10 Questions: How we embrace disabilities

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Every snack we sell is made by adults with disabilities. We’re proud of our snacks, but even prouder that we support these workers in full wage jobs that boost their skills and self-esteem.

Managing this work force is not easy. Most workers struggle with both a developmental disability like autism and a mental illness like bipolar disorder, anxiety disorder, or schizophrenia.

Meet the wizard who makes all this work: Bonny King. Bonny and her team of occupational therapists not only help workers navigate each day, but also create a tremendously joyful work environment that rivals any in productivity and spirit.

PF: I’ve never been in a work environment this friendly, dedicated, and productive. What’s the secret?

BK: We meet each person where they are each day and make every day a success for them.

PF: Easier said than done, right?

BK: Well, yes. We never know who is going to come in on a particular day. Someone can be one way today and a completely different person tomorrow. They might have had a fight with a roommate or faced some other stress. Many are in group living, and that can stir up all sorts of anxieties.

PF: We can all identify with being off our game at work some days, but this is magnified many times over.

BK: Exactly.

PF: So how do you tackle the challenge?

BK: To make each person’s day a success, we modify tasks. We match where they are to what they’ll be doing. We call it our “Just Right Challenge.”

PF: Yet you’re still able to get the job done?

BK: We use a team approach. We train workers in each task, so they can move around. This lets them support each other and get the job done together.

PF: Your team seems to be providing a lot of support as the day goes on.

BK: We’re constantly teaching skills and strategies. Not just how to remove snacks from molds or seal packaging, but how to follow directions, solve problems, stay on task, and work cooperatively. We also teach appropriate social interactions. Many have never been exposed to things others take for granted. When we had a pot luck, we needed to explain what a pot luck is all about.

PF: What was the reaction?

BK: Great. We talked about how they would be responsible for bringing the food. This was a change. Many are accustomed to having everything provided for them. Taking on this responsibility really built their self-worth.

PF: I saw that huge poster your team created. Filling baggies with the unhealthy stuff that’s in a bag of Doritos or a can of soda was genius.

BK: Part of our job is guiding everyone toward a healthy lifestyle. We encourage eating well and exercising.

PF: At so many workplaces, cynicism lies just below a veneer of happiness. Why is everybody so enthusiastic here?

BK: The workers take enormous pride in their job -- and in earning a paycheck! They failed elsewhere, and this place gave them another chance.

PF: Awesome.

BK: And since they’re the ones making the product, they feel the product is theirs. When one person was admitted to a hospital, she spent her time promoting Peaceful Fruits. She marketed it to the doctors and nurses.

PF: I’m sure your team’s support has a lot to do with their enthusiasm as well.

BK: Peaceful Fruits gives us the flexibility we need to be there for them no matter what. The love flows right back. This is a special place.

Peaceful Fruits