Friday, November 25

Disability Awareness Increasing

Greetings. Here's an encouraging article about Starbucks, and how they're reaching out to the disabled commmunity. While I don't agree with all that they are doing, such as the "political correctness." For instance, instead of flowering the speech to, "people with disabilities," why not call it like it is and simply say, "disable people?" However, the article does show that they are trying, and that's not always a bad thing. Perhaps I'll write in another post of my feelings about politically correct speach. For now though, here's the article. Enjoy.

A Special Effort

Starbucks is reaching out to people with disabilities -- both as employees
and as customers

2005; Page R8

If Starbucks has its way, its future work force will look more like Michelle

Thirty-six-year-old Ms. Penman, who has cerebral palsy, spends three hours
getting ready for work every morning. Because she has trouble speaking and
has limited mobility, customers must write down their orders and place them
on her wheelchair. She returns with their coffee and food on a tray or in a
backpack affixed to her motorized wheelchair.

The Seattle-based coffee giant has already turned Ms. Penman into something
of a company icon. The Starbucks CEO mentions her in his speeches as an
example of the devotion of the company's work force, and says he keeps her
picture in his office.

Now StarbucksCorp. wants to make Ms. Penman a literal model employee. As the
company expands its outlets, it is trying to tap into the growing pool of
job seekers with disabilities. The goal: to make its stores more inviting to
customers with disabilities, as well as their caretakers, family members and

"This is a group that most businesses have not addressed," says May Snowden,
Starbucks' vice president, global diversity. "As I look at changes in
demographics, it is one of the groups that are very important."

Indeed, people with disabilities have discretionary spending power of $220
billion annually, according to the American Association of People With
Disabilities. Of the 70 million families in the U.S., more than 20 million
have at least one member with a disability, according to the association.
For Starbucks, the equation is simple. "Customers tend to patronize a
business that is like them," says Jim Donald, president and chief executive

A Wake-Up Call The Starbucks effort, which is still in its early stages, is
proceeding on a couple of fronts. The company recently hired Marthalee
Galeota, who worked with Seattle-area nonprofits on disability matters, as
senior diversity specialist in charge of disability issues. The job goes
beyond making sure Starbucks complies with the Americans With Disabilities
Act, the law that mandates equal access to jobs and services for the
disabled. Ms. Galeota focuses on establishing a companywide etiquette for a
range of issues.

For instance, she has changed the labels on tables designated for wheelchair
users to read, "For a customer with a disability," instead of "Disabled

The company also has designed its counters at a height that is easily
reached by customers in wheelchairs, and the majority of its roughly 10,000
stores around the world have at least one handicapped-accessible entrance.

In addition, Ms. Galeota is working to incorporate disability etiquette into
employee training. For example, employees should ask a customer with a
disability if he or she would like help, rather than automatically lending a
hand; they should also refrain from petting a working service dog for the

Then there are day-to-day matters. Ms. Galeota fields calls from employees
with disabilities as well as store managers to give advice about potentially
tricky situations -- for instance, what a manager should do if an employee
goes deaf.

In terms of recruiting, the company has joined the National Business
Disability Council, which provides a national database of résumés of people
with disabilities.

"We have to make sure we are sourcing at every source that is available,"
Ms. Snowden says. On average, the company hires 200 to 300 people overall
every day.

Exactly how much progress Starbucks is making in hiring people with
disabilities is difficult to measure. The company doesn't keep statistics on
how many employees with disabilities it hires because employees are not
required to record that information on an application.

Beyond the Coffee Line The Starbucks effort comes as a number of other large
employers are reaching out to disabled workers. International Business
Machines Corp. offers internships for students with disabilities and runs
sessions for managers to meet potential hires with disabilities. It also has
put together a video for hiring managers that addresses questions they might
be afraid to ask, such as how much it will cost to accommodate these
employees and how they can ensure that these employees will be able to do
their jobs properly.

"It's sending a message that we are a company that wants the best talent and
we are inclusive of everyone," says Millie DesBiens, an IBM program manager
who focuses on disability issues.

Verizon Corp., meanwhile, sends employees to conferences and conventions
hosted by nonprofit groups working with the disability community. It also
informs disability advocates about certain job openings, says Jeff Kramer,
Verizon's director of public policy and strategic alliances.

But Starbucks faces a higher hurdle than most companies when it comes to
recruiting people with disabilities. Its workers are constantly interacting
with the public in its fast-paced, high-volume stores. Some Starbucks
employees with disabilities acknowledge the challenges -- but also the

Since she started at Starbucks in 1998, Cindy Rogers, 50, has lost much of
her vision. She uses special tactile pads on the cash register and takes her
guide dog along to work. She can no longer do much work behind the
fast-paced espresso bar, so she focuses on the pastry case and register.
Sometimes, she means to take a credit card and instead grabs the customer's
hand. She once called out to say she could help the next person in line only
to be told by a colleague that there was no line. At times, "customers are
not the nicest they could be," Ms. Rogers says.

"Customers will say, 'Isn't that nice that Starbucks will let people like
you work there.' " One man, commenting on her antiglare glasses, said, "
'Cool, I'll put on my sunglasses so we can communicate,' " she recalls.

But she says her co-workers at the Mesa, Ariz., outlet have been extremely
supportive. "I am sure they get frustrated," she says. "I try to use humor,
and if I didn't laugh I would cry."

And she says many customers are tactful and kind. She's gotten to know the
regulars by the sound of their voices and knows exactly what they are going
to order. On her days off, she runs a Braille reading group at the store for
local children and their parents.

Corey Lindberg, a deaf 46-year-old senior business systems analyst working
at Starbucks headquarters in Seattle, says he's less prone to distraction
around the office. If he needs to concentrate, he can just close his eyes.
In some ways, he says, his hearing impairment -- which he developed later in
life -- makes him work harder.

He relies on instant-messaging software and writing notes on paper to
communicate, and the company supplies a sign-language interpreter when he
attends meetings. When he speaks on the phone, he uses a device that
captions the conversation on a computer screen or a videoconferencing
service with an interpreter.

Before Michelle Penman joined Starbucks, she worked at a restaurant where
the owner insisted that she sit out of sight of customers, according to her
mother, Renee.

"He made her sit back behind the kitchen where she would not be in anyone's
way," Renee Penman wrote in an email. "Sometimes she sat there for four
hours without anyone even speaking to her. I talked with the owner several
times about finding another place for her to sit while she waited for an
order to come in, and he would not budge."

At Starbucks, the younger Ms. Penman sits in the front of the store, and
"there are times when customers have to go around her to get in the coffee
line," her mother says. But the manager has never suggested that Ms. Penman
move out of the way, according to her mother. When Ms. Penman is out sick,
customers ask where she is. Mr. Donald, the CEO, attended her 10th
anniversary party at the store. Michelle has been the subject of a local
newspaper story and television news spot, her mother says.

"People talk about Starbucks in such a positive way, they say, 'That's where
Michelle works,' " Renee Penman says. She says she knows her daughter is
giving the company a wealth of positive press, but she doesn't mind. "If
they want to be selfish and do it for them, that is OK. The person with the
disability is winning, too."

--Mr. Corkery is a staff reporter in The Wall Street Journal's New York

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