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Meeting of March 15, 2011 - Employment of People with Mental Disabilities

Written Testimony of Jack Eaton
General Manager
Giant Food Store

Good afternoon, Chair Berrien and Commissioners Feldblum, Ishimaru, Lipnic and Barker, and General Counsel Lopez. My name is Jack Eaton. I am the General Manager of the Giant Food Store #378 located in Columbia Heights in NW Washington DC. We are a retail food establishment, part of a chain of 180 stores located in Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia. We were established in February 1936. The first Giant Food Store was located at Georgia Avenue and Park Road, just a few blocks from our current location at 14th and Park Road NW, Washington DC. My store employs approximately 190 to 210 associates at any given time. We have a Full Time to Part Time ratio of 20% to 80%.

I began hiring people with disabilities early in my career as an assistant store manager in the early 1990ís. I had the pleasure and good fortune to work for some very inspired and intelligent store managers at that time, and I learned much from them in terms of leadership and developing peopleís skills. One of the highlights of that learning process was appreciating the benefits of utilizing employment services that promoted the hiring of people with disabilities. Because many people with disabilities have not had the kinds of opportunities that many of us take for granted, many are particularly eager to show what they can do as employees.

I came to understand how much we gained by employing people with disabilities. I enjoyed their positive attitudes, their dedication to their jobs, their eagerness to learn and achieve new goals. I think that it makes us as an organization, better able to mirror the community in which we work. There are many jobs available in Giant (including, for example, baggers, parcel pick up, and returning to the shelf items that customers have removed but donít want) that are successfully performed by people with disabilities. What makes me excited by this is watching people develop to the point they are capable of moving into more complex positions with more responsibility. While not everyone with a disability can do every job (just as not everyone without a disability can do every job), the possibility of growing and advancing keeps people motivated.

I know that the people with disabilities that I have worked with over the years develop self confidence, enhanced social skills, and employment skills to better prepare themselves for their future. In addition, it makes me feel better professionally and personally that I am helping in some way to make someoneís life better. Dealing with peopleís individualized needs also makes me a better manager.

Often in my career, I have turned to organizations like the Marriott Bridges program and the Kennedy Institute, which work with employers to find job opportunities for young people with disabilities, because the employment opportunities in the particular store or community I am working in are challenged. In other words, there are not many applicants for the particular positions I am trying to fill. In times like this, I have had better success utilizing the clients of those two aforementioned organizations than trying to recruit people from the general public.

Of course the job and the employee need to be a good match. Just as with employees who donít have disabilities, occasionally an employee with a disability finds out that working in a supermarket is not for him. That doesnít mean that the person canít work. It is the same process that all of us go through to find the right job for us. Overwhelmingly, however, my efforts to hire and keep employees with intellectual disabilities have been a huge success.

Finally, there is nothing more satisfying than seeing employees with disabilities working side by side next to employees without disabilities, and to an outsider, the disabilities are invisible. I get a certain sense of awe when I see one of our staffers with a disability walking with a sight challenged or physically challenged customer acting as their personal shopper. This is truly a wonderful sight. It is a good reminder that we are all human beings and we are all fundamentally the same.