Articles on employment

Burger 55, an Inclusive Success

posted on the  Penticton Herald website
Posted: Tuesday, November 25, 2014 10:08 am | Updated: 6:25 pm, Sun Nov 30, 2014.

The hiring process was super easy”, shares, Chris. “I was approached by Penny and Brian, and jumped on the opportunity to give them a chance to work with us. Kevin came by through a different program and it failed so we decided to sign them up through the Neil Squire Society.”

My body is sore a lot, sometimes it slows me down a bit”, says Penny, who has fibromyalgia. Despite her disability, she has been a long-time volunteer in her community as a canvasser for the Canadian Cancer Society and the Paraplegic Society, and as a sewing teacher for the Brain Injury Society. Penny was seeking a paying job that would allow her to work 2 to 3 hours a day, and give her the flexibility she required with her disability. Burger 55 was a good fit. Penny was a bottle recycler for years at Burger 55, before being hired to take on janitorial duties, “I worked my way into the job,” says Penny, “Chris hired me because I would go that extra mile!” Chris describes Penny as a “hard worker who has been in the Burger 55 family for over 2 years now.” Chris adds, “She has always helped out, even before being officially hired.”

Brian has a brain injury sustained in a car accident in 2000, osteoarthritis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and celiac disease. “For eight years, I had to pick bottles and cans to make ends meet, to survive, until I found the Neil Squire Society,” he tells us. Brian took part in the Society’s Employ-Ability Program before joining the Working Together Program. Brian was seeking a job that suited him and his skill set. He found it at Burger 55. “I share janitorial duties with Penny,” says Brian. “My work consists of mopping and sweeping floors, bathrooms, the office and outdoor patio. Making sure the front of the restaurant is clean for customers,” says, Brian “I enjoy my work. I look forward every day to doing my part of making Burger 55 a great experience for the customers and for myself.” Brian is a “hard worker. He doesn’t put up with any nonsense and I can trust him with the business,” Chris tells us.

Kevin lives with developmental disabilities. Communicating his wants and needs, and dealing with the perception of others are daily struggles for him, and he can get frustrated when he’s not understood. Prior to landing his current job at Burger 55, Kevin worked at the Penticton Paper Shuffle where he recycled and shredded paper. He also volunteered at the Salvation Army filling food hampers, and at the Community Centre where he cleaned tables and chairs. Kevin does a variety of tasks at Burger 55, including portioning food, washing dishes, and breaking down boxes for recycling. All of Kevin’s work is done side by side with his job coach, Tracy, who works for Okanagan Inclusion. “Tracy is there to help me. She communicates my needs and wants. She sets up tasks so I can complete them successfully. She assists and guides me through challenges,”Kevin tells us. “Tracy is my advocate; she ensures my safety on the job, and she explains and listens while I communicate with others.”

Chris provides Penny, Brian, and Kevin with the flexibility they need due to their disabilities. “Chris has been great. He gives us a choice of what time of day we can work,” says, Brian. “If I take longer to do what I need, it’s ok,” agrees Penny. “I feel safe and comfortable in my work environment,” adds Kevin. “If a day off is needed, it’s accommodated. There’s no discrimination, only a welcoming team environment. I feel that I can be myself and humor is welcomed.” he says. “Both Penny and Brian always represent the business in a positive manner,” says Chris. “Kevin sure likes to talk and tell stories but he’s a hard worker as well and gets the job done”, he says.

Penny, Brian, and Kevin have benefitted greatly from their jobs at Burger 55. “I am able to buy better foods to eat healthier,” says Penny, when asked how employment has impacted her life. “Also, I’m able to treat my grandchild to outings and gifts”. Brian shares a similar sentiment, “this job has helped with my mental health and financial status. I don’t have to starve now, because gluten-free food costs a lot, and my bills are now paid on time.” Kevin agrees, “I have money to buy things I couldn’t afford before. I am very proud; I feel better and have improved self-worth. Chris, the owner is awesome. I feel that I am a valuable employee,” shares Kevin.


The Working Together Program helped to create a win-win situation for everyone involved. “It has allowed me to incorporate the extra help and provide a job for these people without really hurting my labor cost and bottom line,” says, Chris, “I look forward to a continuous relationship with the Neil Squire Society and I’m excited to see what else comes from it.”

So next time you’re in Penticton, stop by Burger 55 for a meal and support this business. Not only are they changing the lives of people with disabilities,but according to Kevin, “they have the best burgers in town!”

