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A Walmart Story

October 14, 2010

You know, WalMart gets a bad rap much of the time, let’s face it, they’re a big target, but my wife is a director at CCJ and every month they get donations from our local WalMart stores. Did you know that when you try on clothes at the store but don’t purchase them WalMart donates many of those items to local clothing banks?

Here is a story about WalMart and jobs I found at disaboomjobs.com about how this retail giant helps.

 

Spann and Finn

Residents of Summerville, Ga., sometimes shop at the local Wal-Mart twice in one day, but it’s not because they forgot anything the first time. They just want a second chance to visit Finn, the black Labrador retriever service dog who works at the store with owner Spann Cordle.

Cordle has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair daily. Initially a store greeter, he acquired the service dog a few months after being hired. Managers welcomed Finn to the team, if not the payroll. Soon, Cordle’s polite manner and superb way with people earned him a promotion to the electronics customer service desk, and Finn came with him.

The duo offers cell phone contracts, sells service upgrades, and enlarges photographs as a team. If Cordle drops something, Finn picks it up. The six-year-old mobility service canine even wears a special vest harness to pull Cordle’s manual-automatic wheelchair through the store.

Disability Outreach

Cordle’s story is one of many that Wal-Mart Manager of Disability Outreach Crosby Cromwell uses to illustrate the tremendous effort her company is making to reach out to the disability community. A pair of initiatives heads corporate policy when making hires within the company.

“We have a diversity recruiter for our campus recruiting at community colleges and universities. She specifically looks at diverse communities and has been involved with career opportunities for students with disabilities through programs such as the U.S. Business Leadership Network.

“Internally, we have a group called Talent Services that recruits at a store level for associates and store managers. We are really putting together a concentrated, strategic effort to hire individuals from diverse communities, with disabilities firmly a part of that.”

Employees with disabilities can join an Associate Resource Group in the home office that gives them a sense of community within the organization. The group has an active role making decisions about recruitment and retention, diversity best practices, and business support, as well as associate and community development.

Service Dog Lends Helping Paw

Cordle and Finn have certainly been active in their community, reaching out to civic groups to talk about disability employment. Quiet and gentle, Finn helps break the ice with a few wags of his glossy tail.

Most people in this Georgia community had never seen a service dog or knew that such a thing existed before meeting him, and it’s no wonder. At $5,000, Finn represents several months’ pay for the average resident.

But he’s worth every penny – and then some – to Cordle.

“Oh, you want to talk about my child!” Cordle responds to questions about his furry companion. After finding out about service animals himself while watching a show on the Discovery Channel, Cordle decided to buy Finn from a private trainer to avoid the long wait for a dog at alternate facilities.

Finn responds to more than 80 commands. He even moves clothes from the washer to the dryer, and from the dryer to a waiting laundry basket … and then pulls the basket wherever Cordle needs it. The wide aisles and open doorways at Wal-Mart help Finn perform essential tasks that assist Cordle with his job.

Beyond the ADA

Not only does Wal-Mart take care to adhere to ADA guidelines, it also goes beyond what is mandated to offer job aids for associates with medical conditions not currently recognized by law.

The retail giant is also co-hosting a student summit in Dallas for college students with disabilities. They’ll be talking about fears associated with graduating and how to transition gracefully and successfully into employment, looking at resume-building skills and corporate careers.

“It’s not only actual recruiting and hiring that’s going on,” Cromwell notes, “we want to be part of the dialogue on how to make that preparation process easier.”

In 2008, Wal-Mart was recognized as an Outstanding Employer for People with Disabilities by the National Governor’s Committee on People with Disabilities. That same year, the corporation also garnered a spot in CAREERS and the disABLED magazine’s Top 50 Employers for the fifth year in a row.

Cordle and Finn Find Fame

“I don’t feel like it was at all disability-related,” Cordle says of his promotion to electronics. He says he earned it fair and square, that he wasn’t treated differently than anyone else. And that’s a wonderful truth: he wasn’t passed over because of his wheelchair.

But disability has played a role, in a very positive way, in a pair of appearances he and Finn have made since.

