The drive for greater efficiency, the demands of customers, and the need to keep costs in check are all pushing companies to rely on technology for solutions. But some of those advanced solutions are being implemented by some new hands: people with developmental disabilities.
More and more companies are turning to computerized record systems to meet demand. The Beltmann Group, a major moving company with 13 locations nationwide, has taken action.
Beltmann Vice President Steve Kosel: "Technology becomes an important part of what we do so that people have access to their information instantly. And everybody with the Internet and all the advances in technology are expecting those types of advances within the moving and storage industry as well."
Beltmann Vice President Steve Kosel says that people with developmental disabilities have become strong performers in the digital imaging arena. "They definitely have become part of the team. They work well with the entire staff that they're involved with. They've been involved in some of the company outings we've had. We had a bowling outing where they both came and got involved with the staff, so they've really ingrained themselves into our organization and have become another team member that work well with everyone else."
Matt: "Well, my goals were to try to—to work for an office and try to get my own little area to work with and my own computer, because I love computers a lot. Oh, it really felt great, because I really thought I could achieve this goal, because this is something I've always wanted to do."
Matt came to development through Merrick Inc., a nonprofit, and he's regarded as diligent and reliable. He got the computer bug from his father, who retired from Unisys after a 44-year career.
"I started working with it when I was—my father got this first computer called a Commodore computer, and I started learning how to work that, and then it went up to, like, the IBM, and I started working with that. And then it really came to me. I thought—I mean, I thought computer work would be the best job to go."
While Matt's supervisors say he is able to concentrate on the tasks at hand, they say college students and temporaries tend to start rewriting programs, sending emails or instant messages, thinking about what's happening that night, or just get bored.
American Building Contractors,a construction and storm-damage roofer and repairer operating in 44 states, reported the same experience. President Brian Fischer says that people with developmental disabilities were far superior.
"The folks came in, and there was a large number of people just, actually, processing the paperwork, pulling out staples, pulling out paper clips, taking them out of their manila folders, and getting them prepared for the folks who actually do the scanning so that they can move through them a lot more quickly. And they went through them like gangbusters.
"The team from AccessAbility came with a job coach and required little supervision. She got the work ready for them, kept them on task the whole day, and she was our liaison and somebody to talk to, to get what we needed done. It worked out really well."
Fischer firmly believes this was a sound business decision.
"It was a business necessity. When you think of a file that, by the time you're done with that file and it's ready for the shredder, a lot of these files that we had, had been Federal Expressed from the office that generated the file to the office that did the payroll back to the office where the payroll was distributed, and if there was an issue where I had to review it, Federal Express—some of these files had been federal expressed two, three times at $9 apiece, and when you look at a whole warehouse of those files, you say, 'My God, why didn't we do this years ago?'"
Law firms are confronted by enormous records management challenges with files that must be maintained and accessible for years. Deborah Cramer, the office manager of the Johnson Condon firm in Edina, Minnesota, established a relationship with Midway Training Services to convert a records backlog.
"One of the attorneys that works at Johnson and Condon was very familiar with the work that M.T.S. was doing with autistic adults. They were currently working on a project in which they were converting paper files to a paperless format, and that was a project that we were also interested in having completed."
Given the success of the effort, Cramer suggests that other law firms strongly consider going digital.
"Because the legal field is riddled with paper, I would think it would be very wise for other firms to take a look at employing this technology of having scanned files instead of paper files all over their offices."
When the files go from Johnson Condon to M.T.S. in Saint Paul, supervisor Jason Miska and his crew of people take over.
Jason Miska: "Well, the law firm brings us a crate of documents, and we take those, and we bring them in here. We prep them. After they're prepped, we bring them here to the scanning area, and our people scan them, and then after that, we take the ones that are cleared, and we bring them back to the shredding area, and then the shredders go through the boxes that I've set up for them, and they find out which ones can be shredded, which ones can't. And just is a big process that goes on and on and on."
The success of their document imaging program has prompted M.T.S. to take another significant step forward. The new development, we have a storefront coming up.
"It's gonna look a little bit like Fed Ex-type Kinko's, but, you know, it's gonna have people with, you know, developmental disabilities doing the work."
While some programs are dealing with substantial backlogs in digital imaging work, Blue Cross/Blue Shield Minnesota has cleared that hurdle and focuses on current record-keeping activities. Dealing with a vast quantity of customer and provider communications, the health care insurer converted to electronic records several years ago and now has to keep up with the flow.
Recruiting Manager Corrine Shepherd turned to Lifeworks, which brought a young man with autism to the organization's Eagan campus.
"He is very detail oriented. He has a memory like a steel trap. He can remember the instructions, and he can look for details and errors like no one else that we've worked with, so he's been doing a superb job there. It's also been just a good fit for his skills because it's very repetitive, and once he's learned the tasks and learned how to look for certain things, we've been able to give him new tasks, so we move from doing basic kinds of scanning jobs to more complex scanning jobs where he had to start making some decisions for himself, checking in with us from time to time. But it's been very good for him and for us to work together and to see him really kind of blossom here at Blue Cross."
With the guidance of a job coach, Jason is very productive.
"Quite honestly, we would not have been able to complete the scanning project if we had not had Jason here, so he's really completed the initial phase of getting all of our employee files scanned and into the system. And now he's helping us with maintenance. So when we hire new people, he's scanning those files. When we're doing performance reviews, he's scanning those files. so he's keeping us up to date with all of our imaging."
From the high-tech administrator sector, the spotlight shifts to the information technology industry itself, where Xiotech is a major force in data storage and information risk management.
Vice President George Klauser, who supervises worldwide support services, knew that the abilities of people with disabilities are often overlooked by employers, but he has personal knowledge of their desire.
"Speaking from experience, I have a 21-year-old daughter with cerebral palsy and special needs, and the most important thing to her is having independence, independence in where she lives, independence in the workplace, and really wanting to feel good about what she does each and every day. I think Opportunity Partners helps people like my daughter Christina fulfill those dreams about independence."
Klauser is a veteran board member of Opportunity Partners, an organization that provides employment training and services for people with disabilities, and he saw the nonprofit as an outsourcing partner for Xiotech and its subsidiary Daticon.
"I think one of the unique requirements of readying a disabled worker is providing them the balanced level of skills all the way from social skills to learning the technical skills. That's one of the things that Daticon saw very attractive in opportunity partners is being able to attract a worker that had the capabilities to learn various different tasks in completing the ultimate job that was required."
At Opportunity Partners, Steve Nolan is the document imaging project manager, and the group handles complex document imaging and coding assignments for Xiotech, many involving legal issues.
"It may involve 250,000, upwards of, you know, millions of pieces of paper. They would used to have to take a staff of paralegals. They would give them the sorting criteria. 'This is what I want you to go find,' and they would literally have to look at every piece of paper and pull those pieces of paper out in order to come up with the information that the attorneys needed to take that to trial."
The number of companies employing people with disabilities for document imaging is expanding steadily, based on the experiences and record of achievement posted by the pioneering firms. Whether in the document-preparation stage, scanning, or even coding, there is a place for people with disabilities in digital imaging. And that place may well be at the head of the line. Needs for electronic record-keeping will continue to grow, assuring expanding job opportunities in the future.