With our warehouse’s recent move to Portland, we found ourselves with a bunch of new positions to fill, and decided we wanted to make sure our job opportunities were being offered to a diverse range of people. Individuals with disabilities can have a particularly hard time finding open and accepting employment opportunities, so in addition to typical job postings we wanted to make sure to increase awareness of our openings within this community.

There are loads of reasons why building an inclusive workplace is a good thing, not the least of which is that hiring – especially hiring entry level positions as a young company – is hard. Terrifying, actually. Within a small group of people, each new addition makes a huge difference to the dynamic of the everyday working experience, and since we’ve been super lucky so far to have found a core group of seriously awesome people, we wanted to be really careful to maintain the environment.

Since we were looking to more than double the warehouse team, we started by looking (and posting) everywhere we could think of, and it turns out that it’s surprisingly difficult to find programs that help connect employers like us with job-seekers who have disabilities. Luckily, we have some friends who have children on the autism spectrum who were able to get us connected with the Youth Transition Program through Portland Public Schools and Albertina Kerr / Project Search. Each of these programs serves to place adults with a range of disabilities in fitting jobs.

The great thing about these programs is that their coordinators met with us to get a sense of the positions we had available, and then when they found some good fits, they helped us understand the candidates, what sorts of challenges we might face, and any modifications we might be able to make to help ensure a successful placement. Whenever we have had questions or concerns, the project coordinators have been available to help, and so far, we have had a lot of success.

For each of the candidates, we’ve started with a variation on a working interview, where they come in and try out or observe aspects of the job to see if they think it’s the type of work they’d enjoy. If after that first meeting they (and their team) decide it’s a good fit, they come back and start work. For the initial period, we continue to communicate with their job coaches and the rest of their support team about how progress is going, and we all work together to troubleshoot.

Of course, not all placements are a success, but in general we’ve found that in exchange for allowing candidates to enter through a slightly different shaped door, we get extremely committed, diligent, trustworthy, wonderful team members. Training supported candidates sometimes take a little longer, and we have to make sure to be clear and concise when giving instruction, but in return we learn where the possible sources of confusion lie, and are able to make the training and our policies and procedures clearer for our whole team. Warehouse jobs can be repetitive and feel trivial to some, but having this sort of straightforward, concrete work allows us to hire from a largely overlooked talent pool. For many of those working with us, this is the first paid position after in some cases years of searching. Having a diverse workplace reminds all of us to pause and try to truly understand one another, not to just assume that we’ve been understood.

Without question there have been and will continue to be hiccups and speed bumps, but we’re ready for it. As we continue to grow, we’re committed to continuing to make space and reasonable accommodations for those with disabilities, so if you know of someone in the greater Portland area you think might be a good fit, please feel free to drop us a line or connect us, and as positions come available, we’ll be in touch. Similarly, if you’re considering offering positions to those with disabilities, and want to talk with us about our experience, we’d love to hear from you!