Disruptive Change is Needed to Meet the Needs of The Disability Community
As we mark the first week of spring I have been reflecting on the change happening in my own organization and the words of distinguished physicist William Pollard who said, “Learning and innovation go hand in hand. The arrogance of success is to think that what you did yesterday will be sufficient for tomorrow.”
So, are we learning and changing? Are we doing enough to prevent ourselves from the arrogance of success? Last week it was crystalized for me – when I welcomed one of Boston’s corporate leaders to Triangle’s headquarters and realized that I had little to show him at our site.
When I started two years ago, I could count on introducing potential partners to well over a hundred capable people with disabilities within the four walls of our cavernous Headquarters. Today, if I want to make a similar introductions I must gladly turn them around at the front door and go into our communities across the commonwealth. It is on our main streets that they witness the true strength of our organization – a fully inclusive work environment for our participants within the cities and towns they call home. This is change and change the next generation of our participants deserve.
We are making progress but much like the disruptions we have seen in many other industries, these transformative moves have completely changed our business model both operationally and financially. In fact, it was much more cost-effective for Triangle to serve an individual attending a day program at our headquarters than to connect them with a career at a local company. Staffing costs increased dramatically when you now must coach 5 individuals working a custodial job at a seven floor senior housing building instead of overseeing 25 people completing assembly projects in a totally contained warehouse.
But these economic and operational disruptions are a small price to pay for the forty-year-old man who is now working for the Department of Public Works instead of attending a day program or the 17-year-old high school student who spends his Saturday serving the community instead of spending the afternoon at a service center.
The transition from the old model of sheltered work to a sustainable career is not a straightforward one and can be difficult for not only those we serve, but also for long-time staff who were trained in models that were thought of as innovative at the time. Now, they are tasked with learning and developing the innovative models for our future
The next time I have an appointment with a potential donor or employment partner, I’ll spare them a trip to the corporate office and meet them in the community, where I’ll introduce her to just a few of the hundreds of people we are connecting to careers and life in the community every day and to our professionals who are making it happen.