Note: This story was produced by the Economic Alliance of Lewis County as part of it's monthly special section published in The Chronicle.
Michael Morgan is co-owner of the Grocery Outlet in Chehalis. About 20 percent of his staff come from agencies that place disabled people with jobs.
He calls his hiring practice simply doing “the right thing,” but it runs deeper than that.
“My view of someone with a disability is that everyone has a disability of some form,” he said. “We’re the ones that put limitations on them. My mindset is that everyone has something to contribute. … And as a community business we have a responsibility that far exceeds our personal needs.”
He said a first step for business owners is to first demystify that some people are not capable of employment. He said once hired, it takes time and patience to find that perfect fit for a disabled employee. He said along with simply time spent working, those with disabilities need the right tools and knowledge gained while on the job. He said he helps them set goals and find out what kind of work they are best at, and that they enjoy.
“We offer a place where someone with a disability can walk in with a resume and have a shot,” he said. “In the end, we just want people to be who they are, and to create an environment of inclusion.”
Morgan tells the story of one such young man. He said it took a while to get to know each other.
“He became our best merchandiser,” Morgan said. “He literally does the best work. Quality came first, then speed came later.”
One of Morgan’s employees was a panelist at the recent Economic Alliance of Lewis County’s monthly luncheon. She shared how working at Grocery Outlet gives her a boost to her confidence. She was placed via Morningside Services and the Lewis County Autism Coalition.
Nicole Miller introduced the panel discussion. Miller is operations director for the Lewis County Autism Coalition. She said the coalition formed in 2010 and became a nonprofit in 2015.
“Together, our mission is to promote lifelong inclusion and independence for neurodiverse individuals and their support systems,” she said. “Neurodivergent refers to an individual who has a less typical cognitive variation such as autism, ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia, etc.”
She said cultivating Inclusion has three areas of focus — “work, which we are here to talk about today, school, and community.”
In work, she said, “our focus is on supporting both employees and businesses. We have a hiring campaign promoting hiring those with differences and pair interested parties with employment support in Lewis County. We also encourage business to become more inclusive for both staff, and customers.”
She said supported employment refers to service provisions wherein people with disabilities, including intellectual disabilities, mental health, and traumatic brain injury, among others, are assisted with obtaining and maintaining employment.
“There are many reasons to incorporate hiring people with disabilities,” Miller said. “Disability is diversity. Those of you who have DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion) policies or are looking to implement them, should consider that inclusion and diversity mean many things, all of which are key to a robust business.”
Morningside’s rehabilitation services are provided by the Employment Services Division. Services are provided in six counties in Western Washington including Thurston, Mason, Lewis, Clallam, Grays Harbor and Pierce counties.
Services are individualized and focus on preparing for, securing and maintaining employment opportunities for people with a variety of disabilities and other barriers to employment.
More than 90 professional staff provide employment planning and preparation, job development, training and coaching to ensure each individual achieves his/her employment goals. Staff receives intensive and on-going training focused on person-centered techniques, positive behavior supports, individual choice and advocacy.
Richard DeBolt, Executive Director of the Economic Alliance of Lewis County, said hiring those with disabilities is a “win-win” opportunity.
“Hiring is tough right now with low unemployment,” DeBolt said. “By hiring those with disabilities, you not only find quality workers, but you help people find meaningful jobs and make them a productive and proud part of our society.”
Grocery Outlet’s co-owner Michael Morgan encourages other businesses to follow his lead.
“I ask people to suspend judgment and look at those with disabilities as having possibilities,” he said. “Treat them like they would like to be treated. … I’m looking to invest in tomorrow. And it’s both an opportunity and an obligation. Don’t wait for a manual or a policy. You’ve just got to wade into it.”
To contact the Lewis County Autism Coalition call 360.520.0515. To reach Morningside Services call 360.943.0512.