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(44,397 posts)
Sat Oct 8, 2016, 09:36 PM Oct 2016

On Minnesota's Iron Range, employer makes bold gamble on inclusion for people with disabilities [View all]

Disabled workers like John Week, 37, have opportunities that they never thought possible. Workers who once toiled for years in dead-end jobs are now making up to $14 an hour at an MRI facility and have opportunities for advancement. Here, Week, second from right, greets other workers, including Shaunna Stearns, center, as they arrive for work at MDI's newly opened plastics fabrication and recycling plant Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2016, in Cohasset, MN.


The morning sky was still dark when a bus carrying two dozen adults with disabilities pulled up before a small factory on the Iron Range. Many of the passengers looked half asleep as they stumbled into the hazy drizzle clutching lunch sacks and mini-coolers.

But that did not prevent John Week, a container of coffee steaming in his hand, from darting from one person to the next, pumping fists and shouting words of support. “Hey grumpy bear! How ya doin’?” he said, embracing a man in a wheelchair. Moments later, the workers were wide-awake and laughing as Week led them through a round of stretching exercises. “Let’s roll!” he yelled, as workers rushed to the factory floor.

The workers’ buoyant mood on this fall morning underscored how a small recycling plant in Isanti County is pointing the way toward a new era of opportunity and inclusion for Minnesotans with disabilities. In stark contrast to the grim realities faced by thousands of other workers with disabilities across the state, employees here earn enough money to buy cars, go on cruises, save for retirement and support their families without government support.

And unlike thousands of other disabled Minnesotans, who go to work each day in cloistered settings known as “sheltered workshops,” all the workers here are guaranteed at least a minimum wage, performance bonuses and opportunities for advancement.

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