Sunday, July 27, 2014

Sunday Roundup - Higher Education Week

I had three essays published in the Chronicle of Higher Education this week, 2 planned (they normally won't post on the same day) and one a reaction piece.

I'm exceptionally proud of my university's work on undocumented students, and in general of the way that many Catholic universities have responded to this issue. Making decisions about policy based on a moral or theological perception is a potentially dangerous thing, and as I wrote in my blog, it tends to lead to stories about taking away rights or closing off (Eden Foods, Hobby Lobby, Wheaten College). It doesn't have to work that way.

I also wrote a piece about public engagement. It's #ScholarSunday on Twitter today, and if you dip into that hashtag and other academic parts of the twittersphere you'll find hundreds of scholars practicing various forms of public engagement. I also believe that every time a teacher goes into a classroom, they are working on public engagement. But we need to build pathways to take advantage of that expertise. More on this next week.

Finally, I responded to Senator John Walsh's plagiarism with a blog about being wrong and an essay on Vitae about the military and why transparent sourcing of information matters so much. Warmongers want to take bad, untrue, or fragmentary information and use it to start a war. Demanding citation becomes pretty high stakes in that environment. Also, I'm still so angry about the Iraq War and all the lies.

In mid-week, I updated efforts on Eden Foods. I'm really interested in the phrase, "voting with dollars," because what I want to know is who is counting the votes. I think it's a way of shrugging off hard choices by stores. Don't let them do it!

Finally, in the disability world, I wrote three posts: One was on the ABLE act. It's a great act. I was going to write about it, but frankly I think it's going to pass. I try to cover stories that aren't getting enough attention.

The other two were about humor, one focused on Wyatt Cenac making fun of Down syndrome and speech on This American Life (I have an essay out on it I'm trying to land), and the second more generally on disclaimers (and antisemitism). Humor can punch up or punch down. It can shatter stereotypes or reinforce them. That's how I judge it.

Next week should be a good writing week for me, as I'm done with copyedits. I hope to get a lot of pending essays out and off to publishers.

As always, thanks for reading!

Friday, July 25, 2014

I was wrong: Senator Walsh and Plagiarism

I have a new piece up on Chronicle Vitae on the alleged (but really not alleged) plagiarism by Senator John Walsh (D-MO) in his final paper at the War College, where he received his masters. In the piece, I talk about what we do and don't need from military elites in terms of citation. Details of Chicago Manual of Style? No. Honesty about sources? Yes. I finish:
I am troubled by Walsh’s plagiarism. I don’t care whether our military elites know the intricacies of Chicago Manual of Style citation, but we cite in order to be transparent about the sources of our information. We cite to show how our ideas relate to the work of others. We cite to show that the evidence supports our conclusions. That’s something that I want our military elites to take very seriously. I hope the War College is responding to this scandal by examining their assessment norms and looking at other papers, not just those written by senators, to make sure their practices match their principles.
Walsh’s paper talks about the Iraq War. The Iraq War, as we now know, was started based off of faulty and biased information. One study found 935 false public statements from the Bush administration, many blithely reported as facts by the media. Many of the allegations about weapons of mass destruction came from “Curveball,” a single individual that claimed to have insider information, but didn’t.
Now there is a case where good footnotes might have helped.
I like to think that's a good point, that information structure REALLY does matter when deciding whether or not to go to war, or bomb something, or otherwise engage in military actions.

Here's the thing. I am a strong-willed opinionated writer. You have to have strong opinions to be an opinion writer; in fact, I am often toning myself down to seem reasonable when really I just want to WRITE ALL CAPS HOW CAN YOU BE SO WRONG kinds of essays. But there's plenty of that kind of thing online, I like a lot of it, and so I try for a more measured approach. Just remember, inside, I am shouting.

This leads me to get accused of never being willing to admit that I am wrong. That's not a new accusation for me, as I was a loudmouth extroverted-introvert as a kid (nerdy, pudgy, unpopular, argumentative) and some things don't change. I'm not easily persuaded that I am wrong. But I can be persuaded. For example, yesterday I tweeted:
Fourteen pages? A thought piece without data? For a masters? Such was my gut reaction.

