Building Inclusive Workplaces: An Equitable Approach to Hiring


During his tenure as senior vice president of the Walgreen’s Co. pharmacy chain, Randy Lewis set a lofty goal: One-third of the company’s production facility workforce would be people with physical and intellectual disabilities, performing the same jobs and earning the same pay as their able-bodied peers.

The effort drew praise for its equitable approach to hiring, and it also had some remarkable side effects. There were fewer safety issues staff-wide, worker retention and attendance improved across the board, and productivity increased. The workplace culture became more positive, with employees feeling a greater sense of pride.

Lewis shared his insights into and experiences with hiring people of diverse abilities during a recent workshop for Dubuque-region employers hosted by the Community Foundation. More than 40 representatives from area businesses and nonprofits came to hear Lewis and a panel of local workers during the Foundation’s Access-Ability Workshop in June. They left with ideas about how to retool their organizations’ own policies and practices to recruit and retain workers of varying abilities.

“This workshop builds on the Foundation’s ongoing efforts to help create welcoming, inclusive workplaces and communities,” says Clara Lopez Ortiz, equity coordinator at the Community Foundation. 

During his keynote address, Lewis, who also is the author of the book No Greatness Without Goodness: How A Father’s Love Changed a Company and Sparked a Movement, talked about the simple but impactful steps employers can take toward increasing their disability inclusion efforts.

“Just changing the way we speak about disabilities in the workplace can go a long way,” says Mary Jo Jean-Francois, director of grantmaking at the Community Foundation, who helped organize the event. “One of the examples Randy shared was shifting from talking about ‘making accommodations’ for workers with disabilities to ‘making adjustments’ to the workplace that have broad benefits.”

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In addition to Lewis’ address, the workshop featured a panel discussion, facilitated by Jason Rubel of Iowa Vocation Rehabilitation Services, with five locals who shared their experiences with disability inclusion in the workplace:

  • Melissa Jungers, marketing project manager at Flexsteel
  • Jake Hesselman, special education teacher in the Dubuque Community School District
  • Libby Butt, supply chain integration specialist at John Deere Dubuque Works
  • Ashley Coyle, human resources generalist at Finley Hospital
  • Nichole Kaesbauer, human resources administrator at Hodge

As part of the event, the Community Foundation produced and printed a new guide to disability inclusion in the workplace, which includes contact information for partners organizations that can provide resources to employers as they make efforts to recruit and retain workers with disabilities: Goodwill Industries of Northeast Iowa, Iowa Vocational Rehabilitation Services, Northeast Iowa Community College Business and Community Solutions, Hills & Dales, and the Dubuque Community School District VERTEX Initiative.

“Our hope is that this workshop serves as a jumping-off point for local employers to take action and work collectively to transform the community’s approach to employment for people with disabilities,” says Lopez Ortiz.

Download the disability inclusion guide to use with your organization.

Here for you. Clara Lopez Ortiz Equity Coordinator 563-588-2700