Coco Cafe in Cedar provides some unique employment opportunities


DECEMBER 11, 2014 12:00 AM
 Colin Cousins is grateful for the owners and staff at Cedar Opportunities Co-op Cafe for the opportunity to develop his work skills and become an active member of his community.

Cousins, who has a developmental disability, was hired part-time by the co-operative, also known as the Coco Cafe, when it opened three years ago.

The co-operative workplace was created as a community coffee shop that also gives local residents with development challenges on-the-job skills training.

Cousins works two days a week wiping shelves, doing dishes and helping with the catering end of the business. He said he learned about the Co-op Cafe and its employment opportunities while attending a day program sponsored by the Nanaimo Association for Community Living, which is committed to removing the barriers faced by individuals with developmental disabilities.

“It’s a great job and I highly recommend it,” he said while helping out with the busy lunch-hour rush. “I’m always looking for other opportunities, but I plan to stay here for awhile yet.”

Coco Cafe was founded by a group of families in the Cedar area, all of who have adult children with developmental disabilities. It currently has a staff of 10, some full time and others part time, that have development disabilities and often experience a substantial shortfall in support services and employment opportunities in the community.

Manager Melanie Cadden said the business is in the process of developing a new three-month work experience program for its new staff.

She said that while some of the participants in the program will likely be kept on after they are trained, the rest will have a good reference, work experience and help developing a resume in their efforts to find other employment after they complete the program.

“We have no sources of government funding and we figure the program will cost the business an additional $4,500 in costs, so we’re hoping the public will help by donating to help out and/or by sponsoring some of the new employees,” Cadden said. 250-729-4234

© Nanaimo Daily News

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Employment for People with Intellectual Disabilities; Addressing Parental Concernsheick-parents-19-questions

“To Work or Not to Work” is a question being asked by many individuals with disabilities and their family members as they begin to think about going to work in their local communities. This fact sheet addresses frequently asked questions by family members and provides answers to dispel the concerns. After reading this, family members should agree that the answer to the question: “To Work or Not to Work” is “To Work!”

Concern: I have been told that my son / daughter is not ready to work in the community.

Answer: Customized employment eliminates the need for a person to “get ready” to work. If your son / daughter wants to go to work, then it is time for him / her to go. A key aspect to customizing employment is finding work that matches your son’s / daughter’s interests and skills. Using this approach, an employment specialist or job coach works closely with a job seeker to negotiate a specific position that uses the person’s talents to match the needs of a business. The goal is not just to locate any job, but a job specifically negotiated that capitalizes on your son’s / daughter’s interests and abilities.

Concern: But, my son / daughter does not have the skills to meet the demands of a real job and needs training.    adultworking

Answer: Many people with significant disabilities do not transfer skills learned in one setting to another such as a workshop to a community business. One of the reasons is that it is difficult to simulate the features of a job in a setting that does not have coworkers and the demands of a real workplace. For instance, your son / daughter may be in a training program to learn how to work in an office. The participants in the program take turns completing tasks such as sorting mail, delivering messages, folding letters, and stuffing envelopes. However, typical position descriptions change from business to business. The way that one office prepares and delivers mail can be very different from another. The time spent learning the task in the training program would be better spent in the actual workplace where your son / daughter is employed.

Concern: The day program is a safe place, and I don’t think my son / daughter should be alone in a community job. He / she has never been without the support of the agency’s staff.

Answer: Looking for a “safe” place to work is also part of the customized employment process. First, “safe” needs to be defined in relationship to your son’s / daughter’s support needs. For example, a person who has a history of walking out of any door at home or the day support may have a very different safety concern than the person who just lacks community based experiences. In some instances a workplace that limits access to the outside or machinery may be warranted. Another person may just need to have a little extra support from a coworker.

Your safety concerns will be taken into consideration when negotiating work. It is only natural for you to be concerned about your sons or daughter’s welfare. For example, part of the negotiations might include arranging for some additional supervision or creating a job where your son / daughter works alongside a coworker who is aware of the support need. Once again, a job coach would work closely with an employer to negotiate a job that minimizes your son’s / daughter’s disability and provides the workplace supports necessary for him / her to be successful.

Concern: How would my son / daughter learn the skills in the workplace?  

Answer: Key to the negotiation process is the employer’s willingness to support whatever your son / daughter needs to become successful at work. For example, sometimes a job applicant with a disability will need more skills training than the employer is able to provide. In such a case, a trainer sometimes called an employment specialist will go to work with the individual and provide additional on-the-job training. Or perhaps, the person needs to use an assistive technology device to get the job done like using a reaching device to pull items off of a high shelf. Another job applicant may need a modification in a company’s policy that would allow him / her to work a flexible schedule. Workplace supports vary from individual to individual and are tailored specifically to meet the needs of an individual in a customized job. At the end of the process, when the deal is struck, the result is a custom made job for your son / daughter.

