being a distraction and a;ecting pro-
ductivity in our o;ce? Will our lawyers and
sta; embrace such a program, and what can
we expect from our new employee? Will he or
she enjoy the work?”
She eventually hired the applicant, who
was represented by Bellevue-based At Work!
atworkwa.org), one of several nonprofit
agencies in the region that help people with
physical and intellectual disabilities find,
train for and succeed in jobs. A;er a few
years on the job, the applicant “graduated”
to a full-time food-services job at Microso;.
;e worker’s success emboldened Loken
Companies, and workers, benefit from inclusive employment
Special needs, special jobs
OUR DIGITAL EDITIONS
Click here for an example
of inclusion at Costco (Part 1).
(See page 11 for details.)