This business made hiring disabled workers a priority. The result? A thriving workplace.
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CNBC's The Profit

When was the last time you worked with someone who had a developmental disability?

Most of us haven't. Some employers have an implicit assumption that people with those disabilities can't work. But those same employers are being proved wrong by a small but growing workforce that just needed opportunities.


Image by the U.S. Department of Labor.

Businesses that hire people with developmental disabilities are saying it's a great business decision.

Among them are organizations like Smile Farms in Garden City, New York. They put people with disabilities to work in local agriculture, doing everything from farming to sales.

Workers at Smile Farms in Garden City have jobs that benefit their entire community. Image via Smile Farms, Inc./YouTube.

There's also Hugs Café, a Dallas area restaurant that provides cooking classes and dignified jobs for special-needs workers.

Workers at Hugs Café in McKinney, Texas, receive cooking lessons as part of their job training. Image via Hugs Café/YouTube.

People with disabilities are also starting to find jobs at big companies like Walgreens. The company's plan is to fill at least a quarter of their positions with disabled workers.

Since they prioritized hiring disabled workers in their distribution centers, they've seen rises in productivity and safety. At the same time, they've had drops in absenteeism and turnover.

Photo by Phillip Pessar/Flickr.

And a 2014 report by the Institute for Corporate Productivity (I4CP), a research group that "discovers the people practices that drive high performance," found that among 200 companies surveyed, employers rated workers with disabilities as "good to very good" on indicators including dependability, motivation, adaptability, integration with coworkers, and quality of work.

When we drill down to the statistics, it's clear that employers need to do a lot more.

In 2015, 25 years since the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed, the employment situation for disabled adults leaves plenty to be desired.

The last census counted 1.2 million working-age people in the U.S. with intellectual disabilities. According to I4CP, 85% of them don't have paying jobs.

That's a lot of folks being denied a fair chance to earn a living and to enjoy the independence and sense of purpose that comes with having a job.

But change is starting to seem inevitable for developmentally disabled workers.

There aren't many workers' causes that draw the kind of diverse (and powerful) support this one is receiving.

Nick Shepis, a worker at Smile Farms, takes a moment from watering seedlings to share a smile. Image via HooplaHa/YouTube.

Proponents of disability employment include business leaders, the National Governors Association, millions of people in the disabled community, and their non-disabled allies. They want employers to hire based on people's abilities, not their disabilities.

This year's National Disability Employment Awareness Month just came to a close. With all of these signs, I'm hopeful that by next year's we'll have more reasons to celebrate.

Watch a video from Smile Farms and see the business in action:

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If the past year has taught us nothing else, it's that sending love out into the world through selfless acts of kindness can have a positive ripple effect on people and communities. People all over the United States seemed to have gotten the message — 71% of those surveyed by the World Giving Index helped a stranger in need in 2020. A nonprofit survey found 90% helped others by running errands, calling, texting and sending care packages. Many people needed a boost last year in one way or another and obliging good neighbors heeded the call over and over again — and continue to make a positive impact through their actions in this new year.

Upworthy and P&G Good Everyday wanted to help keep kindness going strong, so they partnered up to create the Lead with Love Fund. The fund awards do-gooders in communities around the country with grants to help them continue on with their unique missions. Hundreds of nominations came pouring in and five winners were selected based on three criteria: the impact of action, uniqueness, and "Upworthy-ness" of their story.

Here's a look at the five winners:

Edith Ornelas, co-creator of Mariposas Collective in Memphis, Tenn.

Edith Ornelas has a deep-rooted connection to the asylum-seeking immigrant families she brings food and supplies to families in Memphis, Tenn. She was born in Jalisco, Mexico, and immigrated to the United States when she was 7 years old with her parents and sister. Edith grew up in Chicago, then moved to Memphis in 2016, where she quickly realized how few community programs existed for immigrants. Two years later, she helped create Mariposas Collective, which initially aimed to help families who had just been released from detention centers and were seeking asylum. The collective started out small but has since grown to approximately 400 volunteers.

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via Good Morning America

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So it's no surprise that Kelly Klein, 54, who's taught at Falcon Heights Elementary in Falcon Heights, Minnesota, for the past 32 years still teaches her kindergarten class even as she is being treated for stage-3 ovarian cancer.

Her class is learning remotely due to the COIVD-19 pandemic, so she is able to continue doing what she loves from her computer at M Health Fairview Lakes Medical Center in Wyoming, Minnesota, even while undergoing chemotherapy.

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If the past year has taught us nothing else, it's that sending love out into the world through selfless acts of kindness can have a positive ripple effect on people and communities. People all over the United States seemed to have gotten the message — 71% of those surveyed by the World Giving Index helped a stranger in need in 2020. A nonprofit survey found 90% helped others by running errands, calling, texting and sending care packages. Many people needed a boost last year in one way or another and obliging good neighbors heeded the call over and over again — and continue to make a positive impact through their actions in this new year.

Upworthy and P&G Good Everyday wanted to help keep kindness going strong, so they partnered up to create the Lead with Love Fund. The fund awards do-gooders in communities around the country with grants to help them continue on with their unique missions. Hundreds of nominations came pouring in and five winners were selected based on three criteria: the impact of action, uniqueness, and "Upworthy-ness" of their story.

Here's a look at the five winners:

Edith Ornelas, co-creator of Mariposas Collective in Memphis, Tenn.

Edith Ornelas has a deep-rooted connection to the asylum-seeking immigrant families she brings food and supplies to families in Memphis, Tenn. She was born in Jalisco, Mexico, and immigrated to the United States when she was 7 years old with her parents and sister. Edith grew up in Chicago, then moved to Memphis in 2016, where she quickly realized how few community programs existed for immigrants. Two years later, she helped create Mariposas Collective, which initially aimed to help families who had just been released from detention centers and were seeking asylum. The collective started out small but has since grown to approximately 400 volunteers.

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Starbucks Upstanders Season 2

27 years ago, Debbie Baigrie was shot in the face during an attempted robbery. Her assailant was a 13-year-old boy.

Ian Manuel was the youngest of three boys who threatened Baigrie that night, but despite his age, he was the one holding the gun.

Ian Manuel in grade school. All photos provided by Starbucks.

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In the autumn of 1939, Chiune Sugihara was sent to Lithuania to open the first Japanese consulate there. His job was to keep tabs on and gather information about Japan's ally, Germany. Meanwhile, in neighboring Poland, Nazi tanks had already begun to roll in, causing Jewish refugees to flee into the small country.

When the Soviet Union invaded Lithuania in June of 1940, scores of Jews flooded the Japanese consulate, seeking transit visas to be able to escape to a safety through Japan. Overwhelmed by the requests, Sugihara reached out to the foreign ministry in Tokyo for guidance and was told that no one without proper paperwork should be issued a visa—a limitation that would have ruled out nearly all of the refugees seeking his help.

Sugihara faced a life-changing choice. He could obey the government and leave the Jews in Lithuania to their fate, or he could disobey orders and face disgrace and the loss of his job, if not more severe punishments from his superiors.

According to the Jewish Virtual Library, Sugihara was fond of saying, "I may have to disobey my government, but if I don't, I would be disobeying God." Sugihara decided it was worth it to risk his livelihood and good standing with the Japanese government to give the Jews at his doorstep a fighting chance, so he started issuing Japanese transit visas to any refugee who needed one, regardless of their eligibility.

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