Seattle-based Bean Box has 20 employees, and three of them were hired through Northwest Center Employment Services, a nonprofit that places people with disabilities in jobs throughout Washington and in Idaho. Bean Box, a subscription company that ships curated boxes of specialty coffee throughout the United States and Canada, credits an inclusive workforce with improved productivity, employee morale and teamwork.  

Northwest Center provides various services and advocacy for equal rights and full inclusion for people with disabilities. NWCES places individuals of all abilities into long-term, permanent positions. Only about one-third of working-age persons with disabilities are employed, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, and just 30% of U.S. companies try to include people with disabilities. That’s something that Northwest Center is trying to change, one workplace at a time.

“Northwest Center was able to walk me through the process,” says Ben Adler, director of operations at Bean Box. “It’s not like you have to do it on your own or in a bubble. If you just step back in your business and look at the things that people are doing every day, you’ll find spaces that folks of any ability can come in and do,” he says.

Northwest Center Employment Services places job seekers with disabilities at a range of businesses, from mom-and-pop shops to big names like Amazon. NWCES has helped hundreds of people with disabilities find employment at Amazon sortation centers, fulfillment centers and Prime Now warehouses. One of Northwest Center’s six inclusive businesses, Northwest Center Office & Staffing Solutions, employs people of all abilities to provide Amazon with reception and office services.

The process

Clients seeking employment come to Northwest Center from many community partners including the Department of Social and Health Services’ Developmental Disabilities Administration and DSHS Division of Vocational Rehabilitation. To find a good match, Northwest Center Employment Services assesses clients’ interests, skills and talents. “We want to make sure that everything’s going to be the right fit,” says Madison Hagerty, an employment consultant with Northwest Center. Then, NWCES employment consultants may assist clients in building skills to gain meaningful work.  

At Bean Box, Alex and two other NWCES clients tried out potential job tasks in a working interview before being hired. Even though they are now Bean Box employees, they still receive on-the-job support from Northwest Center job coaches. After hire, some clients need assistance throughout the shift, while others only need occasional or no long-term support at all. As individuals become more proficient in the requirements of the job and natural supports with coworkers are formed, job coaching gradually reduces to meet the needs of the individual.

Just like any employee, those hired through Northwest Center “have days where they struggle or they’re more successful,” Adler says. “The coaches are there to help provide support for them.”

And as with any other employee, employers can see their employees grow professionally, acquire new abilities, and increasingly benefit the business.

“No matter the size of your business or what you’re doing, there’s probably a place for people of all abilities,” says Ben Adler, director of operations at Bean Box. (Scott Eklund/Red Box Pictures)
“No matter the size of your business or what you’re doing, there’s probably a place for people of all abilities,” says Ben Adler, director of operations at Bean Box. (Scott Eklund/Red Box Pictures)

For example, at first, one employee hired through NWCES was matched with counting out and adding chocolates and caramels to bags, which he produced at a fast clip. Building boxes is now part of his repertoire, as his skill set grew. Alex moved from folding the small boxes that hold chocolates to creating sample boxes containing four coffee samples and a candy, then stacking those sample boxes.

“Inclusion is great for a business,” Adler says. Different tasks require a workforce of all abilities, he notes. “We’re able to not just provide more people with work; we’re able to get things done more efficiently because they’re good at the things that they’re doing every day.”

The business case

According to Gene Boes, president and CEO of Northwest Center, inclusion benefits business profitability, workplace climate and operation. Many businesses struggle with similar, complex problems — including attrition, absenteeism, productivity and quality.

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Hiring workers of all abilities can help resolve some of those struggles. One Walgreens warehouse noted 20% higher productivity after employing a workforce of 40% of people with disabilities, according to Northwest Center. And Northwest Center employees placed at Amazon achieved a perfect safety record, and better attendance compared to the general population, along with 37% higher work quality.

There’s a positive impact on the workplace community, too, Adler notes. Alex is involved in every business element — team lunches, stand-up meetings, even drawings for Christmas prizes.

The effects ripple organization-wide. Partnering with Northwest Center signals to employees that Bean Box believes in the value of inclusion.

“Inclusion means not just having a lot of people from different backgrounds, but valuing what they do and finding their best contribution to the team,” Adler says. “No matter the size of your business or what you’re doing, there’s probably a place for people of all abilities.”

Northwest Center’s founding mission of disability inclusion in education and employment has evolved to include expanding DEI efforts across our staffing, training, services and commercial operations. Connect with us to learn how inclusion can benefit your business.