Randy Lewis was a senior Vice President at Walgreens in the USA. Walgreens is the American equivalent of Boots the Chemist and has over 8000 shops and employs 176,000 people. It has a turnover of $76 billion.

Lewis has an autistic son, Austin and he desperately wanted Austin to have a future and hold down a good job. Previously Walgreens had employed disabled people to do jobs like cleaning toilets and sweeping floors on low wages. Lewis wanted to create meaningful and rewarding jobs for disabled people and so he persuaded Walgreen’s to change the work place… to suit disabled people.

Walgreen’s has now designed warehouses where 40% of the employees are disabled. These jobs pay an equal wage to the typically-abled workers and hold all employees to the same standards. Employing disabled people has unleashed incredible creativity and imagination in non-disabled employees.

Julie Willard, a deaf woman employee, said this about Walgreens – “It’s my dream to work here!” Angela Mackey, a bright woman with an MA, couldn’t get a job because of her cerebral palsey. She said that no one would employ her! Now at Walgreen’s she is in charge of the recruitment of disabled people!

Walgreens have also designed new technologies that serve and bless the disabled! In these ‘warehouses of wonder’ they use images rather than words which help people who struggle to read. So instead of an unimaginative Aisle 14 they will have a strawberry image. This helps people who cannot read numbers.

The HR department has changed many of its policies. When applying for a job a disabled person can bring someone to fill in the application forms etc. What is so exciting is that the company has discovered that disabled people can often outperform non-disabled people. Not only was performance the same (Lewis called in statisticians who studied 400,000 hours of work and proved performance is similar for those with and without disabilities), but in the warehouse, staff turnover was 20% to 50% lower and absenteeism was also down.

Safety costs were also lower for people with disabilities. “Fears about more accidents had come up, but we discovered that deaf forklift drivers – who many companies won’t hire – are twice as safe as someone who can hear”. said Lewis. “If I could give everyone a piece of advice, it would be to put plugs in the ears of their forklift truck drivers.”

What a great example of God’s kingdom in action! Randy Lewis has a baptised imagination.

Mark Roques
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Mark Roques

Mark taught Philosophy and Religious Education at Prior Park College, Bath, for many years. As Director of RealityBites he has developed a rich range of resources for youth workers and teachers. He has spoken at conferences in the UK, Holland, South Korea, Spain, Australia and New Zealand. Mark is a lively storyteller and the author of four books, including The Spy, the Rat and the Bed of Nails: Creative Ways of Talking about Christian Faith. His work is focused on storytelling and how this can help us to communicate the Christian faith. He has written many articles for the Baptist Times, RE Today, Youthscape, Direction magazine and the Christian Teachers Journal.