A Publication of WTVP
Pictured above:
A.J. Johnson came to CWTC directly from Jamieson School in Peoria. His career began in 1999, and he has worked at Hoerr Nursery since 2006.

Practice inclusion—and improve the culture of your organization.

Have you been by Culver’s on North University Street in Peoria and seen James? Have you shopped for groceries at Kroger in Evergreen Square and had my friend Arsenio help you with your bags? Maybe you were looking for flowers at Hoerr Nursery and ran into A.J. keeping the store tidy while you shop. All of these fine gentlemen are adults with disabilities who are working in our community every day, maximizing their independence, and bringing joy to their co-workers and customers.

When someone asks why they should hire a person with a disability, my first response is why not? Why wouldn’t you hire a person just because they have a disability? I have worked with adults with disabilities for over 35 years and find their joy of life to be infectious.

The Greater Peoria area is a wonderful, supportive community with a diverse population. One of the largest minority groups in the area—which is often forgotten or overlooked when it comes to employment—is our individuals with disabilities. Most businesses want to have a workforce that is reflective of its community. That is why it is important to consider inclusion of people with disabilities in your work environment, whether theirs is a physical, mental health or intellectual disability.

Hiring individuals with disabilities just may improve the culture of your organization and challenge other employees to practice inclusion. Hopefully, this will allow them to build an environment that embraces diversity and challenges the so-called norm. Not only will this open the hearts and minds of your employees, it will also benefit your customers, as they are exposed to different types of diversity and receive the message that your company practices inclusion.

Above: ACulver’s employee since 2009, James Granderson, second from left, offers an engaging spirit to brighten his customers’ day.

Many employers have noted that the disabled individuals they’ve hired are some of their best workers. I find our individuals to be open and honest, and as a supervisor, isn’t that what you want from your employees? They are focused and dependable, they want to learn new skills, and they are hard workers. Their absentee rate is usually low, and they are loyal employees, so their longevity is usually high. The real issue is that people with disabilities want to earn a living, have friends in the workplace and build independence—just like everyone else.

If you hire people with disabilities, there are basic business advantages for which your company may be eligible, including tax credits and deductions. The retention rate of employees with disabilities staying in their jobs is usually higher, and if an organization such as ours assists in placing the individual in your company, there is ongoing job coaching and support for the business, the individual and your employees to make the transition a productive experience for everyone.

I can’t imagine what my life would be like if I hadn’t been exposed to people with disabilities more than 30 years ago. They have enriched my life, taught me tolerance and patience, caused me to appreciate the little things in life, and make me laugh and smile on a daily basis. My life is enhanced because of my coworkers, which includes the 225 people with disabilities I get to work with on a daily basis. iBi

Patti Gratton is executive director of the Community Workshop & Training Center (CWTC). For more information, visit