Two years ago, Cornerstone General Contractors had a vision: to expand its definition of diversity, equity, and inclusion to also include people with disabilities. Today, the company not only employs but fully embraces and champions two people with disabilities.
Cornerstone builds new facilities for regional schools so they hired employees with disabilities to work in the office and on the job site. Ben works as the assistant to the head of construction on a job site, cleaning, organizing, and inventorying tools and equipment. Stephen, hired through Northwest Center Employment Services, works as an office assistant monitoring warranties on all products and mechanicals (such as floors and cabinets) installed at newly built buildings, and is working to digitize the company’s thousands of project files, and recently added data entry to his role.
Cornerstone was clear from the beginning that the people with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (IDD) they hired would be treated like any other employee. That includes compensation—both employees earn wages well above minimum that are in line with likewise jobs in the field—and also includes the opportunity to progress to new skills and responsibilities. Ben is beginning to learn light carpentry skills as he continues to work at a construction job site. Stephen’s capacity for detail-oriented work opened him up to new projects. He’s learned how to scan documents, place them back in extra-large notebooks on multi-million-dollar projects, and then enter them on the computer server. It’s incredibly detailed and important work, and Stephen has proven more than equal to the task.
Both Ben and Stephen have found camaraderie and acceptance on the job, but even more important, they are doing work that is meaningful to them and to their colleagues—and Cornerstone is currently working to expand both employees’ hours.
“People see what Ben and Stephen have learned on the job,” says DEI Director Vicki Puckett. “Don’t underestimate what someone with IDD can do.”
Help Northwest Center Close the Employment Gap for People with Disabilities
The unemployment rate for people with disabilities is twice the national average. Your support can help more job seekers like Stephen and Ben find employment where they can thrive, and more employers like Cornerstone find the perfect additions to their workforce.
It’s an average work day at Bean Box for Alex. At a long row of tables, he packs samples of fragrant coffee into boxes to be mailed out to subscribers. He chats with employees who stop by to drop off supplies. He joins coworkers in the break area at lunch.
The fact that this day is so average is what makes it so important, says Alex’s mom Larisa. Because until very recently, she wasn’t sure it would happen at all.
Alex, who was diagnosed with Autism as child, has spent much of his life excluded from social activity with peers, his mom says. “Alex can’t really read social cues, so it’s tough for him.”
Work has posed more challenges. When Alex was working in a mail room as part of a school-to-work transition program, he became overwhelmed, walked away, and got lost.
“Then they put a full-time assistant with him,” Larisa remembers. “But they said, ‘We’re not sure he’s going to be in any kind of paid position ever.’ We didn’t have much hope.”
After graduation in 2020, Alex found a warehouse job through Northwest Center Employment Services, but he had trouble adjusting to an unpredictable work schedule.
The one bright spot in Alex’s week was playing Special Olympics sports. Then COVID-19 struck.
“When everything got closed down, he was crushed for months,” Larisa says. “He was not able to connect with anybody.”
Then, in late summer 2020, Northwest Center Employment Services got a call from Ben Adler, director of operations for Seattle-based coffee subscription company Bean Box. Adler was interested in hiring people with disabilities because his mother has taught special education for 20 years. “She always talked about people in terms of what they’re capable of doing,” he says. “Instead of focusing on disability, she focused on ability.”
“I like this job,” Alex says. “I get to talk to other people. I really enjoy that I get to work at Bean Box.”
“It’s a big thing for Alex to be engaged,” Larisa continues. “At Bean Box, people are nice to him and he understands what he’s supposed to do. They treat him like a valued team member.”
That’s because Alex, and every other client hired through Northwest Center Employment Services, is a valued team member, says Adler. “We’re not just providing people with work; we’re able to get things done more efficiently because they’re really good at the things that they’re doing every day,” he says.
And while Alex still has job coaches as he works to answer questions and help him stay on task, these days he needs much less support.
“I am really, really hopeful that eventually Alex will be able to go in by himself, start the task, and finish the shift,” says Larisa. “Even a year ago, we thought that would never happen. But now I see it happening.”
Northwest Center is passionate about equal rights, anti-ableism, and full inclusion for people with disabilities. Thank you for reading.