A friend of mine from a military family quickly called me on it, followed by another friend who is a veteran, and they both pointed out that this was not a degree of higher learning, but a credential system. An officer gets nominated and sent there, everyone is under a lot of pressure to pass people through (my friend made an analogy to the pressure sports teams are under to get people passed, except for the whole school, with the honor of the service on the line!), and so forth.

It's still plagiarism. It's important. It's against the War College's rules and honor code. And Walsh is going to lose his election (he was probably going to lose anyway), pending some other kind of big change. But it was an important reminder that although the words were the same as my world - masters, plagiarism - the context was in fact entirely different.

I was wrong.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Disclaimers and Stereotypes

I'm interested in disclaimers in comedy, as well as offensive language and its permutations more generally (see here and here). In general, I argue that the speaker doesn't get to control whether or not something is offensive. The speaker only controls whether or not he/she cares.

Right now, I've got a piece working on comedy, disability, and disclaimers (see yesterday's resource post).. Here's a much more serious story on anti-Jewish hate in France. As you may know, there were riots in a suburb of Paris that damaged Jewish shops and a synagogue. For Jews, like me, as well as anyone who studies history, it raises the specter of historical mob violence against Jews and is very frightening. NPR had a piece this morning on French Jews moving to Israel despite the war there, because they no longer feel safe (in part due to anti-Islamic sentiment among French Jews, as well).

I want to focus on Dieudonné M’bala M’bala, the comedian whose routines are all about the Jews. He's mentioned in the NPR piece and has been in the news a lot, but here's an excerpt from a Washington Post piece from June.
“I am not an anti-Semite,” French comedian Dieudonné M’bala M’bala says with a devilish grin near the start of his hit show at this city’s Théâtre de la Main d’Or.
Then come the Jew jokes.
In front of a packed house, he apes Alain Jakubowicz, a French Jewish leader who calls the humor of Dieudonné tantamount to hate speech. While the comedian skewers Jakubowicz, Stars of David glow on screen and, as the audience guffaws, a soundtrack plays evoking the trains to Nazi death camps. In various other skits, he belittles the Holocaust, then mocks it as a gross exaggeration.
In a country where Jewish leaders are decrying the worst climate of anti-Semitism in decades, Dieudonné, a longtime comedian and erstwhile politician whose attacks on Jews have grown progressively worse, is a sign of the times. French authorities issued an effective ban on his latest show in January for inciting hate. So he reworked the material to get back on stage — cutting, for instance, one joke lamenting the lack of modern-day gas chambers.
But the Afro-French comedian, whose stage name is simply Dieudonné, managed to salvage other bits, including his signature “quenelle” salute. Across Europe, the downward-pointing arm gesture that looks like an inverted Nazi salute has now gone so viral that it has popped up on army bases, in parliaments, at weddings and at professional soccer matches. Neo-Nazis have used it in front of synagogues and Holocaust memorials. Earlier this year, bands of Dieudonné supporters flashed it during a street protest in Paris while shouting, “Jews, out of France!”
He starts with a disclaimer, then reinforces and promotes stereotypes. He finds the limits of hate speech, then slides just to the safe side. He reaps enormous publicity rewards, as the New Yorker puts it, "very little talent and a good deal of hate."

A disclaimer means nothing except that you are aware that you are about to objectionable and don't want to be punished for it. The cases I'm working on in regards to disability are NOTHING like the hate of Dieudonné, but I am a writer with a focus on epistemology and language, and the parallels are strong.This is an argument ad extremum. Does it work, do you think?

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Resource Post: This American Life and Down Syndrome

Resource Posts on "How Did We Get Into This Mess?" provide full or partial transcripts of relevant documents, organized links, and minimal commentary on issues. 

A fellow parent and internet friend alerted me to a show on This American Life in which Wyatt Cenac, former Daily Show correspondent and comedian, made some jokes about Down syndrome. With the permission of my friend, I am posting excerpts of her email, the response from Ira Glass (producer and host of the show), and the transcript of the relevant piece.

