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Former Walgreens Exec Backs Jobs for People with Disabilities

August 5, 2014
Source: The Tennessean

As Tennessee tries to provide more employment opportunities for people with disabilities, some corporations are offering more jobs to them as they find how strongly they contribute to the workforce.

Retired Walgreens executive Randy Lewis wanted to open more jobs within his company to people like his son Austin, who has autism. When a new distribution warehouse was set to open in Anderson, South Carolina, in 2007, he approached the board of directors with a plan to hire one person with a disability for every two typically abled people.

The board went for it, he told about 200 people with disabilities, advocates, caretakers and businesspeople Tuesday afternoon at a lunch sponsored by Disability Rights Tennessee, formerly the Disability Law and Advocacy Center.

That warehouse became the most productive in the companys history. Today 40 percent of its workers have a disability.

Lewis encouraged employers there — including AutoZone, HCA and Nissan — to think creatively and follow Walgreens lead.

“There are people who will not let you fail, and I will put myself on that list,” he said. “This is an idea whose time has come.”

His words come two months after Tennessees Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities [DIDD] released a plan prioritizing employment and independent living for people receiving its services. This would mean a greater focus on less-expensive services like personal assistance and transportation instead of on full-time residential care.

DIDD is revising the proposal based on feedback from service recipients, their families and caretakers, and will eventually submit it to the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in the fall. But advocates are “ripe” to see more opportunities for people with disabilities like those Lewis and Walgreens have created, said Lisa Primm, executive director of Disability Rights Tennessee.

“Its a matter of all of us working together to make this happen, and I think the DIDD concept paper is a great first step,” she said. “We still have questions, but its a great first step.”

More information about the Walgreens Distribution Center and Employment Program YouTube video available with captions (5:17 mins)

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