Office worker in wheelchairApparently, Walgreens is sort of the “poster child” for hiring workers with disabilities. And this selection process seems to be paying off for the drug store chain.

According to an article on, since 2007, Walgreens “has hired those with disabilities not out of magnanimous charity but for the competitive advantage in employing disabled workers.”

Studies of Walgreens’s experience at a few distribution centers show disabled workers are more efficient and loyal than nondisabled workers. Absenteeism has gone down, turnover is less, and safety statistics are up. And the cost of accommodating such workers with new technologies and education is minimal.

The story also explains how Walgreens plans to have disabled workers account for at least one-fourth if its workforce and notes how more than 100 executives from major U.S. corporations have toured Walgreens’ distribution centers where one-third of workers have disabilities.

So, is Walgreens’ example and “success” enough to make a case for increasing the number of disabled workers in your business?

In its recent report, “A Better Bottom Line: Employing People with Disabilities,” the National Governors Association (NGA) also offers a few stats about disabled workers’ impacting the workforce:

  • People with disabilities bring valuable skills to the workforce. For example, more than 600,000 scientists and engineers currently employed in the United States have disabilities.
  • Some of the top innovators in the United States have disabilities, including the chief executive officers of Ford Motor Company, Apple, Xerox, and Turner Television.
  • As of 2011, an estimated 204,189 civilian federal government employees, or approximately 11 percent, had disabilities—as do thousands of state employees across the country.

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, a person is considered to have a “disability” if he or she “has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, has a record of such an impairment, or is regarded as having such an impairment.”

Living with a disability can be difficult, and this hardship oftentimes transfers over into the job search. According to the NGA report, of the estimated 54 million Americans living with a disability, just 20 percent are employed or seeking employment, compared to almost 70 percent of Americans without a disability.

And even when employed (and despite the disability discrimination act, disabled workers can still sometimes face discrimination. An NBC News report found that multiple franchises of the Goodwill Industries nonprofit didn’t even pay their disabled workers $1/hr. A store in Fort Worth, Texas, paid 14 of its disabled workers 4 cents an hour and another 10 disabled employees just 10 cents an hour. In 2008, a location in Fairfield, Ohio, paid a worker a mere 3 cents an hour to hang clothes.

After reading these stories and stats I wondered just how many businesses make it appealing for disabled workers to apply for positions? How many companies actually consider if their marketing tactics and hiring techniques will attract job seekers who have disabilities?

And on the flip side, how many companies’ job descriptions, application questions, interview processes and marketing efforts actually repel disabled workers? Have you ever taken the time to ask yourself, “Does my business welcome disabled workers? Do our best practices truly reflect an EOE?”

I think of my cousin who just discovered she and her husband are expecting and my sister who has a mild case of narcolepsy. Both of their conditions could be considered disabilities as they both can (eventually) interfere with their work. Do companies make it easy, comfortable and “welcoming” for them to apply for positions or even disclose this information during the hiring process? Or do businesses often (and indirectly) force them to hide their conditions for fear of discrimination?

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