For 20 years, Marcell Bassett has worked a full-time job in the Recovery Department at IKEA in Orange County. IKEA, the world’s largest home furnishing company, was founded more than 60 years ago in Sweden.
It may not seem remarkable to hold a job for two decades; however, for a person with a disability, it is quite an accomplishment for both the employer and the employee.
To encourage employers to include people with disabilities in the workforce, October has been designated as National Disability Employment Awareness Month. Established in 1945 as National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week, with a name change in 1962 dropping the words “physically handicapped” and in 1988 expanded to a month observance, it is a reminder to employers that a disability does not mean a person lacks the ability to be a valuable contributor to a company’s bottom line.
At the age of 4, Bassett was diagnosed with autism, a brain disorder. His parents, seeking a better way to handle the complex challenges of an autistic child, moved from Missouri to Southern California.
Bassett’s path to learning to thrive on the autistic spectrum and eventually live independently began when his parents enrolled him in the Regional Center of Orange County.
Bassett was one of the first children to take advantage of the various programs and services offered, which prepared him, now that he is an adult, to be gainfully employed and live an independent life.
“The Regional Center of Orange County is one of 21 private, nonprofit organizations contracted by the state of California to coordinate lifelong services and supports for individuals with developmental disabilities and their families,” said Larry Landauer, executive director of the center. “RCOC is the first stop for those seeking to obtain local services and support to help them live safely and with dignity in the community.”
Currently, the center serves more than 19,000 Orange County residents with developmental disabilities — including autism, epilepsy, cerebral palsy, and intellectual cognitive disabilities — and their families.
“Our experience has been that, like those without disabilities, many of the adults we serve gain both self-confidence and a sense of purpose from the work they do,” Landauer said.
“I grew up working with many supporters at the Regional Center,” Bassett said. “I never felt that my autism held me back because of the way my family, friends and the program’s service providers helped me.”
Bassett receives job coaching support and independent living services from Costa Mesa-based Project Independence, which is funded by the regional center.
“Marcell brings so much more to his job than just his attention to detail and his love of order,” said Debra Marsteller, president and CEO of Project Independence. “He takes pride in the fact that his work really contributes to the company’s bottom line.
His success, positive influence and willingness to help others, led Bassett to join RCOC’s Board of Directors in July 2015. The board provides policy direction for the agency and consists of 15 unpaid, volunteer residents of Orange County — five adults served by the center, five family members, four community members and one Vendor Advisory Committee Liaison.
Living independently in Costa Mesa, Bassett earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering, is active at his church and enjoys running marathons, playing guitar and swimming.
“My other passion is numbers,” said Bassett, who is a gifted mathematician. “My goal is to use my degree as a math tutor for people who are challenged with solving and understanding math.” In his free time, Bassett works on creating artwork made from recycled magazines.
“It helps me with my high interest with numbers,” he says.
Bassett is known around IKEA as a guy with a smile, positive attitude and a friendly word to share.
“I met and interacted with Marcell when I worked in the Returns Department about nine years ago,” said Alex, a longtime employee of IKEA who started as a cashier. “I don’t see a disability when I talk to Marcell or work alongside him.”
After working in several departments, Alex, now works in the same department with Bassett.
“His work ethic is amazing,” Alex said. “When he wraps items and returns it back to the store inventory, his attention to detail makes the item look brand new.”
Members of the Recovery Department handle products that may have been damaged during shipping or have a defect.
“I especially enjoy my work, stabilizing the store’s bottom line, and talking with my co-workers,” Bassett said. “Making money for IKEA is my priority.”
Lauded as “one of the best companies to work for,” the IKEA Group lives up to an inclusive workforce. The company raised its own minimum wage twice in two years. IKEA has 328 IKEA Group stores in 28 countries. Forty IKEA store are run by franchises. There are 41 IKEA stores in the U.S.
United States Department of Labor – www.dol.gov
Department of Developmental Services – www.dds.ca.gov/
Project Independence – www.proindependence.org/
Directory of California’s regional centers – www.dds.ca.gov/RC/RCList.cfm
Rehabilitation Institute of Orange (RIO) – https://riorehab.org/
Great Place to Work® www.greatplacetowork.com
IKEA – www.ikea.com
Marie Y. Lemelle, MBA, a public relations consultant, is the owner of Platinum Star PR and can be reached on Twitter @PlatinumStar or Instagram @PlatinumStarPR. Send “Health Matters” related questions to firstname.lastname@example.org and look for her column in The Wave.