Volk Packaging Corporation, a third generation family-owned corrugated box plant based in Biddeford, Maine, never set out to be an employer of people with disabilities. However, Volk’s inclusive workplace culture has led to the company’s employment of numerous people with diverse abilities, including workers who are deaf, blind and on the autism spectrum.
Part of Volk’s approach to inclusion is providing all employees the tools they need to do their job effectively. For employees with disabilities, this can mean reasonable accommodations or adjustments to the work environment. Volk has found that most of these accommodations are low cost or no cost, and very easy to implement. For example, Sue, a longtime employee with a hearing impairment, requires none aside from needing to be alerted by a colleague if a fire alarm is triggered. Another employee, Peter, works from home, requiring only an enlarged computer monitor to accommodate his visual impairment. Both Sue and Peter are productive, valued employees who add diverse perspectives to the corporation.
Volk’s commitment has its roots in a personal connection. Company owner Derek Volk’s 25-year-old son, Dylan, has autism. And while today Dylan is successfully working, he experienced many ups and downs throughout his career journey. “Every job that did not work out for Dylan could have easily been avoided,” says Derek. “It’s all about knowing what an individual needs to be successful, and for Dylan, that means clear instructions and frequent communication.”
Today, this focus on individual needs is something that Mr. Volk applies at Volk Packaging every day—for employees with and without disabilities alike. And it’s a message he communicates to others through his active participation in the Maine Business Leadership Network, and through speeches and presentations he delivers together with his son Dylan. “As the father of a son with autism, and as someone who knows the giant surplus of talented people on the autism spectrum who are transitioning to the world of work, I want all employers to prepare themselves for that opportunity,” says Volk.