Business

Companies make room for disabled employees, get positive results

Making accommodations in the workplace

Adam Wesley/The Gazette

Maggie Kollmorgen fills a box with cupcakes in July at the Scratch Cupcakery. Kollmorgen, who has Down syndrome, works two-hour shifts at the shop, which accommodated her disability during her training. Goodwill of the Heartland says most accommodations for people with disabilities cost employers little or nothing.
Adam Wesley/The Gazette Maggie Kollmorgen fills a box with cupcakes in July at the Scratch Cupcakery. Kollmorgen, who has Down syndrome, works two-hour shifts at the shop, which accommodated her disability during her training. Goodwill of the Heartland says most accommodations for people with disabilities cost employers little or nothing.
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CORALVILLE — Small accommodations can go a long way for workers like Maggie Kollmorgen.

Kollmorgen has Down syndrome, but she’s found a work home at Scratch Cupcakery, where she folds boxes, fills cupcake orders and cleans up around the store four hours a week.

When Kollmorgen began working there last fall, she needed to learn the job at a slower pace — taking a few weeks to learn how to build the boxes instead of the few days it takes most employees.

The longer training period was one of the workplace accommodations the cupcake business made to employ the 26-year-old worker.

“You teach them little things at a time and spend a little bit more than one day or one shift on it,” said Kim Frost, assistant manager at Scratch, who added the company also employs Kelly Cochran, another worker with disabilities.

Overall, Frost said, the accommodations were not major ones and having Kollmorgen and Cochran has been a great help.

“I’m just loving it here. I just get along very well with the co-workers here in the front and the back,” Kollmorgen said, adding it was great to be accepted by both the co-workers and the company.

David Dickey, an employment developer at Goodwill of the Heartland, said while some companies think accommodations for people with disabilities will be expensive, most accommodations are simple and often don’t cost anything.

“The cost is very, very minimal,” Dickey said.

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Goodwill’s Employment Services program, he said, connects people with physical and mental disabilities to employers looking to fill positions, and it also works with veterans, the unemployed and the underemployed.

According to a 2014 study by the Job Accommodation Network, 57 percent of job accommodations can be made at no cost to the company while other accommodations typically cost $500. The Job Accommodation Network is a service from the Office of Disability Employment Policy under the U.S. Department of Labor.

If there is a cost associated with an accommodation, Dickey said, companies can take advantage of tax incentives to cover the cost.

The Americans with Disabilities Act, passed in 1990, set the standards for the rights and responsibilities for employees and employers, including accommodation.

The law ensures people with disabilities have equal opportunity in how they apply for jobs as well and also makes sure employees with disabilities to enjoy equal benefits and privileges of employment, such as providing a ramp to a front lobby or access to a breakroom, Dickey said.

He said the ADA also allows requires companies to make reasonable accommodations so employees with disabilities can perform the essential functions of their job.

In Kollmorgen’s case, Frost said that meant allowing her more time to learn how to package boxes and tweaking her job responsibilities to her skill set.

Frost said Kollmorgen and Cochran have made a positive contribution to the company.

“They just take the initiative, and that’s just great — not having to push someone to do things, and they just do it on their own,” Frost said.

Scratch Cupcakery is not alone.

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Backpocket Brewing Company in Coralville also has found success employing people with disabilities, said head brewer Matt Scholbrock. He said the company currently employs three men to build six-pack boxes and two others help place bottles on a conveyor belt, as well another disabled employee who has graduated from the Goodwill program and works at the company.

“It’s not like we’ve had to adjust anything from our normal routine to allow them to come in and do these jobs,” Scholbrock said, noting the company made virtually no accommodations to employ the workers.

Goodwill of the Heartland helped both Stratch and Backpocket in finding and transitioning the employees into the workplace.

With both companies, Goodwill provided a job coach that accompanied disabled employees during their training to help them understand their employer’s expectations and their training.

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