For a long time, many businesses subscribed to the myth that changing the workplace to accommodate people with disabilities did not yield a good return on investment. Fortunately, that view is changing, as more and more studies show the benefits of creating a diverse workforce. The data show, for example, that employees with disabilities have much higher job retention rates—eliminating the costs associated with frequent turnover.
Furthermore, it’s become clear that accommodations aren’t necessarily complex or costly. Companies are now discovering that with just a bit of imagination and effort, they’re able to attract and retain highly productive employees.
This is something that PRIDE Industries has known for decades. Over fifty years ago, our nonprofit was founded with a commitment to ensuring that all our employees have the tools they need to be fully productive and enjoy their work. This emphasis on person-centered training and tools has created an efficient and reliable workforce, and this, in turn, has resulted in consistently high customer satisfaction ratings. Here at PRIDE, we know from experience that an inclusive approach works.
A Simple Rule Promotes Inclusivity
Contrary to myth, many of the solutions that PRIDE has implemented to accommodate our employees have been simple and inexpensive. And PRIDE has been able to make these accommodations by following one basic rule: ask the employees what they need.
Ray Muro, a stock clerk at Fort Bliss in Texas, shows why this approach is so effective. Muro has worked at the base’s Self-Help shop since 2007, and is responsible for helping PRIDE’s military customers pick out needed parts such as paint and batteries. He also stocks new supplies and inputs customer information into the shop database.
Blind since birth, Ray is nevertheless able to retrieve parts and navigate the shop floor easily, thanks to the braille lettering he helped put up in the shop when he first arrived. This low-cost, low-tech solution enables Muro to be a productive employee, one who’s received dozens of positive comments from both customers and supervisors.
Pallet Flags and Customized Tools
Over the years, other PRIDE employees have developed similar approaches to overcoming workplace obstacles. Sometimes the solutions are logistical, like instituting extra breaks, splitting jobs between two people, or offering ASL classes for better communication. Other solutions come ready-made, like providing day planners or phones with closed captioning.
Often, a modification made for one person ends up helping everyone on the team. When benches were lowered to accommodate people in wheelchairs, for example, employees discovered that everyone benefitted by being able to sit when needed.
Sometimes the search for an effective accommodation leads to a useful invention. This was the case several years ago, when employees were looking for a way to keep people from tripping on empty pallets. Even though the pallets were always kept in designated areas, people sometimes forgot that a six-inch-high pallet was on the floor.
Then one day, an innovative employee created the pallet flag—a bright yellow banner atop a four-foot pole, with a base that can slide under a pallet to hold the flag in place. These flags serve as easy-to-spot reminders that a pallet is on the floor, and their widespread use in PRIDE facilities has virtually eliminated trips and falls.
Other easy adjustments include clamping tools to assembly workstations, thus allowing the user to tighten bolts and perform other operations with one hand. Likewise, workstation instructions are posted in plain view, and include photographs of each step of a production process, so that non-engineers can understand them.
A Wise Investment
Not every solution is inexpensive, of course. PRIDE maintains its own fleet of buses to transport employees to and from work. And X-ray machines designed to help with inventory count can be relatively pricey. But PRIDE has discovered that even expensive machines pay for themselves by increasing productivity and ensuring a reliable workforce for our customers.
PRIDE’s state-of-the-art laser cutter is a case in point. Years ago, the company invested in this machine to allow employees to make tools like jigs, templates, and screw counters. These tools are customized to a particular person or task. The templates, for example, enable employees to label kit bags quickly, with the tag in perfect alignment. Screw counters ensure that the right number of parts go into every bag. Innovations like these make kitting fast, exact, and reliable.
PRIDE’s commitment to giving individuals the tools they need to succeed has enabled the company to build an effective, dedicated workforce that is highly ranked by our many customers. Our approach is validated by the results. PRIDE is the nation’s leading employer of people with disabilities, and we continue to grow our lines of business.
Andrew Williams, Engineering Manager at PRIDE’s Roseville facility, exemplifies the philosophy that has made PRIDE both a sought-after employer and a successful vendor for over fifty years.
“Everyone knows what equipment they need to complete their work, and my job as a manager is to make sure they have what they need,” said Williams. “The tools that work best will vary from person to person. Whether they have a disability or not isn’t the issue. It’s about equipping every employee to work to their maximum potential.”
Top photo: A PRIDE employee uses a customized screw counter.