Here's the transcript of show 524: I was so High. You can also listen to it on their site.
And my phone rang. I answered the phone. But no words would come out. I couldn't say anything. And I could hear my friend Laura on the other end. And she's saying hello.
Then, I'm trying so hard. I'm just like, say something. Just talk. Talk damn it! And finally, I am like, (UNUSUAL ACCENT) I am so [BLEEP] high. This is terrible.
And I did it in that voice. And I have never done that voice before in my life. I don't know where that voice came from. But I heard myself use that voice. And in my mind, I went, oh [BLEEP]. I just gave myself Down Syndrome.
(NORMAL VOICE) Now let me just say, I know what Down Syndrome is. I know that Down Syndrome is something that you're born with when you are born with an extra chromosome. I know all that information. I knew that information then. But something about eating this brownie made me think that somehow I had grown an extra chromosome and I now had adult-onset Down Syndrome.
And for people who have Down Syndrome, it's something they grow up with. And they grow up and they have healthy and happy lives. I just got it.
And I start freaking out. I'm just like, I'm going to have to explain this to people. And I start panicking. And I just start freaking out, freaking out to the point where I start weeping in the middle of Dodger Stadium.
And then, I start laughing. And then, I start weeping again. And then, a bunch of cops start walking towards me. And something in my brain just clicks on. It's like, Wyatt, you have to keep it together right now. I was like, (UNUSUAL ACCENT) yes. Keep it together.
(NORMAL VOICE) Yeah, Wyatt, there are cops right there. They cannot know you are high. (UNUSUAL ACCENT) No, they cannot know I am high. (NORMAL VOICE) And now, my internal monologue has become my external monologue. And I start pointing at the cops.
And I'm like, (UNUSUAL ACCENT) you cannot know I am high. I have to fool you. I am fooling you.
(NORMAL VOICE) We thought maybe it's time we should leave Dodger Stadium. I'm not sure exactly how far into the game we were. I know it was past the first inning. We might not have made it to the third inning.
My friend, J., wrote to complain and to ask that the segment was removed. That obviously hasn't happened. She wrote:
I am writing you in reference to the “I Was So High” episode broadcast a few weeks ago. We are members of our local NPR station KERA and we enjoy listening to This American Life. On this particular Sunday, my husband & I were listening to the radio on our front porch while our children were playing nearby. We tuned in about ten minutes into the episode before Cenac’s piece aired. This episode was like most: entertaining, thought provoking, and amusing. We were laughing up until the moment we heard Cenac say the words “Down syndrome” – at that moment we feared what might come next. Both of my daughters, including my younger daughter, who happens to have Down syndrome, were watching us and listening to the story, which now had our complete attention.
 When Wyatt Cenac said “Down syndrome” we feared how it would be discussed in the context of a comic’s routine about drug abuse. We anticipated hearing the R-word, Retard (a term of derision). But Cenac was choosing his words carefully and he stopped short of using the R-word in his monologue. Yet his implicit denigration for those with Down syndrome was impossible to overlook. In essence, Cenac describes an incident of abusing marijuana: he is unable to speak coherently, compulsively uses the bathroom and his thinking becomes disorganized and paranoid. He describes being so inebriated that he fears he has “grown an extra chromosome” and is convinced he has acquired “adult-onset Down syndrome”. The punch line of his monologue is having a cognitive disability: “Oh Shit!” Cenac says, “I just gave myself Down syndrome” and the crowd erupts in laughter. “This is terrible!” he repeatedly states. 
The letter, which is excellent, continues to analyze Cenac's reaction and says:
Even though Cenac avoids using the R-word, he tries to hide behind the medical term – believing it’s a safe, politically correct way to deliver an insult. As historian and author James W. Trent, Jr. writes (from Inventing the Feeble Mind: A History of Mental Retardation in the U.S.):
These words – idiot and imbecilefeeblemindedmorondefective and the like – are today offensive to us, and yet they reveal in their honesty the sensibilities of the people who used them and the meanings they attached to mental retardation…More recently, the mentally retarded have become mentally retarded persons and…persons with developmental disabilities or personas specially challenged…Behind these awkward new phrases, however, the gaze we turn on those we label mentally retarded continues to be informed by the long history of condescension, suspicion, and exclusion. While our contemporary phrases appear more benign, too often we use them to hide from the offense in ways that the old terms did not permit [emphasis mine]. 
To air a program that equates cognitive disability with the effects of drug abuse is far from humorous and entertaining – it’s reprehensible. I would no more laugh at this story than I would a racist joke. Try replacing the words “Down syndrome” for “Cripple” or “Transsexual”: disability-rights and LGBT activists would be alarmed and outraged! Hate speech against persons with cognitive disabilities is no less deplorable. 
In response to complains, Ira Glass wrote:
Hi J. -
Apologies for taking so long to get back to you.  Thanks for your thoughtful emails.  Sorry you've had to be so persistent in reaching out to get a response.
We've done many stories about people with various disabilities, including two about kids and parents of kids with Down Syndrome (Episode #311 <>  and Episode #358<> ).  I agree with you completely that nobody should have to listen to stories that mock and denigrate them.  This was a concern for me and my producers when we were working with Wyatt Cenac on his story for episode #524.  We talked about it as we shaped the story.  
But I don't agree with you that his story mocks and denigrates people with Down Syndrome.  Perhaps we will never agree on this point, but just to share my side of it: In my view, the only people being made fun of in his story are people who get high.  Wyatt goes out of his way to point out that Down Syndrome means that you have an extra chromosome (not offensive).  He points out that people with Down Syndrome grow up with it and have healthy and happy lives (also not offensive).  And he talks about his own freakout.  The only thing that possibly could be offensive is his imitation of what a person with Down Syndrome sounds like, and again - we may disagree about that - I think that's fair game for a comedian.  Black comedians imitate white people.  White comedians imitate black people.  Male comedians imitate females and females imitate men.  Wyatt isn't doing a disability version of some racist comic making fun of Mexicans or something.  In my view, it's clear he's the butt of the joke.  
If I felt differently, I wouldn't have put this on the air.  
If there's something you think I'm missing here, I welcome your thoughts.  Let's discuss it here in email.  Again, I say respectfully that it's possible we are not going to agree on this one, but if it's possible to come to some understanding with each other, I'd like that.
I've pasted below the transcript from our website, of this part of Wyatt's story.
Best regards,

