It’s not “Them” and “Us”. It’s just us.
By Jon Taylor
My involvement in the disability community began about 10 years ago at TJ Maxx in Conway, AR. I was an operations manager, and staffing was a major part of my job. So, when I was told we were going to have a large group of youth working for us over the summer I was pleased. When I was told their payroll would be funded through a Promise grant, I was thrilled. I had no idea what the Promise grant was, and I didn’t ask. All I knew was I had free staffing for the summer! Looking back, that was my first step into what would become a personal passion and a professional focus – competitive, integrated employment for Arkansans with disabilities.
For those unfamiliar with the Promise program (and I was one of those people), here’s the how it was described to me: a goal of Promise was to break the cycle of multi-generational poverty and government assistance for families through employment. Some of the “Kids”, as we referred to them, had a disability. Some did not. But none of them had never worked before. And in some instances, no one in their family had ever worked either. That was blessing and a curse: they had no bad work habits to break, but they had no good habits to build on. My entire leadership team had to change how we managed “the kids”. We spent a lot of time on basic job skills (showing up on time, following procedures, and being productive). But that investment in the basics made those who stayed into good employees. We hired all of the “kids” who made it through the summer. And at that point they weren’t the “kids” anymore – they were one of “us”.
Shortly after Promise ended, I became the store manager in the North Little Rock TJ Maxx. It was there I began my partnership with Arkansas Rehabilitation Services (ARS). My experiences with Promise made me very comfortable hiring people with disabilities. So, when an ARS Client Manager called me about an applicant, I had no qualms about bringing them onboard. I had learned that only two things mattered when I hired someone: Can they do the job, and will they fit my store’s culture? When I left North Little Rock in 2009 the permanent staff of the store was always a minimum of 10% of employees with either a disability or mental health issue. And to be clear, there was no formal directive to hire employees with disabilities. It was just smart business. Those employees worked just as hard and were actually more reliable than many employees that didn’t have a disability. One in particular became so indispensable that I picked her up at 4 AM in a snowstorm to help with my annual inventory.
After North Little Rock I became the store manager for the Marshalls in Little Rock. And as soon as I got there, ARS became a trusted staffing partner. When I left Marshalls in early August the store was at 10% permanent staff with an IDD.
In 2018 I was invited to join the Arkansas State Rehabilitation Council (SRC), where I currently serve as Co-Chair. I’m Co-Chair for Disability: IN Arkansas as well.
If you’ve hung on this long, you’re likely wondering why I left retail to lead the Governor’s Council staff. I’m proud of the inclusive hiring results achieved in my retail career. But since joining the SRC I’ve felt like I’ve been standing on the sidelines of the movement for inclusion, integration, and independence for Arkansans with disabilities. As Executive Director I can share what I’ve learned about competitive, integrated employment with business on a higher level. And more importantly, I have a larger platform to share my most important lesson: It’s not “Them” and “Us”. It’s just us.
– Jon Taylor
About the Arkansas State Rehabilitation Council
The Arkansas State Rehabilitation Council (SRC) is an important partner with Arkansas Rehabilitation Services (ARS) in assisting Arkansans with disabilities in going to work or remaining at work. Consistent with Section 105 of the Rehabilitation Act, as amended, the SRC reviews, analyzes and advises ARS regarding program goals as outlined in its state plan, consumer needs, eligibility and service delivery policies and procedures, and consumer satisfaction. SRC members are Governor appointed and include individuals with disabilities, representatives from disability advocacy groups, educators, employers, and rehabilitation professionals. The SRC meets quarterly and annually submits a report to the Governor and the Rehabilitation Services Administration.
About Disability: IN Arkansas
Your Business Partner for Disability Inclusion – Disability:IN
Disability: IN Arkansas’ mission is to promote the full inclusion of people with disabilities, to inspire accessible innovation for all, and to foster cultures of inclusion. To learn more contact Rodney Chandler at email@example.com. The Disability:IN local affiliates across the nation are the heartbeat of the organization, driving the mission of disability inclusion forward by working with partners on the ground. National Disability:IN is the leading nonprofit resource for business disability inclusion worldwide. Our network of over 270 corporations expands opportunities for people with disabilities across enterprises. Our central office and 25 Affiliates serve as the collective voice to effect change for people with disabilities in business.