September 15, 2016
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Ready, willing, and disabled

For warehouses struggling with a labor shortage, the solution may lie in an untapped resource: the disabled.

By David Maloney

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month. Congress chose October for the annual observance in 1988 to bring attention to the employment needs of people with all types of disabilities.

Many would be surprised at just how difficult it is for the disabled to find work. The Labor Department's Office of Disability Employment Policy releases statistics each month on how many disabled people are employed compared with people without disabilities. In August, for example, the unemployment rate for people without disabilities was 4.8 percent, while the rate for those with disabilities was more than double that, at 11.3 percent.

Many would say that such a high unemployment rate for the disabled is understandable, reasoning that job performance concerns might deter those with disabilities from seeking work. Yet according to Cornell University's Disability Statistics website, that is not the case. It states that in 2014, "an estimated 9.2 percent of non-institutionalized persons aged 21 to 64 years with a disability in the United States who were not working, were actively looking for work."

So, we have a group of people who are willing to work but can't find jobs. At the same time, we have warehouses and DCs that are in need of skilled workers. I think I see a match here.

A couple of years ago, I visited a Walgreens DC in Anderson, S.C., to shoot two segments for our Move It! video program. Walgreens has long had an inclusion program, and at the time of my visit, more than 40 percent of the workers in Anderson had mental or physical disabilities.

This facility was designed with a few modifications to enable the disabled to work side by side with their able-bodied colleagues. Most are aimed at helping people with cognitive disabilities adapt to the operations. For example, instead of naming pick zones by long strings of numbers, Walgreens named them after animals, vegetables, and snack foods to help workers find stock locations more easily. I have to admit, it is a lot more fun going to the cheeseburger zone than to aisle 7, rack 4.

It is not difficult to adapt facilities to meet the needs of the disabled. And while this is good social policy, it is also good for business. Walgreens quickly found Anderson to be its most productive DC. The employees there are more dependable than the typical DC worker, and turnover has proved to be half that of other Walgreens facilities.

In a time when it is difficult to find good workers for our DCs, don't exclude what might possibly be **ital{your} most productive work force.

For information on hiring persons with disabilities, visit the Office of Disability Employment Policy website.

About the Author

David Maloney
Editorial Director
David Maloney has been a journalist for more than 35 years and is currently the editorial director for DC Velocity and Supply Chain Quarterly magazines. In this role, he is responsible for the editorial content of both brands of Agile Business Media. Dave joined DC Velocity in April of 2004. Prior to that, he was a senior editor for Modern Materials Handling magazine. Dave also has extensive experience as a broadcast journalist. Before writing for supply chain publications, he was a journalist, television producer and director in Pittsburgh. Dave combines a background of reporting on logistics with his video production experience to bring new opportunities to DC Velocity readers, including web videos highlighting top distribution and logistics facilities, webcasts and other cross-media projects. He continues to live and work in the Pittsburgh area.

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