Ira Glass
There we have it. I think J's letter makes the argument every strongly, but Glass wasn't persuaded. Expect to see more on this in the near future.

The ABLE act

Today in the US Senate Finance Committee there is a hearing on the ABLE Act. It's the kind of bill that ought to pass more or less instantly, as it allows people with disabilities to save some money for care without costing them their essential benefits.

And yet, in this Congress, it's stalled. We clearly won't get a vote before the August recess. I'm skeptical we'll get a vote before the mid-terms, but maybe a lame-duck Congress can pass it?

Anyway, back later with more thoughts.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Eden Foods - Voting with Dollars in a Rigged Game

Eden Foods Beans for Sale,
Whole Foods, Ogden Road, LaGrange IL 7/18/14
Eden Foods is on sale at Whole Foods stores across the country (often quite a bit cheaper than in Illinois. Thanks to everyone who sent pictures). Let me be clear - I am not accusing Whole Foods of a conspiracy here. I have talked to their spokesman who assures me that Eden Foods is part of a national yearly calendar sales promotion for July 2014, a calendar set well in advance.

I post this picture not to accuse, but to remind us all of the forces that are arrayed against us as we work to 1) stop corporate person-hood, 2) ensure equal access to contraceptive care for all, 3) stop the war on women, 4) fight for the separation of church and state.

I believe, I hope you believe, that personally held religious beliefs, especially but not exclusively ones that are medically wrong (Hobby Lobby's position in abortifacients), should not bring with it the power to discriminate against others. Moreover, I see the current law as benefiting conservative Christian religious principles only. For me, the fighting back takes place at the ballot box AND the checkout line, and my target is Eden Foods.

I've talked about this before. Eden Foods relies on a demographic that heavily skews liberals. If we simply stop buying their products, they will either go out of business or change their policy. This is on our turf. We can win this. And we are.

