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We Can All Be Change Leaders: Employing People with Many Abilities

David Bartage is being honored as a Disability Employment Champion of Change.

David Bartage

David Bartage is being honored as a Disability Employment Champion of Change.

I am surprised and incredibly honored to be recognized as a White House Champion of Change for Disability Employment. What began as a small project has led to be my passion, encouraging businesses to find good-paying and sustainable employment opportunities for people with disabilities.

In 2010, the Procter & Gamble (P&G) site in Auburn, Maine, began planning to add a customization (FlexiCenter) center into their 24/7 manufacturing operation. During our initial discussions, we discussed how we should staff this center and quickly concluded that we should reapply a staffing model we saw at Walgreen’s Distribution Center, in which 30% to 40% of the employees were people with disabilities.

A local hiring agency for people with disabilities recommended me to reach out to the Maine Bureau of Rehabilitation Services (ME BRS) to develop strategies to integrate individuals with disabilities into our new customized packaging facility, the FlexiCenter. P&G and ME BRS partnered together to identify people with disabilities, the individuals were trained and assessed by ME BRS, and they were then re-assessed in the P&G workplace. ME BRS also worked with our manufacturing site, providing training to all our employees to better prepare us to encourage and support inclusion in the workplace.

Today, more than three years after opening the doors to the FlexiCenter, 40% of the FlexiCenter employees are individuals with disabilities, working alongside workers who have not disclosed any disability, performing the same jobs with the same expectations and same pay. Some of the benefits of the FlexiCenter include: increased productivity, zero safety incidents, zero quality incidents, 90% reduction in turnover, a significant improvement in morale, reduced hiring costs, reduced training costs, and increased “goodwill” in Maine.

As I was getting involved with our FlexiCenter, I worked with the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, and the ME BRS to start up the Maine Business Leadership Network (ME BLN). Since its inception, I have been the business leader of the ME BLN. The ME BLN is a state affiliate of the United States Business Leadership Network (USBLN). The ME BLN offers member employers resources for recruiting candidates with disabilities, information on disability issues, recognition for best disability employment practices, and exposure to an untapped market for their goods and services. We also view our role as that of a catalyst and a "connecting point" to promote dialogue and sharing of best practices between employers in a peer-to-peer setting.

Upon meeting someone for the first time, we are often times asked, “What do you do?” When asked that question, I imagine that for many the first response is what you do for a living. We take a lot of pride in what we do, and it helps to define who we are. It gives us an identity. 

Over the last several years, I have seen what employment opportunities have done for our P&G employees with disabilities.  It has given them an identity. It has provided them with an opportunity to be integrated into everyday life. It has impacted the employee and the employee’s family. I have heard parents thank us for giving their child an opportunity to work. They have expressed concern that they felt they had to outlive their child to provide them support. They now have hope that their sons and daughters can make it on their own. 

What started as a project has turned into a passion for helping others and spreading the word of sustainable employment opportunities for people with disabilities. I encourage you to get started and make a positive change in your own way.

David Bartage is the Plant Finance Manager for the Procter & Gamble, Auburn, ME facility leading the Auburn sites’ efforts in hiring people with disabilities.