The Harkin Summit: Innovating for Inclusion

Doubling Disability Employment In A Changing Landscape

Randy Lewis, former Walgreens executive and author of the book No Greatness Without Goodness, addressed the Harkin Summit about his storied past of employing individuals with disabilities, and how that experience has shaped both him and the broader culture of his company. Lewis championed a new model for Walgreens distribution centers, one that increased it’s hiring of people with disabilities to account for 10 percent of its workforce.

Lewis, the keynote speaker of the afternoon, spoke about the tangible benefits of hiring workers with disabilities. In addition to lower rates of absenteeism, he noted that workers with disabilities have higher retention rates and generally cost less, in addition to similar, and often improved rates of productivity.

“We started with jobs,” Lewis said, “not just jobs for people with disabilities.” The address was a pragmatic case for inclusion of workers with disabilities in roles that go beyond menial tasks.  Mr. Lewis stressed the importance of full, meaningful inclusion. “We’re a business, not a charity” stressed Lewis, highlighting the economic advantage that inclusive hiring brought.

Lewis spoke about his son, Austin, who has autism, and is employed. This firsthand experience had a profound impact on Lewis, who spoke to the benefits to both parties that inclusive hiring brings. Lewis’ innovative methods at Walgreens have not gone unnoticed, as industry leaders and disability advocates alike look to his model as further evidence of the success of inclusive hiring practices.

Now, next steps must be taken in order for these policies to be instituted on a wider scale. Activism from advocates, private citizens, the government and the private sector should continue to push toward meaningful overhaul that ensures high-quality, lasting jobs for those with disabilities. Lewis encourages renewed efforts and collaboration from all parties in order to ensure a successful tomorrow. 

Written by Joseph Miller