One of the best experiences of my life was watching Jamie Smith, a young man with autism, leave his routine in Chicago, travel to the Special Olympics World Games in the chaotic Chinese city of Shanghai -- and succeed.
Jamie's success -- managing in a foreign country and bringing home a silver medal -- was the result of one thing: hard work. And I've yet to meet a harder worker than him, or a person who more appreciates the opportunities a job presents.
Our workplaces have grown diverse, but jobs remain far too scarce when it comes to people with autism or other intellectual disabilities. Unemployment rates vary depending on the study but hover around 80 percent, and people with disabilities who do get jobs are routinely paid less than other workers.
A stigma surrounds people with disabilities, and employers fear that accommodating workers from this demographic might be cost-prohibitive. Fortunately, some progress is being made.
Walgreen Co., for example, has for years welcomed workers with intellectual disabilities. In 2007, it opened a distribution center in Anderson, S.C., with the goal that people with disabilities would make up 33 percent of the staff and be paid and treated the same as any other employee.
That number now tops 40 percent, and the company opened a similar center in Connecticut in 2009. It also has begun a separate program that recruits people with disabilities to work in Walgreens stores.