Expert Insight: Sorting it Out
By Cliff Holste
Date: Dec. 11, 2008

Logistics News: Handicapped Labor Pool has a lot to Offer Distribution Managers

Workers with Special Needs Can Boost Productivity, Ease Your Tax Burden While Improving the Bottom Line

At the Walgreens DC in Anderson, S.C., which opened in June of 2007, 40 percent of the workers have physical or cognitive disabilities.  Walgreens found that people with disabilities are as diverse as “able-bodied” associates in term of abilities, needs, and attitudes. 

Their experience has shown that an integrated workforce is not just as good, it is better.  Randy Lewis, SVP of Distribution & Logistics, has been quoted as saying “It has brought out the best in all of us”.  To view a brief video report that NBC News did go to and look for the title “Walgreens Rocks”.

As part of their program, Walgreens converted its computer displays from lines of type to touch screens with a few icons.  It persuaded vendors to include more information in bar codes on merchandise, so that employees wouldn't have to enter so much data themselves.  It redesigned work stations so that people don't have to stretch as far, and it added help buttons to summon assistance.  And yes, it provided lots of on the job operational and safety training.

In order fulfillment, you may be using pick-to-light, put-to-light, or voice directed picking technologies. These are all user-friendly methods that offer good potential for successful employment of the handicapped.

It’s not that this is a new concept or even a new trend.  Disabled workers have long been employed successfully in warehousing and distribution operations. You can get lots of important information on hiring people with disabilities from the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) by going to their website at

Help - and Tax Breaks - Are Available

Employing disabled individuals as part of a new or growing small warehousing/distribution business makes sense and it has certain tax incentives and advantages in many states.

Intermediary organizations such as Goodwill Industries (nationally headquartered in Baltimore, MD) offer services to help smaller businesses more easily set up such operations.  The non-profit agency offers significant help to start-up and ongoing companies in how best to develop their operations involving disabled workers.  In many states there are federal and state programs to help companies’ employee individuals with disabilities.  You can find out what is available in your state by contacting your State Department of Labor or Chamber of Commerce.

However, given the uniqueness of each business and operation, you’re pretty much on your own initiative to develop creative ways to take advantage of this untapped resource.

Considering the handicapped for DC operations is not only a good thing to do - it can also be a good thing for your business as well.

Agree or disgree with our Holste's perspective? What would you add? Let us know your thoughts for publication in the SCDigest newsletter Feedback section, and on the website. Upon request, comments will be posted with the respondent's name or company withheld.

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profile About the Author
Cliff Holste is Supply Chain Digest's Materials Handling Editor. With more than 30 years experience in designing and implementing material handling and order picking systems in distribution, Holste has worked with dozens of large and smaller companies to improve distribution performance.
Visit SCDigest's New Distribution Digest web page for the best in distribution management and materials handling news and insight

Holste Says:

Considering the handicapped for DC operations is not only a good thing to do - it can also be a good thing for your business as well. 

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