Concern: I don’t know what kind of job my son / daughter would like.

Answer: A job coach or employment specialist will spend time getting to know your son / daughter as well as your family. For instance, an employment specialist may spend time with him / her in the community doing preferred leisure activities, talking with family members, meeting with friends who know your son / daughter well, and so forth. The time will be spent discovering his / her interests, abilities, and support needs.

Occasionally there still may be uncertainty about what your son / daughter might like to do. If this happens, several types of jobs will be identified that appear to match your son’s / daughter’s expressed work interests. Then, he / she can have a brief work experience; perhaps 3 – 4 hours within each job type, to more specifically identify his / her work preferences and support needs. This information will be used to customize a job on your son’s / daughter’s behalf.

Now prepared, the personal agent or employment specialist will begin to identify potential places of employment in the local business community. You may even be asked if you know employers in your network that would be willing to support a person with a disability in the workplace. The agent will meet with employers to learn more about the business and specific needs of the company. Whenever an employer has some suitable opportunities that match your son’s / daughter’s specific interests and needs, the job negotiation process will begin.

A good customized job individualizes the employment relationship between employees and employers in ways that meet the needs of both. A proposal will be prepared for the employer’s consideration that will highlight your son’s / daughter’s abilities and how he / she can bring value to the business. Once a proposal has been made and both the job applicant and employer agree to the proposal, a work start date will be set.

Concern: How will my son / daughter get to work?

Answer: A critical aspect to customizing a job for your son / daughter will be finding work opportunities at locations where transportation will not present a barrier. Every situation is different. For example, some people may travel to work using public transportation, while others, ride with co-workers, take specialized transportation services, or walk. There is a Compass card available for $45 per year that entitles them to ride the bus.

Part of getting to know your son / daughter will be exploring various transportation options. This information is vital to the strategic plan for customizing employment, since it influences the scheduling requirements and the work location. For instance, your son / daughter may have access to the public bus system, but lack the skills needed to get to the bus stop and ride the bus alone. In this case, a trainer can teach your son / daughter how to get to and from the job on the bus. Or, another option might be that the place of business is on a friend’s route to and from work. This could become part of the employment negotiation process. For example, employment negotiations may center a round a specific work schedule that would allow the person to work a schedule that matches the friend’s daily commute times.

If you are not comfortable with these options, we can determine if there is a specialized transportation service in the community that can offer door-to-door service. Or, perhaps a college student or senior citizen would like to earn extra money providing transportation. You can be assured that the support needs of your son / daughter will be met so that everyone feels comfortable. He / she will not be left alone until the skills to get to and from work independently have been demonstrated.

Concern: But, that would cost extra money. I don’t imagine that he / she would be making very much work2

Answer: Your son / daughter would be making at least minimum wage or more based on what other workers earn who are performing similar job duties. The amount would be negotiated with the employer at the time of hire and again during the course of employment for pay raises.

Concern: Well, that raises another serious concern! My son / daughter can’t lose PWD benefits and Medical/ Dental. The reality is that he / she needs the benefits and health care coverage.

Answer: if your son / daughter is receiving Persons with Disability benefits (PWD), he / she would be able to make $800 per month before any deductions from PWD, then it would be reduced dollar for dollar for how much they earn. Just as if you were receiving Employment Benefits and were working, but less than before and you would have it deducted from your EI.

Once your child is approved for PWD they can always go back on their PWD if they lose their job. They are eligible to keep their medical and dental as long as they don’t get benefits from their job.

Concern: My son / daughter has friends in the extended employment program. Going to work would mean losing those friends.

Answer: If the opportunity to make friends is important to your son / daughter, then this along with other key information would be taken into consideration during negotiations with employers. Every workplace culture is different. For instance, some are friendly and others are not. To understand the workplace culture, the person representing your son / daughter would ask the employer questions and look for signs that the workplace is friendly and supportive. For example, employees who appear to be enjoying their jobs may signal a pleasant place to work.

Developing a good fit between a person and the social characteristics of a workplace is as important as learning how to perform a job. Many people with significant disabilities report making new friends at work and an overall, satisfaction with employment. Your son / daughter would have support establishing relationships with coworkers. Social activities that are available to other employees would also be available to him / her. Going to work also does not mean that your son or daughter has to give up friends from the workshop. They can still socialize outside of the workshop setting. Working should expand his / her social opportunities and not limit them.