Cordle earned an invitation to the company’s huge annual shareholder meeting, an honor afforded only a few select associates, because of his extraordinary service and dedication to the company. “Blown away” by being chosen, he and Finn rode a bus for 13 hours to attend. When higher-ups at the gathering found out about their long journey, the pair was immediately booked on a flight for their return trip, with the tab picked up by Wal-Mart.

Disability Issues: Never a Dull Moment

Cromwell never has a “typical” work day, and it’s one of her favorite things about the job. Juggling internal and external liaison roles, she may be providing counsel and advice on a specific disability issue to a particular sector of the company at one moment, and partnering with a national disability organization on a nationwide campaign the next.

“To me,” Cromwell notes, “one of the most important aspects of the relationship with our external organizations is that we are able to bring their voice back in to Wal-Mart, so they are advising on policies and practices regarding what the company sees as upcoming opportunities. A prime example of that is the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD).

“We were able to bring their voice in internally last year to support the Americans with Disabilities Amendment Act. AAPD was able to talk with our government relations office and Wal-Mart ended up writing a letter that went to Congress in support of the legislation.” They were the only major retailer to commit to support of the act prior to its passage in the House.

The two organizations also partner for Disability Mentoring Day, which provides a chance for high school students with conditions ranging from cerebral palsy to spinal cord injury to learn about corporate culture and job opportunities. Hundreds of interested teens take advantage of job-shadowing and hands-on career exploration at the company’s Arkansas headquarters and at stores around the country.

Universal Design Creates Accessible Stores

In addition to their corporate staffing commitments and community outreach initiatives, Wal-Mart also takes into consideration the special requirements of people with disabilities in their individual stores.

Stores are wheelchair accessible, with universal design concepts incorporated everywhere possible. If you’re in a wheelchair or using a walker, you’ll appreciate that bathroom doors have been removed in favor of simple curved entrances. Newer stores have extra-wide aisles to allow easier movement.

Blind and visually impaired customers can count on unique check-out machines designed specifically for them in all Wal-Marts and Sam’s Clubs. They feature raised telephone-like buttons and signature lines to help navigate payment procedures and protect financial privacy.

In addition, low prices are a big draw for the store, and especially pertinent to customers with disabilities is the $4 generic prescription drug program. Available for more than 350 generic drug prescriptions, it extends to cover an additional 1,000-plus over-the-counter drugs as well. So far the program, begun in 2006, has generated an estimated $ 1 billion in customer savings (for more information, see www.walmart.com/pharmacy).

Disability Organizations in the Money

Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. is also the largest corporate cash contributor in the U.S. The company’s charitable giving exceeded $200 million last year (more than $18,000 an hour, or $5 per second). The disability community was a major beneficiary of that largesse.

Special Olympics received $ 1.6 million to bring the World Games to Boise, Idaho, in 2009. The National Organization on Disability (NOD) used their $100,000 to provide technical assistance training to educate first-responders and the disability community on best practices in emergencies and natural disasters.

A $3 million grant funded a project undertaken with The Arc of the United States to establish a project dedicated to improving outcomes for youth with intellectual and developmental disabilities, especially while they’re transitioning from school to adult life.

But Cromwell doesn’t want the company’s efforts to end there.

“I’m extremely passionate about the disability community,” Cromwell says. “And to have the opportunity to be at a place where I not only get to reach out into the community but also reach back into the largest corporation in the world and supply that disability voice, that’s an unbelievable and gratifying opportunity.

“I have great hopes for the heightened disability focus of our current Congress and Administration. In addition, with corporations stepping up like they never have before I think there is an important window to partner across all levels and create powerful, new opportunities in the disability community.”  

And what about Spann Cordle? He’s happy at Wal-Mart.

Recently, he and Finn became movie stars. The pair has a central role in a video about accommodation that was shot for a Wal-Mart affiliate, Sam’s Club, and debuted at the yearly meeting.

Afterward, Cordle and Finn came onstage and spoke to  more than 3,000 managers about accessibility awareness and compliance.  Man and dog got not one, not two, but an unprecedented three standing ovations for their efforts.

Can the big star return to his local Wal-Mart after such exposure?

“I love doing what I do, and this is home,” he says.

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