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Putting People with Disabilities to Work (Opinion)

October 3, 2013
Source: Florida Today

Guest Column written by Barbara Palmer

Palmer is director of Florida’s Agency for Persons with Disabilities (

I am celebrating my first year as the director of the Agency for Persons with Disabilities (APD), which provides community services to Floridians with developmental disabilities.

To learn about the issues and challenges of our customers and stakeholders, I have been hosting town hall meetings around the state. At every gathering, APD customers or their family members have brought up the importance of being able to find and keep a job.

One of the top priorities of APD is to help people with developmental disabilities find employment and to provide services to ensure that they are able to keep their jobs for the long term.

Governor Rick Scott recommended and the Legislature supported providing $500,000 for on-the-job training and internships. These dollars may help lessen the state’s future costs for community services. Once those with disabilities are successfully employed, their ongoing need for state services is reduced. Having a job lifts their spirits, and gives them a positive outlook and encouragement for the future. It is a wise investment.

October is the perfect time to focus on jobs, because it is [National] Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM), when the entire nation focuses on employment opportunities for people with disabilities. The national theme for the month is Because We are Equal to the Task.

Individuals just want a chance to prove themselves to a willing employer. APD works in partnership with the state’s Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) program to provide support [for] the individual and the employer[, who] may need to ensure it is a successful job match.

APD customer Elizabeth Haines has been working as a hostess and doing food preparation at an Applebee’s restaurant in Tallahassee for 11 years. Recently, she addressed Governor Scott and the Florida Cabinet about the importance of jobs when that body declared October as Disability Employment Awareness Month.

“Beyond making new friends, working has enabled me to live in a home of my own, pay my bills, and enjoy going shopping and to the movies,” Haines said. “Employers need to recognize that people with disabilities are eager to work and can be a wonderful asset to their companies.”

APD and its partners will recognize seven businesses from all over the state on Wednesday with an Exceptional Employer Award. These companies have demonstrated an outstanding commitment to employing individuals with disabilities.

Currently, more than 3,000 of APD’s customers are successfully working. I want to see that number increase, with more people finding permanent careers.

We need companies that are willing to open up job opportunities to all people who are qualified and able to perform the work duties. APD, Vocational Rehabilitation, Blind Services, Department of Economic Opportunity, Veterans’ Affairs and other programs will be there to help your company make the best job match for your organization.

To learn more about National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM), visit

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