|By George Schwarz, Amarillo Globe-News, Texas|
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Sep. 18, 2004 - Allan Grice describes himself as handicapped, but doesn't see himself as handicapped.
Grice spoke as he sat in his wheelchair outside the Quality Inn Suites-Amarillo Airport, where he recently was named general manager.
His disability, leg paralysis, is the result of spina bifida, a birth defect "which is a lot easier to handle than being able-bodied and then losing it," he said.
His parents treated him as normal growing up. They didn't modify the home to accommodate his wheelchair when, at age 14, he gave up crutches he used for mobility.
Employers would benefit if they gave disabled workers a chance, he said.
"I don't see many handicapped people working and I know there's quite a few who'd like to," Grice said.
Bob Lea, an assistant program manager at the ADVO Companies, a non-profit firm that specializes in hiring disabled workers, agreed.
"The job is the most important thing in their life," Lea said.
When an employer gives a disabled worker a job, he not only gets the worker's labor, he gets intense loyalty, he said.
"Everyone I've found jobs for are dedicated to their job," Lea said.
That's the case for Grice, who credited motel owner Kuldip Deol with giving him a chance.
After five years of being passed over at another motel, Deol gave him a chance to work in management, Grice said.
"Short of something immoral or illegal, there's nothing I wouldn't do for Mr. Deol," Grice said.
Deol said he chose Grice because of his skills. Being in a wheelchair made no difference.
In a Donald Trump-"Apprentice" move, Deol asked Grice and the former manager to come up with ideas for improving the motel's profitability, especially using the Internet. The former manager wrote one page; Grice wrote three, Deol said.
"You have to learn new things because knowledge is power," Deol said.
Deol said the minor concession he makes to Grice is occasionally touring the property for him.
Loyalty isn't the only benefit of hiring a disabled worker, Lea said.
"The government allows a tax credit to the business for all handicapped employees up to $3,000 per employee per year -- if the employer applies for it," he said.
With a minimum wage of $5.15 an hour, an employer can get back one-third to one-half of a worker's salary, he said.
"The employer has an incentive," he said. "They're always looking for a buck."
Jim Haile, the area manager for the Division for Rehabilitation Services of the Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services, agreed workers are motivated to maintain self-sufficiency and independence through their employment.
Society benefits as well, he said.
More than 14 million people are helped by the vocational rehabilitation programs nationally and the wages and taxes they earn help support the programs.
Despite the enticements, employers seem to take the not-in-my-back-yard approach to hiring the disabled, saying "they don't fit in," or "they don't want those people mixing with our customers," Lea said.
That's painful for disabled workers.
"They want to be accepted as normal in our community," he said.
As far as Grice is concerned, he asks no favors from the work world.
"They're not going to conform to me," he said. "I had to conform to them."
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