On October 13, The Able Trust celebrated the 10th year of Florida Disability Employment Awareness Month (DEAM) with a kick-off event at the Grand Hyatt, Tampa Bay, where several Florida business leaders came to learn about the importance of hiring Floridians with disabilities.
Former Assistant Secretary of the Office of Disability Employment Policy, Neil Romano, passionately expounded upon the impact hiring Floridians with disabilities has on the business community.
Florida DEAM is part of a national event highlighting career paths and participating businesses to students and job seekers with disabilities through hands-on career exploration, on-site job shadowing and other career exploration experiences leading to increased knowledge for participants. Florida’s DEAM program is organized by The Able Trust and statewide partners, who provide support to local community liaisons who coordinate the matchmaking experience between businesses and participants. One of the direct beneficiaries of DEAM initiatives is Joseph Murray who, despite his disability, has been employed in hospitality services at the Boca Raton Beach Club for nearly a decade. Joseph credits The Able Trust for giving him a greater knowledge of the business world, and providing a support system as he honed his skills.
"Being a recipient of Able Trust initiatives has given me self-worth, confidence, and the inner strength to explore the workforce and succeed," he said.
Joseph is a perfect example of what can happen when citizens with disabilities are given a chance. Florida business leader Richard Gonzmart, President and CEO of the Gonzmart Family of Restaurants, challenged fellow leaders to do just that.
"Each of us has the ability to make an impact on the lives of others through our businesses," he said.
One entity that has accepted that challenge is Publix, who received praise from Senator Jack Latvala for being the preeminent corporate citizen when it comes to hiring people with disabilities. Publix Director of Retail Associate Relations, Marcy Benton, expounded on Publix's belief in having a diverse workforce that mirrors the community it serves.
"Our commitment to an inclusive workforce is to make sure that all of our associates, regardless of their ability, are valued and appreciated as employees," she said.
But hiring people with disabilities isn't just a feel-good measure, Benton continued. They also impact the organization's bottom line in regard to increased employee morale, decreased absenteeism and turnover.
"At Publix, we know the true game-changer is employment. That's how you make a difference in people's lives and the community."
Former Assistant Secretary of the Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP), Neil Romano, said that there is much more that the government can and must do in order to help citizens with disabilities. The fact that people with disabilities are twice as likely to enter abject poverty than any other group in America is a clear indication that there is a need for DEAM initiatives.
"The answer to the disability employment question in America is in this room," he said. "Employers must look at people with disabilities, and the opportunities they offer, not just as programs, but as an investment."
The reason why some businesses don't make the investment is because of their perspective. Some see no potential return on investment; a perception that must change.
Representative Kathleen Peters (left) and Senator Jack Latvala (right) gave glowing words of endorsement to Sarah Goldman, an example of how hiring Floridians with disabilities is the right thing to do for continued economic and social growth.
If District Secretary for Representative Kathleen Peters, Sarah Goldman, has her way, that change will one day come. Since graduating with a master's degree from Florida State, Sarah has had difficulty finding a job that would pay enough for her to keep her disability benefits. Sarah cannot accept a job making over a certain amount, or she would lose the personal care attendants (PCAs) that help her get ready for work each day.
"There are so many barriers that Floridians with disabilities face; in their personal and daily lives,” she said. “The passion I have for this has made me an advocate. After serving as an aide in the Florida House of Representatives, and now as district secretary, I've learned about the importance of advocacy and the legislative process."
Sarah has a simple message for Florida when it comes to hiring people with disabilities.
"Hiring people with disabilities helps us fulfill our passions, bring out our talents, and helps us believe that we have a purpose. We are hard-working individuals who are ready to make an impact on the world."
CLICK HERE to learn more about the 2016 DEAM Kick-off!