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Awards honor those with 'Spirit of ADA'

July 22, 2013
Source: Knox News (TN)

Sarah Helm has never let her multiple sclerosis diagnosis define her — but it’s definitely influenced several aspects of her life.

Helm, who was diagnosed in 2001, is associate coordinator for career services at the University of Tennessee, where she helps students with disabilities pursue their college educations. Meanwhile, she earned her own doctoral degree while battling MS — and in her spare time, she dances with a hip-hop group.

These accomplishments, along with Helm’s involvement with community groups including the Mayor’s Council on Disability Issues, National Alliance on Mental Illness, Knoxville Area Disability Connection, Knox Area Employment Consortium for people with disabilities, MS Society and disAbility Resource Center, has led to DRC’s honoring her with a “Spirit of ADA Award” at this year’s celebration.

The annual luncheon, which DRC hosts, serves a dual purpose. It commemorates the July 26, 1990, signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act by President George H.W. Bush, and it honors those in the community who demonstrate empowerment, accessibility and equal opportunity to transportation, employment, housing, government services, and other community activities — the “spirit” of the law, said DRC Executive Director Lillian Burch.

This year’s luncheon takes place at noon Friday at the Foundry at World’s Fair Park; tickets are $12 each. In addition to Helm, an award will go to WATE-TV reporter Don Dare, who Burch said “has covered several issues for people with disabilities that included ramps, restaurant access and driving with assistive technology,” following up on stories until concerns are resolved.

Dollywood will be honored with a “business award” for its attempt to make all rides accessible, and Marriott Business Services will receive the “employer” award for hiring people with disabilities and providing accommodations when needed. A “consumer” award will go to two-year Marriott employee Jacob Terry.

Stefano Collins, counselor for Vocational Rehabilitation Services, will receive a “service provider” award, and Joe Ellison, who supports DRC by assisting with newsletter mailings and at social events, besides acting as office clerk, shopper and errand runner, will receive a “volunteer” award.

In addition, a “special staff award” will be presented to employment specialist Basil Farris, who came to DRC as a client and was then hired as a job coach. As a child, Farris was placed in special education at school and given limited options for future employment. Later in life, he lost his vision but received surgery to correct the blindness. Burch said his work at DRC “proved the school system (prediction) wrong.”

“With his developed skills, he assists people with disabilities in obtaining and keeping employment,” she said. “In order to do this, he has to assess them, assist with job applications and resumes, provide job skills and training, and follow up with any problems they may have on the job.”

For tickets or more information, call 865-637-3666.

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