October is Disability Employment Awareness Month in Florida. This is when our state and the nation focus on job opportunities for people with disabilities.
In today’s business world, talent is in demand. Many businesses are opening their doors to people with disabilities and have discovered a wealth of dependable job talent.
The Agency for Persons with Disabilities (APD), Vocational Rehabilitation, Blind Services, and other organizations will gather virtually on Oct. 14 at 10 a.m. to recognize 10 Florida businesses who have demonstrated their commitment to hiring people with disabilities. The Exceptional Employer Awards are another opportunity for the state to acknowledge employers that are doing the right thing for their business, the individual hired, and the community.
APD serves people with developmental disabilities who are dedicated employees who work hard to be successful. They are earning an income and contributing tax dollars to the state.
To protect the students who attend Hollins High School in St. Petersburg, Austin Wagner works as a plant operator ensuring classrooms and restrooms are clean and disinfected every day. Wagner said, “The school is a really good place to work. I like cleaning. It is quiet which I like. This job worked out great.”
Wagner is a quiet person who prefers not to speak very much. After two years on the job, he is now having conversations with coworkers who prompt him.
Head Plant Operator Tim Hubbley said, “Austin is a great guy—just a great young man. He is a hard worker. I do not think he has ever missed a day of work. He talks to people; he smiles and laughs. It took him about a year before he really started to engage in a conversation.”
Austin’s mother, Deanna Wagner, is thrilled with her son’s employment success saying, “It is the biggest blessing of our lives.” She describes him as a responsible young man. She says he pays his bills, buys groceries, but mostly saves his money. Sometimes he will splurge and take her out to lunch.
Wagner’s job is a permanent job with benefits where he works 30 hours a week.
Austin Wagner said, “I like the people I work with, and I have a good boss too.”
Theresa Seaton of Miami recently began working at the Publix Supermarket at the Miller Road Shopping Center. Seaton, whose nickname is Tracy, works part-time as a Front Service Clerk for the Customer Service Department. Even though Seaton is naturally shy, she is still working on enthusiastically greeting every customer she encounters. Seaton’s responsibilities include greeting customers, bagging groceries, taking groceries out to a customer’s car, unloading carts for customers, and returning carts from the parking lot.
There is one job responsibility where Seaton shines. “Tracy does a great job in returning merchandise to the shelves. It is organized in a cart by aisle, and she goes down each aisle and puts the unwanted items back where they belong, said Customer Service Manager Laverne Thorp.
Thorp says, “Tracy is very easy to get along with and has a wonderful personality.”
Seaton is trying to improve her skills as a front service clerk. “It’s a challenge. Bagging is not as easy as it looks. I am working on it.”
Seaton began working at Publix earlier this year, after working 18 years for South Miami Hospital as a dining room attendant. She was furloughed due to the COVID-19 outbreak. She says Publix’s donations to Special Olympics were what drove her to apply for a job with the company. “I am very happy about my new job. Publix has been very supportive of Special Olympics for a long time. I have been involved in Special Olympics since I was in high school,” said Seaton.
Seaton has competed in bowling, swimming, tennis, and soccer at Special Olympics competitions. She received specialized leadership training to serve as a Special Olympics athlete leader. She says that helped her to be a stronger woman.
Seaton is also very proud of being a homeowner. Several years ago, her mother helped her purchase her own townhome in Miami. “I am a homeowner, which is a big dream come true for me. Words cannot describe how happy I am in this house,” said Seaton.
Every person wants to be given an opportunity to show what they can achieve in the workplace and in the community. Businesses looking for talent should consider offering jobs to those with unique abilities. APD and other programs are here to help organizations and individuals achieve success together. We want your business to have dedicated and dependable employees like Austin and Tracy.