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Providence Journal Disabled employees find jobs at CVS are a good fit
Sunday, November 26, 2006
By Arthur Kimball-Stanley
Mark Barnabe, a tax manager at CVS' corporate headquarters in Woonsocket, has worked for the company for 25 years. "They give me the tools so that I can remain or be more productive," he says.
Born with spina bifida, a birth defect that results in a malformation of the spine, the 24-year-old Gothberg uses leg braces and crutches to get around. But it doesn't stop him from doing all the things that are expected of a clerk.
"He's a go-getter," said Terri Chalifouz, the manager of the CVS store on Main Street in Wakefield, where Gothberg works. "There is no difference between him and any other of our employees."
Gothberg stocks shelves, helps customers locate items and operates a cash register. The only accommodation the store makes for Gothberg is that he sits on a stool while ringing up items. The fact that he is disabled, Gothberg said, has never really been an issue at CVS. What's important, the company said, is finding the right kind of people.
"We have a little over a million and a half people that applied for positions at our 6,000 stores and only about 25 percent of them met our criteria," Michael Ferdinani, senior vice president for human resources at CVS, said. "What we are looking for are people who are dependable and who will go out of their way to help others. When you look at the number of people we hire, naturally some of them might have a disability, but if we can make an accommodation for them so they can be on the job, meeting those criteria, it just makes good sense to help them do that."
According to Ferdinani, much of what CVS is looking for in employees is hard to find, and if someone has it, it's in the company's best interest to get them working, no matter what obstacles have to be overcome.
It was partially because of that attitude toward hiring that CVS was awarded the 2006 New Freedom Initiative Award from the U.S. Department of Labor in October.
The award was created by President George W. Bush in 2001 to highlight employers, organizations and individuals who have shown exceptional commitment to equal access and opportunity for Americans with disabilities.
"What we saw with CVS is that where there are individuals with disabilities, they are providing them with the opportunities to be trained and put to work," said W. Roy Grizzard, the assistant secretary for disability employment policy at the U.S. Department of Labor.
"Businesses such as CVS are recognizing the value these employees offer and are giving them jobs. We want to see employers giving people opportunities not because they are compelled to do it, but because they recognize the opportunities that are there. CVS gets that."
And CVS gets a lot back in return, he said. The attendance records and turnover rates of disabled employees are as good or are better than their counterparts. That means, Grizzard explained, the employees are showing up to work more often and remaining loyal to the company for longer and, ultimately, that helps the bottom line.
And, with 1.5 million disabled people pursuing undergraduate degrees in the United States, failing to include them in the labor force would just be bad business, he said.
"Over the next six years there will be 36 million Americans who will be eligible to leave the work force," Grizzard said. "As a result there will be increasing competition for skilled, ready-to-work employees. If employers consider the abilities of those with disabilities, their applicant pool will expand incredibly."
Among the programs CVS has instituted at its pharmacies is the New Vision Photography Program, based in Washington, D.C, which helps adults with developmental disabilities train for jobs in digital photography. Since 2005, the company has hired 12 graduates as photo assistants.
Closer to the company's home here in Rhode Island, Gothberg said he credits having a job with helping him to lead an independent life.
"I know some people who are completely sheltered because of their disability," Gothberg, of Wakefield, said. "They don't have a life. That's sad because if you are not doing things on your own you are never going to know how to live."
Another employee is Mark Barnabe, a tax manager who works at the company's corporate headquarters in Woonsocket. Barnabe is legally blind and has been for the 25 years that he has worked at CVS. While he is able to see a little bit, he is not able to drive.
"When I got out of college and started looking for a job, I realized I would have to live in a city with a mass-transit system or find a job close to home," Barnabe said. "My first interview was at an accounting firm and the guy said he couldn't hire me because I didn't have a car. Along came CVS, and they said as long as I made sure to get to work on time every day, it wouldn't be a problem."
Since then, whenever Barnabe has had a problem come up, the company has done what it takes to help him. Not only did the company provide him with a large monitor for his computer that allows him to view his screen in larger type, when laptops were given out to employees the company provided him with a large screen monitor for that as well.
"If I ask for anything I get it," Barnabe said. "They accommodate me with whatever I have a need for. They give me the tools so that I can remain or be more productive."