Depending on your perspective, someone who is blind, autistic, or has Down Syndrome has disadvantages and challenges in life. Participating in normal life experiences designed for non-disabled and neurotypical people can be annoying or difficult. In a previous post, we talked about how some retailers are designing their services to better suit customers who are disabled. In this post, we flip the tables and instead share examples of purpose-led companies that designed their services and processes to better suit employees who are disabled.

O.Noir is a Toronto restaurant that offers fine dining. But, most customers don’t visit it solely for the food. They go for the experience of wdining in the dark (guests are asked to turn off phones and watches that might emit light), and the accompanying heightened sense of taste it offers. More importantly, the restaurant employs people who are uniquely skilled to manoeuvre around guests balancing trays of food and drinks in pitch-black rooms. The servers at O.Noir are blind or visually impaired. In employing these uniquely skilled people, the restaurant helps them develop customer service and business skills that ultimately help prepare them for the mainstream job market. And, the company donates a percentage of profits to organizations that serve the visually impaired. O.Noir has a clear purpose and they act on it in multiple dimensions. 

The Rising Tide Car Wash company aims to “provide the highest quality car wash experience in America by employing the best people.” How do they do that? They “put potential to work” by employing professionals who have autism, people who have unique skills that enhance the business and make it successful. In contrast with neurotypical people, autistic people are more likely to enjoy following very specific and repetitive processes over a long time, something that is necessary for cleaning and detailing vehicles day after day, month after month. As a result of their hiring plan, the company can offer a higher quality of service and they in turn benefit from lower turnover. So far, Rising Tide has hired 92 associates with autism. They’ve even devoted significant energy into encouraging other businesses to do the same via their road maps for entrepreneurs who want to empower and employ people who have autism.

John’s Crazy Socks is an online business with a purpose led mission to spread happiness by offering socks people love, making the experience personal, providing inspiration and hope, and giving back. Led by John Cronin, who has Down syndrome, the company is staffed by people who have different abilities. In addition to their main business of selling socks, the company works to spread the word about what people can do through videos, school tours, and work groups, and by speaking at conferences, graduations, business meetings, and other events. In addition to John, the company leaders also advocate for changes in law and policy to support the rights of people with differing abilities to work and earn a living. John’s business has been so successful that, in June 2019, he won the prestigious Entrepreneur Of The Year 2019 New York award, the first person with Down Syndrome to ever win. Having and acting on a clear purpose has directly led to their success. 

Larger companies like Procter and Gamble have also embraced a mission of inclusion. P&G created a People with Disabilities (PwD) group to support employees who have disabilities. They also work with university recruiting teams to hire people who have disabilities. In fact, one of their manufacturing plants has a department where more than 40% of the employees have a disability, and they intend to expand the model to other sites. In 2014, P&G was recognized by DiversityInc as the #2 company for People with Disabilities.

These are just four examples of companies that have put purpose and people on par with, or ahead of, profit. The winning outcome comes from recognizing and acting on the needs of customers, employees, and employers.

For customers, the company offers a unique experience that shrinks the world just a little bit. At the same time as offering a needed product or service, the process of obtaining that service helps customers gain insight into the world of someone who has a very different life experience. Customers know they’re supporting a purpose-led company that is improving people’s lives.

For employees, the company offers inclusion. Workers gain valuable business management and customer service skills. They build their resumes. And, they too can feel good about providing needed services and being part of a purpose-led company.

For employers, they benefit from the unique, relevant skills their employees offer which make the business successful. They can also feel good that being purpose-led provides employment to people who might not otherwise have the opportunity.

Purpose and culture create successful businesses. It’s a win, win, win situation.