Last week I told you about Central Co-op in Seattle and their open letter to Eden Foods, revealing that about 80% of their products from the company were no longer selling, that consumers were voting with their dollars, so the coop was discontinuing products. I spoke to a spokeswoman at Central who said it amounted to about a $40,000 loss of sales a year for Eden Foods. One step at a time.

Here's the problem, though, with the voting with dollars construction that Whole Foods has used in their statements, and that lots of other stores are using as well. Someone has to count the votes. Central Coop did so, publicized the results, and we should be grateful to them. Who is counting at Whole Foods? Moreover, with this nationwide sale going on, isn't the game a little bit rigged, albeit unintentionally?

But Whole Foods has never really been my target, at least not yet. I think we win this fight in the locally-owned and operated co-ops across the country.

What I need you to do is to go to your store and ask about Eden Foods. When they reply something about "voting with dollars," ask them how soon they will count those votes, how closely they will track Eden Foods sales, when they will make a decision, and then publicize the damning information about Eden Foods, contraception, and CEO Potter.

Some stores have just stopped carrying the products (Weaver Street in North Carolina, for example). We need to publicize those. But where I really want to focus efforts is on the stores that haven't decided yet.
What is your co-op doing? If you vote with your dollars, will anyone count the votes and publicize the results? That's how we win.

And I can tell you this - Eden Foods is worried. They are so worried that they released a statement which failed to mention contraception at all. Follow the bouncing ball.
Prior to the Affordable Care Act, prescription drugs were an opt-in opt-out feature of health insurance plans Eden Foods offered its employees. Lifestyle drugs, as named and managed by the insurance industry, were excluded, such as viagra. Today, 34% of Eden Foods employees select prescription coverage for their plan, while 66% do not choose prescription drug coverage.
Since the inception of the Affordable Care Act all employees have all coverages required by the act, even those who do not want it.
1. Prescription drugs were an opt-in/out feature. Ok, fair enough.

2. Lifestyle drugs like viagra were not covered. This actually means contraception. They know they are on losing ground when they talk about birth control, though, so instead shift to viagra. Sneaky.

3. Today it's a 34/66 split. Except since the ACA, all employees have drug coverage. Which is it? Is it all employees or a 34/66 split? (I think the latter, since they have SCOTUS on Hobby Lobby as precedent now. I've emailed for confirmation).

4. "We are grateful for our silent supporters sending us messages directly, avoiding abuse that may befall them on social media." - As one of my friends said on Facebook, this is basically an argument that "all the lurkers in the thread are on our side."

The online response to Eden Foods, your responses to Eden Foods, has been overwhelmingly negative All the company can do is claim a silent majority, claim that they have private emails, claim that their customer-base is strong. 

In the end, Eden Foods has to rely on ignorance, apathy, and a nicely-timed national sales event to ride out this wave of bad publicity. They have to hope that when a store encourages you to vote with your dollars, that no one will count the votes. And so keep talking, writing, sharing pieces on the issue, and, most of all, pushing your local stores to pay attention. 

Thank you.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Religion and Public Engagement in Higher Education

Today I have piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education on Catholic universities and colleges and their leadership on providing support for undocumented students. I've met so many amazing students and I am deeply proud of the role my own institution is playing in this important matter. Please read and share the article.

I see this as another form of public engagement, my self-assigned "beat" for the Chronicle columns. Last time I wrote about individual faculty and engagement (and will again in a piece tomorrow over on their Vitae site), but institutions as a whole can also engage. One model is the famous agricultural school-extension services of the big land-grant universities. Here, with undocumented issues, is another.

In many ways, my essay today is about  the role of mission, belief, even theology, and how institutions and their leaders implement mission. It's also about epistemology - how we decide what our mission is and to what subjects it applies.

It seems to me that religious missions, in particular, can close a university off or catapult them into positive engagement and openness. The birth-control issue, recently decided in favor of colleges like Wheaton, is one issue, and I'm very upset about the role that Catholic universities are playing in denying coverage. I'm thinking, though, more about the pursuit of a religious exemption to discriminate against homosexual employees: George Fox has been in the news lately, but there are plenty of Catholic examples as well.

