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New Research Demonstrates the Benefits of Hiring People with Disabilities

Tracey celebrated three years at her job in March 2019. Since 2016, she has worked for Planet Access Company (PAC) warehouse, a logistics and fulfillment center in Des Plaines. Tracey started in Quality Control where she excelled. In 2017, her strong job performance earned her a pay raise and with it, more responsibilities. She now assists her supervisor in the training of new employees and supports her fellow co-workers. Tracey loves the work she does and plans on marking plenty more anniversaries at PAC.

Tracey is one of the 7% of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) who are employed in integrated settings in Illinois. She is a statistical outlier in a largely bleak employment landscape for individuals with I/DD. Search envisions a different future, one where Tracey’s story is not the exception, but the norm. Our research suggests what we already know, that people with I/DD can succeed in the workplace.


PAC Warehouse Research Project Employment Statistics v2

Tracey’s employer, PAC, is a social venture founded in 1997 through a partnership between Search, Inc. and Toad&Co. Search, Inc. is a nonprofit organization that has served people with disabilities since 1968. Toad&Co is an outdoor industry leader and Search’s longtime partner.

For over two decades, PAC has generated revenue to invest back into Search’s programs and provided training and paid work opportunities for the people it serves. With support from The Coleman Foundation, Search began an initiative to integrate its PAC warehouse workforce. Today 22% of permanent positions at PAC are filled by people with disabilities.

PAC Warehouse Research Project photo of PAC Warehouse interior with racks of boxes and forklift

We knew, anecdotally, that individuals with disabilities, like Tracey, were making important contributions to the PAC warehouse, but we wondered if we could demonstrate it empirically.

People with disabilities like Tracey face many barriers to employment, including the assumption that they are not able to perform as well as their peers without disabilities. Search set out to dispel this myth, based on its experience at the PAC warehouse. An evaluation project was developed to measure the impact of the integrated workforce on warehouse operations.

The Research

Phase I: Performance Metrics

A team from the Kellogg Impact Consulting Club (KICC) at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management identified performance metrics to assess the impact of the integrated workforce. This data could then be compared to a “control group” of people without disabilities:

PAC Warehouse Research Project Productivity Error Rate v2

  1. Productivity – Number of units completed over one hour of work
  2. Error Rate – Accuracy of tasks completed for inventory returns

Data was collected on five employees with I/DD and five employees without disabilities from the period of July 2018 – February 2019.

Phase II: Analyzing the data

The Baumhart Center for Social Enterprise and Responsibility at the Quinlan School of Business at Loyola University connected us to a Data Analyst Intern to analyze productivity and quality data over an 8-month period. The research was supplemented by a student consulting team.

Research Results

Average Productivity Rates

PAC team members with I/DD outperformed their teammates without disabilities for the 8-month period that was analyzed. One factor that impacted their productivity was their mastery of the tasks analyzed. Employees with I/DD focused exclusively on Inventory Transfer, Inventory Return and Refurbishment, whereas employees without disabilities moved between a broader range of tasks.

PAC Warehouse Research Project Inventory Transfer Inventory Return v2

Average Error Rates

Team members with I/DD meet industry standards for error rates.

PAC Warehouse Research Project Average Error Rates v2

The Bottom Line

The impact of having an integrated workforce at PAC has been transformative. There is a renewed dedication to our mission. Beyond on our own data, research has demonstrated that businesses that employ people with disabilities experience gains in morale and job satisfaction, decreased staff turnover, increased reliability, punctuality, and loyalty. Each workday, Tracey and her PAC teammates show up ready to deliver the best possible value to their warehouse customers. Our research and experience shows that hiring individuals with disabilities, like Tracey, is good business.

What You Can Do

Ready to take action? If you are a Chicago-area business that is interested in employing people with disabilities, please contact Nick Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Visit our Career Services page to find out more about job training and placement services at Search.

Click here for a full PDF of the Research Flyer.

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