Exemplary Employers

These employers are recognized for their support of the mission of The Able Trust through direct funding as well as providing job opportunities for Floridians with disabilities. Click below to learn more about them.

WellCare: Enhancing Quality of Life and Quality of Employment


At WellCare Health Plans Inc., diversity and inclusion are more than broad values; they are the essential tenets guiding their hiring practices.

Recognizing the importance of an inclusive and representative workforce, WellCare has made major strides in fulfilling its commitment to employing people with disabilities.

“WellCare’s future success will depend largely on our ability to build a high-quality workforce that reflects the communities in which we operate,” said Larry Anderson, senior vice president of human resources and chief human resources officer for WellCare.

WellCare’s partnership with MacDonald Training Center (MTC), a Tampa-based organization dedicated to empowering people with disabilities, saw the company implement HealthConnections, a two-pronged diversity and inclusion program, in 2013.

During the program’s first segment, the MTC assembled an advisory council to research and recommend best practices for including people with disabilities in the WellCare workforce.

The MTC advisory council then guided WellCare in producing and implementing a workforce expansion and diversification plan, a plan that continues to flourish in 2014.

WellCare’s inclusive efforts are bolstered by the example set by the company’s senior executives.

Pamme Taylor, vice president of advocacy and community based programs for WellCare, uses her experience in workforce innovation programs to advocate for underrepresented job seekers, including people with disabilities. WellCare’s CommUnity Liason program was founded under Taylor’s leadership.

“Our CommUnity Liaisons feel empowered to help our members in meeting their everyday needs,” said Taylor. “From finding housing support to finding the nearest food pantry, our CommUnity Liaisons offer assistance to WellCare members and their families/caregivers that go well beyond their health care.”

Publix Reinforces Reputation for Prioritizing Employment Opportunities for Workers with Disabilities


Super Market Sees the Fruits of This Labor in Incomparable Brand Equity and Customer Loyalty

Publix Super Markets is well-known as a dynamic company committed to providing gainful employment to people with disabilities.

Publix strives to be a business that is reflective of the communities in which it operates by fostering diversity and inclusion in the workplace. In doing so, the grocery store chain has solidified a reputation for hiring people with disabilities and making the types of accommodations that allow individuals to flourish professionally and contribute to the company’s bottom line.

Jim Payne, evening anchor for WESH 2 in Orlando, is one such customer who has noticed Publix’s commitment.

Through his involvement with the Special Olympics, in 2006 Jim met Chris Friedmann – a young man from Central Florida with a 13-year history of employment with Publix – when he came into the WESH studio as an athlete training to publicly represent the Special Olympics in the media. During the training, Jim learned that Chris worked at the Publix near his house and that Chris competed in weightlifting, among other sports, at the Special Olympics. A friendship was born.

“When I could, I’d swing by his store to pick up a few things and say hello,” Jim says. “Chris regularly qualified with the rest of the Seminole County team for weightlifting during Fall Games [of the Special Olympics], and I’d stop by and watch him and the rest of the team compete.”

Two years ago during a competition, Chris seemed agitated, so Jim went down on the floor to see what was wrong. Chris told Jim that he was going to have to set a personal best record in the dead lift to medal. He looked up at the scoreboard, did the math in his head, and told Jim to the quarter pound what it would take to win gold.

“I was impressed, him doing math on the fly like that,” Jim says. “And I mentioned something to his coach and didn’t think much more about it for a couple of months.”

The next time Jim saw Chris, he learned that Chris had been promoted from bagger to cashier, which included a raise and more responsibility. Jim found out that Chris’ weightlifting coach mentioned something to Chris’ manager at Publix about his math skills. The manager asked Chris to take the test for prospective cashiers, and he easily passed it.

“It’s not just that Publix hires people with disabilities, people like my friend Chris,” Jim says. “It’s that they listened, and when presented with evidence of unknown ability, took the extra step to see what potential was really there. Chris was already doing a great job as a bagger. Publix took a chance on him, saw past his disability and gave him a chance to prove himself.”

Now, when Jim sees Chris, he’s running the “10 Items or Fewer” aisle, where he’s ringing people up and bagging their groceries with a smile.

“I always make sure I’m in his line,” Jim says. “Publix gets it. That’s why I’m a loyal Publix customer, and just about everyone who knows me at all knows why.”

Publix has taken note of stories like Jim and Chris’ and sees them play out in a way that benefits the company’s associates and customers, as well as its bottom line. The result is remarkable customer loyalty.

“We see relationships such as the one with Chris and Jim on a daily basis throughout many of our stores, where our customers are coming in to shop just because of a certain associate,” says Greta Dupuy, Associate Diversity Development Specialist for Publix.

A Culture of Inclusion

In sharing the Publix philosophy for hiring and promoting people with disabilities, CEO Ed Crenshaw has commented that many businesses talk about diversity, but Publix is a company that has largely built its reputation on customer service.

“Publix realizes the need to be able to serve a diverse customer base and have people working for us that resemble that base,” he says.

While employment with Publix oftentimes starts with a first job experience, Publix works to create career opportunities for all associates, encouraging them to explore different positions in their stores and the company region-wide. Associates with disabilities are able to receive the necessary training to move into different positions within the company.