In these cases, it seems to me, that religion is being used to build a wall around the school, to say that modernity and the broader culture must keep out, must not corrupt, and that "religious freedom" means the right to be isolated. They certainly have a strong legal case, one that SCOTUS' conservative Catholic men support, but it runs directly counter to my beliefs about the role of the university in society (not to mention my beliefs about equal rights and against discrimination, that's a side issue for this particular blog).

On the other hand, as I tried to write about in today's essay, mission can open a pathway to direct action within society, to lead, to bring about change, to, as our mission says, "pursue truth, to give compassionate service and to participate in the creation of a more just and humane world." Since arriving at Dominican, I've been amazed and inspired to see how many people there really mean it. They try to live that mission. They do great work. They make me want to be a better person and to take my own stands in public.

And if you know the history of the Dominican order, good and bad, the way it plays out today won't be so surprising. It's the order of preachers, always focused on engagement, and today that engagement has brought my university into the world of immigration justice.

One of the reasons I wrote this piece, though, is that "Catholic" is contested ground. In American Catholicism, there are those who believe that belief requires them to restrict, to build that wall, as well as those who want to get out into the streets and engage, engage, engage. On the Left, there's a sense that religion is always focused on the closing of options rather than making things more possible. Such rhetoric, in fact, feeds the notion that conservative religion is the only real religion.

Catholic beliefs defy easy left-right assessment. But belief is not action. Individuals and institutions choose where they want focus - anti-contraception or anti-poverty, for example. I'm really proud of these Catholic schools that have been pushed by mission to serve these students in need.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Sunday Roundup - Eden Foods and the Cult of Compliance

I am halfway done with my copy-edits on my scholarly book. One more week, I hope.

Two major themes from this week's writing:

I've been working more on Eden Foods. In one piece, I argued that if we can't win this fight, on our turf, we might as well pack it in. I think I missed, rhetorically, here, as I meant this to be a "yes we can" piece and it was very much read as a "no we can't." For the record, we can win this one! And we are - here's the news from Seattle. Keep the pressure on. 

In more grim news, I wrote two pieces on the use of non-compliance by law enforcement to justify violence, especially as it plays out against disabled people. In Missouri, there's news about a man with mental illness who was running away and shot in the back. In New York, a man with severe asthma and diabetes was thrown to the ground in a chokehold and asphyxiated. We have to BOTH deal with the injustices of each case AND link them into the broader pattern.

Next week I have two higher-ed articles coming out, one on the way teaching prepares academics for public engagement, another on Catholic universities and their support for undocumented students. 

Thanks for reading.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

The Cult of Compliance and the Chokehold

"When Garner refused orders to put his hands behind his back, one of the plainclothes cops, wearing a green T-shirt with a yellow No. 99 on the back, got behind him and put him in a chokehold, the footage shows.
A struggle ensued as three uniformed officers joined in on the arrest, knocking the man to the ground.
He screamed, “I can’t breathe!” six times before he went silent and paramedics were called."
A  man who was not breaking the law died after the police put him in a chokehold. We can, and should, talk about this through the lens of race and the NYPD for sure. He was big black man. We can also talk about the choke-hold and its place in police procedure. It has none. We can also talk about disability, the lens to which I am drawn - diabetes and asthma.

But all of this falls under the general issue of the cult of compliance as well. This man was not a risk. He was not hurting anyone. He wasn't doing anything wrong (sometimes he sells unlicensed cigarettes, but was not in this case).  In fact, by all reports, he had just broken up a fight.

But he wasn't complying with police orders, that became the justification for force, and now Garner is dead.

I see stories like this every week, not always fatal, not always racially-charged, not always urban. Every week, someone doesn't obey an officer and the officers treat non-compliance as if there were a threat, so they get physical.

It has to stop. It isn't stopping.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Inclusion, not Same-ness: Walgreens and the Disability Cliff

Over the last few months, I have been focusing more on "the cliff," which is a way some disability advocates refer to turning 22 in our system. Until then, special education provides support for school, training, and even certain kinds of therapies and other activities throughout a child's life. At 22, nothing. Work is hard to find. Programs are rare and expensive. Many kids just go home to their parents house or, if not possible, into a home, and that's that. They've fallen off the cliff.

