July 26, 1996
Rich source of willing workers is waiting to be tapped
By James Haney, Richard C. Wegner, and Judy Norman-Nunnery
While corporate down-sizing makes the covers of the national news magazine, employers in
Wisconsin know the real story. Demand for workers in our booming economy is so persistent that
"Help Wanted" signs are back-ordered.
Let us suggest an untapped human resource: workers who have disabilities. Of all working age
people with disabilities in Wisconsin, only 45 percent of them have jobs and two-thirds of those are
under-employed; that is, they are not being utilized to their fullest extent.
Leave your charity in the Sunday collection plate. We are talking about a business survival strategy.
Hiring workers with disabilities makes sound business sense.
These are workers who have the ability most in demand: the skills and willingness to work. The
Division of Vocational Rehabilitation has the names and addresses of over 3,000 of them. Many
possess advanced training learned through college, technical school, or shorter-term programs and
could go on your payroll tomorrow.
Focusing on the disability is like examining the hairline paint fractures in the old masters instead of
standing back and enjoying the Rembrandt.
"We consider the abilities, not the disabilities, of potential employees," says Arthur Nesbitt, president
and CEO of NASCO International, based in Fort Atkinson.
So do companies like St. Joseph's Hospital, Milwaukee, Perma-Brass of Sheboygan, and
Woodman's supermarket of Onalaska - all winners of the 1996 Governor's Excellence in Disability
Barbara Mahler, general manager of the Holiday Inn Gateway, Eau Claire, says she has had as
many as 11 workers with disabilities on her payroll, including her maintenance staff chief, with
excellent results. Dick Wardwell, manager of Hansen's IGA in Westby, says all the employees with
disabilities at his food store have been dependable, willing workers.
Helping people with disabilities overcome barriers to employment is the job of the professionals at
the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation. DVR is now a part of the new Department of Workforce
Development, which Gov. Tommy Thompson created in order to meet the needs of all workers to
remove whatever barriers to full employment exist and to help all employers find the employees they
need. These services will be delivered through our Partnership for Full Employment with local
communities, employers, educational and training agencies, and job centers.
In 1995 alone, DVR worked with 36,000 people to help them develop their abilities to become
work-ready. These are motivated workers!
"It's a win-win situation," Tom Buege, general sales manager of Cloud Buick in Appleton says. His
auto dealership is among the hundreds of Wisconsin employers making good use of workers with
more significant disabilities in "supported employment." A small percentage of the people who work
with DVR have disabilities significant enough that they need the extra help provided through
supported employment, one of many services purchased by DVR.
"We were having a very hard time finding people to fill our (paint) detailing jobs," Buege says, "so
we looked into supported employment, found Wally and Dennis, and we couldn't be happier.
They're the most responsible people I've ever had."
Small employers as varied as Kewpee Sandwich Shop in Racine, Kramer Printing in Madison, and
Quality Foods IGA in Wisconsin Rapids and giants like WalMart, ShopKo and Cousins Submarines
Inc. are taking advantage of supported employment, which serves workers with more significant
disabilities. DVR-contracted agencies will provide the assistive technology, rehabilitation, job
training, coaching and any off-job supports that may be necessary, such transportation and
You provide the job, the Partnership for Full Employment will find the right person.
Workers with disabilities will help you beat the cost of high turnover. Up to 90 percent of them stay
on the job, our Wisconsin DVR district offices report.
"They're very conscientious, absolutely model employees," says Peter Moe, general manager at
Van's Honda in Green Bay, of his supported employees.
If you think you might be uncomfortable supervising people who have disabilities, DVR will train
your supervisors. We're talking anywhere from one hour to a full day - no more.
You have concerns; let's talk about the facts:
The fact is that U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers found
that nine of every 10 companies surveyed reported no higher insurance costs. U.S. Department of
Labor surveys show that employees with disabilities have fewer serious injuries than their
Employees with disabilities rate at least average - at least average - and more often better than
average in job performance surveys conducted by the National Restaurant Association, the National
Institute of Mental Health, and the E.I. Du Pont Corp.
Job attendance by employees with disabilities is equivalent to other employees, according to the Du
Point Survey of Employment of People with Disabilities.
Seven out of 10 adults with disabilities do not need special equipment.
Two of every three accommodations required to compensate for a disability cost under $500 - and
for every dollar spent, the company received $28 in benefits, according to the President's
Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities.
Bergstrom Hotels president Richard A. Bergstrom, says his staff with disabilities "are dedicated
positive individuals who have fit in well with the entire hotel team."
What Pam Padilla, executive housekeeper at the Pioneer Inn, Oshkosh, observes about one of her
workers is common: "It's a joy having Susan on our staff. Co-workers love her."
That's a fringe benefit for the boss.
Haney is president of Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, Wegner is Acting Secretary of
the Department of Workforce Development, Norman-Nunnery is administrator of the
Division of Vocational Rehabilitation. For more information, call DVR at 608/243-5600