The eighth annual World Autism Awareness Day is April 2, 2016.
There is a lesson for leaders in the viral video of Sam Forbes, a Starbucks employee from Toronto known as the "dancing barista." Sam has autism and experiences uncontrollable sudden movements, making it difficult for him to remain still. Starbucks manager Chris Ali hired Sam, 17, to work at his location four months ago, and used music to help Sam acclimate to his responsibilities. Chris realized that Sam loved to dance and played music so that Sam could dance in between his barista duties, finding that it calmed Sam's sporadic movements. Interestingly, this approach also improved Sam's focus, thereby supporting his tasks behind the bar.
Sam recently basked in international attention when the teenager and his boss shared their story on The Ellen DeGeneres Show. In her usual magnanimous fashion, Ellen celebrated both employer and employee for their accomplishments and positive impact but the predominant theme of her message was clear: More businesses should hire people with disabilities.
This story is an excellent example of why we need more heart-centered leaders like Chris Ali in the world. Heart-centered leaders aren't afraid to challenge the status quo. They have the foresight and drive to help their employees reach their full potential and uncover their innate talents. Servant leaders like Chris strive to benefit the lives of others through their actions. In turn, everyone benefits.
Here are just a few of the many reasons why hiring a person with a disability will makes a positive difference at your workplace and in those around you.
1. People with disabilities confront barriers every day.
The more you, as a heart-centered leader, help break down these barriers, the more our society benefits. Need more tangible reasons to hire a disabled person? Studies show that employees with disabilities are extremely loyal, focused, hardworking, and boast very low absenteeism records.
2. Be a heart-centered role model.
When people observe leaders giving someone with a disability a chance, and taking the time to work through challenges they face on the job, they will feel more inclined to do the same.
Helping others is contagious. When people observe acts of kindness and helping others, there is a ripple effect of positive action. This can spur permanent, positive transformation in the hearts and minds of those around you. Still unsure? Many studies point to the beneficial emotional -- and even physical -- upshots of helping others.
3. Improve company culture and morale.
Inclusive workplaces contribute to a more positive work environment and help move toward more open-minded societal shifts in attitude and bias.
4. Leave a legacy.
How do you wish to be remembered as a leader? Be at the heart of positive change by making a real difference in the lives of others. A heart-centered leader who sincerely and actively makes a concerted effort to help a person with a disability is not only assisting them in creating a better life but are also instigating change.
And if none of the reasons above inspire you to hire someone with a disability, let me appeal to your appreciation of a healthy bottom line. According to a US Chamber of Commerce report entitled, "Leading Practices on Disability Inclusion" hiring people with disabilities is good for business. The 2013 study, "A Better Bottom Line: Employing People with Disabilities" by the National Governors Association echo similar findings. The NGA found that, "Businesses report positive outcomes from employing people with disabilities. Walgreens, for example, has experienced a 120 percent productivity increase at a distribution center made universally accessible and more than 50 percent of whose employees are disabled."
Many companies like Walgreens, 3M, AT&T, Microsoft and of course, Starbucks, are paying attention to this issue and, in turn, reaping the benefits. So take a closer look at your hiring practices, discuss them with your associates and then make a commitment to take action to include people who can make a profound difference to your business -- and your life as a whole.