But lots of people are working to change those realities, in all sorts of ways, and I am writing about some of them (including a piece on college to be published in August or September for the Chronicle).

Various people in the business world are trying to help. Here's a really great story, but not in the casual rah-rah inspiration way, about the former head of operations at Walgreens and his attempts to hire more people with disabilities at the stores and their distribution centers (the goal was 1 in 10 with disability). Randy Lewis is the father of a son with autism and his goal was not just to do what many retail stores do - hire people with disabilities to clean and move shopping carts and the like (which is fine, but not all that's possible), but rather:
Walgreens had previously employed disabled people to do “ancillary rather than mission-critical work”, cleaning for example, but Lewis wanted to do something more. “We wanted an opportunity to bring people in as our own employees,” he recalls. That opportunity came with the building of a new distribution centre; larger and more automated than any the company had owned before. Lewis’s mission was to use that centre to allow the company to hire greater numbers of people with disabilities. It is now Walgreens’ most efficient site, and 40% of its workforce is disabled.
Similar buildings have opened around the US, but Lewis says although automation has helped, it isn’t the true reason why hiring people with disabilities has spread throughout the company. “The automation is what gave us the courage to do something different,” he explains. “It didn’t make it happen, it made us believe it could happen. We could do this anywhere.” 
 Lewis had a vision. I am so skeptical of corporate mentalities, the kind of breathless lauding of business "visionaries," and other aspects of the way media talk about folks in the corporate world. And yet:
We never lost sight of the fact we are a business, not a charity: this had to make business sense,” stresses Lewis. “We had to hold everyone to the same standards and have a completely inclusive environment. When I presented it to the board, I said this was going to be the most expensive building we had ever built, which they didn’t like, but I said it was also going to have the best ROI, be the most efficient and be built in such a way that one-third of the workforce would be disabled.” The board had one question: ‘What if it doesn’t work?’ Lewis’s response? “If it doesn’t work, we’ll readjust. That’s what we do in business all the time: make mistakes, learn from them and move on. We didn’t say: ‘We’re going to have great performance or hire people with disabilities’; We said: ‘We’re going to have great performance, we’re going to have a positive impact on the community and change the workplace for everybody.’”
The piece continues like this and is worth reading, just to get a sense of the possible and how to talk to folks in business about employment.

One of the things I really like about the piece is that a number of Lewis' statements embody the concept that I call "inclusion, not same-ness." Inclusion requires creative thinking, it requires seeing possibilities that emerge from changing what we consider "normal," it involves letting people do things that you might not let another do. Often, unexpected benefits follow.

For example:
“We haven’t found a disability we can’t employ, because everything is on a spectrum,” says Lewis. “We have one person with epilepsy who has 17 seizures a day. He wears a helmet and people know to make sure he’s in a safe place when he has an episode. He couldn’t find a job until he came to us.”
This inclusivity has had a positive impact on engagement. Whenever a new piece of technology is implemented in a distribution centre, Walgreens expects some disruption, so with this high level of automation, it was expected things would go wrong. They did, and from July to November everyone in the centre was working overtime and Saturdays. “The preconception we had about people with disabilities is that they wouldn’t be able to be very flexible or work overtime,” says Lewis. “But when I went to talk to the team members, they only had two questions: ‘how are we doing?’ and ‘what can we do to help?’ That’s when I knew we had a special building.” 
 A helmet. A community. And a man has a job. Here's another piece.
Safety costs were also lower for people with disabilities. “Fears about more accidents had come up, but we found deaf forklift drivers – who many companies won’t hire – are twice as safe as someone who can hear,” says Lewis. “If I could give everyone a piece of advice, it would be to put plugs in the ears of their forklift truck drivers.”
Deaf-ness as advantage. And what I like is that these advantages are not predicated on disability as a superpower (the Rain Man phenomenon), but just be opening one's mind to the possibilities of inclusion.

So cheers to Walgreens (for all it's fleeing America to avoid paying taxes, 2 years after begging tax breaks from Illinois).  May other companies follow in its wake.