Creating Better Businesses: SourceAmerica Engineers Enhance Workplaces for People with Disabilities

Team Work Station

By Theresa O’Neill (from SourceAmerica)

SourceAmerica Senior Productivity Engineer Paul Nishman loves his job. In his role, he’s a teacher, advisor and engineer, showing businesses employing people with disabilities how small tweaks in work environments can produce remarkable results. Nishman’s innovative, adaptive solutions are part of SourceAmerica’s larger strategic mission: to make workplaces more inclusive and grow jobs and wages for people with disabilities.

This segment of the population is highly skilled but vastly underserved―nearly 80 percent are not in the workforce. SourceAmerica’s network of over 1,000 member nonprofit agencies shares in its mission by creating employment for people with disabilities. In turn, they provide essential products and services to commercial companies and the federal government. Many also participate in the AbilityOne Program, the largest source of federal employment for people with disabilities. SourceAmerica is an AbilityOne-authorized enterprise.

Nishman regularly travels to teach and train NPA managers about how workplace productivity, engagement and connectedness are all related.

“Jobs are set up to be done but aren’t often set up to be engaging,” Nishman said. “Workplace engagement, especially for people with cognitive disabilities, can provide productivity increases of double, triple, even quadruple what they were. It’s rewarding to see that kind of improvement and know you made a difference.”

On a recent trip, Nishman visited Helena Industries in Helena, Montana, where he trained Richard Ferris, Work First Program manager, on how to make paper shredding more comfortable and enjoyable for his employees. While paper shredding itself is largely an independent activity, Nishman advised Ferris on how building a team workstation could improve productivity. Nishman also had Ferris and other supervisors complete the task themselves so they could see how their own bodies were impacted by the activity. This exercise encouraged managers to monitor employees’ posture to identify where other improvements were needed.

“In rehabilitation engineering, there are no one-size-fits-all solutions. Training helps managers see how simple changes can make a big impact on the ease of a task for an individual with a disability and improve their work satisfaction,” Nishman said.

Inspired by Nishman’s training, Ferris created a team workstation for paper shredding that enabled his employees to interact with one another more frequently on the job. Ferris said his innovation resulted in a 30 percent productivity increase.

“It’s amazing to see the change in the employees,” Ferris said. “Now our employees work together better and positive interactions are commonplace. For example, they encourage one another and sometimes engage in friendly productivity competitions.”

Nishman is one of four SourceAmerica productivity engineers providing this key service to NPAs. In fiscal 2016, the team trained over 500 people in its network. One of the year’s biggest success stories was the reorganization of a packaging line, which resulted in a 400 percent productivity increase and subsequently higher wages for its employees.

Dennis McBride, SourceAmerica vice president, strategy and innovation, said all businesses would benefit from evaluating their workplaces.

“As businesses look to boost their operations this year, leaders should ensure they are enabling employees to work at their fullest capacities, including people with disabilities,” McBride said. “Implementing these changes is the first step to building a workplace so everyone can work and be their most productive.”