September 27, 2012

But What If He's Not So Good At His Job?

So there's this guy. His name is Jim and I know him through blogging. He writes a lovely little blog called Just a Lil Blog and his daughter Lily has autism. He seems like a nice enough guy, though he is always going on about sporns and bacon and orange juice. Don't ask.

Anyway, Jim posted on Target's facebook page a few weeks ago about the cashier he had at his local store. You can read the post, but the gist is that the cashier likely was autistic, and that Target was awesome for hiring him because they recognized that someone who might be a little socially atypical could still do a great job. And this post went all kinds of viral (it's up to about 820,000 likes), and was written up all over the place.

My local Safeway grocery store always employs several people with disabilities. This is a Good Thing. This past summer, there was a young man with a cognitive disability who worked as a bagger. Since I generally went during the weekdays when it wasn't crowded, he was often the only bagger working so I saw him a lot.

This young man was friendly and polite and definitely not good at his job.

It pains me to say it. But he just wasn't a skilled bagger. He was very, very slow. He would fill the bags too light and with no sense of organization. He would stop and comment on silly things in the cart, like the Tasmanian Devil on some juice boxes, and if I had one of the kids with me he would spend a lot of time interacting with them (not always entirely appropriately) instead of bagging. The cashiers were kind and helpful to him, but they also ended up bagging most of the groceries.

And I somewhat shamefully admit that I would, especially if my own developmentally disabled child was with me, avoid his line or use self check-out instead.

This feels me with great cognitive dissonance.

I applaud Safeway for hiring disabled people and I want them to continue this. And if that person needs a little extra time to do his job, it should be no big deal for me or anyone to spend a couple extra minutes in line. Let's be honest, I was just going to waste that time on Facebook anyway.

But sometimes a person just isn't cut out for a particular job. I bet there is a job this young man would be very good at, but it wasn't this one. And I don't know that we do anyone a great service by allowing him to remain in a job that he isn't successful at.

I'm new to the issues of disability rights. In part, it seems, it must be about showing people that a disabled person can do just as good a job as someone without a disability, reducing outright discrimination. But it is more than that, isn't it? Maybe it also means that we also have a responsibility to find meaningful ways for people to interact in the world even if they aren't especially adept at it. I don't know and I don't know where the line is between the two.

I don't see this man at the store any more. I don't know if he was let go. Perhaps he was in a job rotation and his time at Safeway simply concluded. Or maybe his supervisors helped him find work that was more suited to his skills. Whatever the case, I wish him well.


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