CT Walgreens breaks barriers

July 13, 2011 2:13:06 PM PDT
With every box that's opened, every button that's pressed and every crate that's sorted, employees at a Walgreens distribution center in Windsor, Connecticut are breaking down barriers.

"It's my dream to work here. It's ok to be yourself and it is ok to be deaf, and it's ok to have disabilities while you work," said Walgreens team member, Julie Williard.

More than 40 percent of the people working here report having a disability.

"When you have autism like I have, it's tough to overcome when you work and we get better at it and you pick up the pace and go from there. I may have a seizure. It would cause me to fall backwards," said Walgreens team mmber, Bryan Handy.

"The thing that makes this building different is that people are accepted. Everyone is working right next to each other, 80 percent of this department is people with disabilities, you really can't tell one from the other," said Walgreens function manager, Monica Hall.

For Walgreens' Randy Lewis, what began as an experiment has been a revelation for the company, which now plans to introduce Lewis' program in its retail stores.

"We sell people with disabilities short. We think their abilities are like this, what we found is they're much broader," Lewis said.

Supervisors work to make every employee can succeed.

"If you look up here at this work station, we have a picture of a cow, so this whole department is called the zoo. This is station eleven, but if I don't know numbers, eleven doesn't mean anything to me. So, we name it the cow station as well," said HR manager, Jenny Castle.

The special accommodations cost the company less than $25 per worker. And Lewis says workers with disabilities have fewer workplace accidents, lower absenteeism, and lower turnover than people without disabilities.

"It's the people without disabilities who realize that we are a community; we are part of something bigger. Yes, we're capitalists, and we have to serve our shareholders, but we have to serve each other and our community," Lewis said.