Concern: What if my son / daughter loses the job? Can he / she go back to the day program?

Answer: Negotiating a customized employment opportunity for your son / daughter hopefully will prevent this from happening. Rest assured that staff will work hard to solve any problems that come up during employment and to address any support needs that could lead to job loss. This includes re-negotiations with the employer, if necessary, to further customize your son’s / daughter’s job.

But, of course people still lose jobs. If this occurs, staff will work with your son / daughter to find a new job in the community. A new position will be negotiated based on what is learned in the first job about his / her interests, work skills and support needs. Remember, our program staff is always willing to talk with you whenever you have additional questions!

Contributors for this Issue:

Dr. Katherine Inge, Project Director, T-TAP – VCU,

Ms. Pam Targett, Employment Services Director, RRTC on Workplace Supports,


Hopefully this fact sheet has provided information on what parents want to know about customized employment. There are other resources available online at the project’s website:

Please contact us directly for more information on T-TAP.

Dr. Katherine Inge, Project Director, T-TAP – VCU,

Dr. John Butterworth, Technical Assistance Coordinator, T-TAP – ICI, U of Mass Boston,

  1. Grant Revell, Training Coordinator, T-TAP – VCU,


Modified for British Columbia by Dawn Robertson, Family Support Institute.





ex-Walgreens SVP Randy Lewis  How he could make business more Inclusive


Randy Lewis: ‘We haven’t found a disability we can’t employ’
Katie Jacobs , 14 Jul 2014 HR magazine UK.


With an autistic son, ex-Walgreens SVP Randy Lewis was motivated to see how he could make business more inclusive . He talks about how to become truly diverse, and reveals his frustration that more companies aren’t trying.