Publix is able to recruit job seekers with disabilities through the relationships the company has built with various organizations in the communities around Florida, ensuring employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities. Through these relationships, Publix achieves lower recruitment costs because organizations refer applicants with disabilities and improved retention as these organizations become more familiar with Publix. Service providers know the company’s expectations and are able to better prepare applicants for a career at Publix.

“The retail industry has higher turnover than most other industries,” says Maria Brous, Director of Media and Community Relations for Publix. “We have found that our associates with disabilities tend to be a loyal, committed and dependable part of our workforce.”

The company’s efforts to create and promote a truly inclusive workplace have been recognized numerous times through awards from The Able Trust, including the 2013 Large Employer of the Year Award and the 2011 Corporate Champion Award.

Watch a video about Publix’s corporate culture of inclusion and diversity, which involves a commitment to employing workers with disabilities.

Local Small Business Offers Outstanding Work Experiences to Young People with Disabilities

Crumb de la Crumb

Crumb de la Crumb of Valrico Provides Meaningful Internships to High School Students with Disabilities

Crumb de la Crumb of Valrico, Florida understands the recipe for success for young people with disabilities. The specialty bakery provides valuable internship experiences to local high school students with disabilities, ensuring that each student learns skills necessary for future employment.

For two years, owner Cindy Shoemake has made a personal commitment to support Florida High School High Tech (HSHT) in the Hillsborough County area, a statewide program of The Able Trust that links youth to a broad range of academic, career development and work experiences that enable them to meet the demands of the 21st century workforce. Cindy has enjoyed welcoming several HSHT students to gain internship experience at Crumb de la Crumb and helping them reach their full potential through job training and mentoring.

Cindy and her business were honored by The Able Trust with the 2013 Small Employer of the Year Award for providing instruction and making accommodations for interns with disabilities, ensuring that each student learns the skills necessary to be employed in the future.

“Crumb de la Crumb’s dedication to helping people with disabilities is extraordinary,” says Dr. Susanne Homant, president and CEO of The Able Trust. “Crumb de la Crumb’s commitment to helping people with disabilities gain independence and experience has made a remarkable difference in the lives they touch.”

Florida High School High Tech is designed to provide high school students with all types of disabilities the opportunity to explore jobs or postsecondary education leading to technology-related careers. HSHT is a community-based partnership made up of students, parents and caregivers, businesses, educators and rehabilitation professionals. It has been shown to reduce the high school dropout rate and increase the overall self-esteem of participating students.

For ways to participate in HSHT, check out The Able Trust here.

Darden Restaurants Continues Long History of Inclusive Hiring Practices and Support of Employment Opportunities for Workers with Disabilities

Joey W

Being of service, diversity, respect and caring – these are the core values of Darden Restaurants, a group comprised of Red Lobster, Olive Garden, LongHorn Steakhouse, Bahama Breeze, Seasons 52, The Capital Grille, Eddie V’s and Yard House. These are not just lofty words, but concepts that Darden lives out in its daily operations as it invests $130 million annually in employee training, professional development and diversity initiatives. Darden has also shared with its restaurant communities through charitable donations to nonprofits, exceeding $60 million since 1995.

Darden’s long history of diversity and inclusion dates back to 1938, when company founder Bill Darden welcomed anyone as a guest in his first restaurant during an era of racial segregation and discrimination. Darden Restaurants has been recognized repeatedly by national publications and organizations for its commitment to diversity in its business practices among its family of restaurants.

Darden is well-known for recruiting and hiring people with disabilities to work in its restaurants and has earned national awards, such as Fortune’s “100 Best Companies to Work For,” for its commitment to talented and caring employees and a diversified, inclusive and engaged workforce.

Additionally, Darden has been a national and statewide sponsor of Disability Mentoring Day (DMD) for nearly a decade. Participation in DMD has demonstrated to the disability community that Darden values Floridians with disabilities, recognizing them as a viable pool of talent. Headquartered in Orlando, the Darden team eagerly embraced The Able Trust’s High School High Tech (HSHT) program several years ago. In addition to providing significant financial support, the company developed a customer service training module for students to learn more about, and become better prepared for, careers in customer service, culinary arts and other service positions in the restaurant industry.

Bob McAdam, Senior Vice President of Government & Community Affairs for Darden, and Julio Suarez, Interim Director of the Darden Foundation, have iterated the company’s commitment to helping youth with disabilities in graduating from high school and moving to a career path of their choosing. He also has talked of Darden’s commitment to a diverse and inclusive workforce throughout Florida and nationally in all of its restaurants, expressing the company’s mission to make its restaurants reflective of the population it serves.

Many young job seekers with disabilities have been helped through the efforts of Darden Restaurants, and the informal partnership between the two organizations is the type of investment in change that makes a long-term difference in successful employment for workers with disabilities.

In 2011, The Able Trust awarded Julio Suarez, formerly Darden’s Director of Diversity Outreach, with its distinguished Executive Champion award, and in 2013 Darden Restaurants and its Foundation received the prestigious Corporate Champion Award from The Able Trust.