Hiring workers for diversity, not disability

A new workforce skills model is gaining in popularity across the country, and employers believe it's bettering business.

"There were times when I had doubts about myself because I was like, 'Why would anyone want to hire me?'" Angelica Leyva remembered.

Leyva knows her way around Brown and Brown Insurance's Seattle office so well, it's like she's always worked here. But not long ago, Leyva never thought she'd work anywhere at all.

The 23-year-old has cerebral palsy. It's tough to balance, and sometimes even talk. She hoped an employer would take a chance on her.

Her boss says it wasn't much of a chance.

"We really needed someone who knew what they were talking about - and she fit the bill," officer manager Tracy Johnson said.

Brown and Brown Insurance had the vision gaining momentum among employers cross the U.S.

"The wheel is accelerating," said Northwest Center President Tom Everill. "To change the conversation to one of diversity, which is that everyone's different."

Everill believes businesses don't just succeed with employees who have disabilities - they thrive.

"This is an idea whose time has come. There's a lot more interest," said Randy Lewis.

Lewis started the "Walgreens model" while Senior VP of supply chain and logistics. The drugstore chain intentionally plans to fill 10 percent of its distribution center jobs with people who have disabilities.

"Earns the same pay, same performance standards, side-by-side, completely inclusive, disability or no disability," Lewis said.

So far, they've noticed absenteeism goes down, while morale and production go up.

Leyva manages Brown and Brown's social media, but does pretty much anything.

"I don't really complain as much," she laughed.

Only complains, she says, when there's nothing for her to do - earning her first paycheck and a valuable lesson one year ago.

"If you have something you want to accomplish, just put your mind to it. Eventually you'll get it," Leyva said.


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