“Let me tell you a story,” says Randy Lewis, former senior vice-president at US retailer Walgreens, in a Texan drawl. And it’s quite a story. It’s the tale of how a man who led logistics at America’s largest drug-store chain, supporting it as it grew from 1,600 to 8,000 outlets with the most advanced logistics network in its sector, did so while giving job opportunities to thousands of disabled people. In Walgreens’ distribution centres today, an average 35% of the workforce comprises people with disabilities, and it has set targets to make sure one in every 10 in-store hires is also disabled. The model has been adopted and rolled out by British retailers including Boots and Marks & Spencer.
Lewis retired from Walgreens in 2013, after 16 years. He is now putting all his considerable energy into advocating for inclusive recruitment around disability, as well as promoting his book No Greatness Without Goodness. His story has a personal backdrop. The father of a severely autistic son, now in his twenties, he always had “a longing” to work out how business could make better use of people with disabilities. “It stems from me knowing what my son would be facing and all the parents like me who wish they could live one day longer than their child,” he says. “That worry: how are they going to take care of themselves?”
Walgreens had previously employed disabled people to do “ancillary rather than mission-critical work”, cleaning for example, but Lewis wanted to do something more. “We wanted an opportunity to bring people in as our own employees,” he recalls. That opportunity came with the building of a new distribution centre; larger and more automated than any the company had owned before. Lewis’s mission was to use that centre to allow the company to hire greater numbers of people with disabilities. It is now Walgreens’ most efficient site, and 40% of its workforce is disabled.
Similar buildings have opened around the US, but Lewis says although automation has helped, it isn’t the true reason why hiring people with disabilities has spread throughout the company. “The automation is what gave us the courage to do something different,” he explains. “It didn’t make it happen, it made us believe it could happen. We could do this anywhere.”
Here, Lewis shares with HR magazine how he went about making his passion a reality, and what other businesses can do to become more diverse and inclusive of disabled workers.
This is business, not charity
Retail is a notoriously competitive environment, with razor thin margins. When Lewis proposed his vision to the board, he knew saying he planned to invest significantly would not go down well with the shareholders.
Lewis asked a friend who worked with autistic people how many typically-abled (to use the American term) employees he would need for each person with autism, in order to rely on peer coaching. The answer was two and the goal was set: hire one-third people with disabilities.
“We never lost sight of the fact we are a business, not a charity: this had to make business sense,” stresses Lewis. “We had to hold everyone to the same standards and have a completely inclusive environment. When I presented it to the board, I said this was going to be the most expensive building we had ever built, which they didn’t like, but I said it was also going to have the best ROI, be the most efficient and be built in such a way that one-third of the workforce would be disabled.”
The board had one question: ‘What if it doesn’t work?’ Lewis’s response? “If it doesn’t work, we’ll readjust. That’s what we do in business all the time: make mistakes, learn from them and move on. We didn’t say: ‘We’re going to have great performance or hire people with disabilities’; We said: ‘We’re going to have great performance, we’re going to have a positive impact on the community and change the workplace for everybody.’”
The board needn’t have worried. Not only was performance the same (Lewis called in statisticians who studied 400,000 hours of work and proved performance is similar for those with and without disabilities), but in the warehouse, turnover was 20% to 50% lower and absenteeism was also down. Safety costs were also lower for people with disabilities. “Fears about more accidents had come up, but we found deaf forklift drivers – who many companies won’t hire – are twice as safe as someone who can hear,” says Lewis. “If I could give everyone a piece of advice, it would be to put plugs in the ears of their forklift truck drivers.”
Banish ‘them’ and ‘us’ thinking
Lewis is very clear on one thing: “People with disabilities are us. Not everyone has to be an ‘autistic savant’ or a Jackie Robinson [the US’s first black baseball player].”
To further hammer this thinking home, there’s a sign painted on the wall of the first centre: the word ‘them’ in a circle, with a cross through it. “There is no them,” Lewis continues. “We made it straight from day one that this was going to be inclusive. Once you see a person with a disability as you, not them, other things fade away. You might still see the differences but those are minor compared to how we are alike.”
Managers on the floor aren’t told who has a disability – the only person who knows is the HR contact. Job coaches, two in a building of 600 employees, are there to support everyone. “We haven’t found a disability we can’t employ, because everything is on a spectrum,” says Lewis. “We have one person with epilepsy who has 17 seizures a day. He wears a helmet and people know to make sure he’s in a safe place when he has an episode. He couldn’t find a job until he came to us.”
This inclusivity has had a positive impact on engagement. Whenever a new piece of technology is implemented in a distribution centre, Walgreens expects some disruption, so with this high level of automation, it was expected things would go wrong. They did, and from July to November everyone in the centre was working overtime and Saturdays. “The preconception we had about people with disabilities is that they wouldn’t be able to be very flexible or work overtime,” says Lewis. “But when I went to talk to the team members, they only had two questions: ‘how are we doing?’ and ‘what can we do to help?’ That’s when I knew we had a special building.”
Break the rules
Such a bold project has naturally led to processes having to change and rules alongside them. For example, when Walgreens looked into recruitment, it found people with disabilities had difficulties getting through the process, effectively excluding them from getting a job. “Finding the workforce was much more difficult than we thought,” admits Lewis.
To overcome this, the company adapted its HR policies, allowing people to bring someone to help them fill in online interview questions for example, or permitting members of staff to bring a chaperone to counselling sessions if they need help understanding things.
“We are here to do great work and have the right workforce to help us do that,” says Lewis. “When a rule gets in the way of achieving that, let’s go with what we are trying to achieve. We call that ‘managing in the grey’. We had to free up managers; tell them they are here to accomplish work in an effective way, not necessarily to enforce the rules. Do the right thing for the person and the shareholder, and you’ll be fine.”
“Some people like rules,” he adds, “but would you rather be managed by iron-clad processes or be in an environment that has principles? There will be some mistakes along the way, but we sleep well at night.”
Dream big – and advocate
Walgreens agreed once it figured out the secret to making the inclusive model a success, it would give it all away, even opening its doors to competitors. Other employers often visit Walgreens’ centres to view the scheme in action, by working alongside someone on the floor. Walgreens doesn’t tell them whether the person they are matched with has a disability or not, emphasising the message of sameness.
But despite some companies taking what they have seen and implementing it, Lewis is frustrated. “Only one in 15 companies will act, even once they’ve seen all this,” he says. “Although they know it works and we say we’ll give them everything we’ve got, they still do not pick it up. People think: ‘We’re not broken, so why fix it?’ But for us, it exceeded every expectation, and that’s why it’s spread throughout the company.”
His first piece of advice for HR directors who are interested in implementing something similar is to “dream real big”. “HR has to be the enabler, it cannot be the driver,” he says. “Find a partner on the operations side who is responsible for the results.”
He also advises setting targets. Walgreens has a “dream goal”, to have a 10% disabled workforce within five years – Lewis points out it’s more difficult to achieve results in 8,000 stores than in 20 distribution centres. “What gets measured gets done,” he adds. However, the company hasn’t tied bonuses or any other financial reward to meeting its target. “I don’t think money motivates that much,” says Lewis. “Our standard is: If this doesn’t work, we have to tell the world it doesn’t work anywhere, because you couldn’t have done a better job than us in trying.”
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