Joining passion and community with a job he loves

Today is National Beer Day (yes, that’s a thing), and it’s the perfect day to share this new video from MadTree Brewing and Starfire.

It features Michael, who loves beer, and has been working at MadTree since 2013. He’s a vital part of the company and considered part of the family. Watch part one and part two of the video series below.

Love of Beer Builds Community

A Seat at the Table for Everyone


Local companies recognized as champions of opportunity

Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities recently announced its 2016 Opportunity Awards winners, which recognizes and highlights Ohio companies committed to providing employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities.

Meijer was named a Champion of Opportunity for its work in the southwest Ohio region, where the company has face-to-face contact with potential applicants and gives them tours of their facilities. This helps to provide quality vocational guidance for every candidate.

Creating Opportunity Award winners in Greater Cincinnati include:

  • Brookdale, Mason
  • Hayneedle Distribution Center, Monroe
  • Koch Foods Inc, Fairfield
  • Krispy Kreme, Cincinnati
  • Kroger Market Place, Cincinnati
  • Mac’s Pizza and Pub, Maineville
  • Rodizio Grill, Liberty Township
  • Trade Global, West Chester
  • Xscape Theaters Northgate Mall, Cincinnati

These awards seek to recognize companies at various levels in the process: from those who have just begun to recruit, hire, and retain individuals with disabilities to those with a proven track record of integrating individuals with disabilities into their work force. See a full list on the OOD website.

Dependable worker brightens day for customers, co-workers

“Hi, Laura!” says a customer pushing a cart around a corner. “Hello, how are you?” asks Laura Williams before continuing down an aisle to put an unwanted item back on the shelf.

Laura Williams has worked at the Mt. Washington Kroger for 10 years and was named Employee of the Month.

It’s not unusual for Williams, 34, to exchange smiles and have conversations with shoppers during her shifts at the Mt. Washington Kroger. And often, when out in her Anderson Township neighborhood, she’s recognized by regular customers.

“I get so excited,” she said of seeing customers outside of the store. “It’s awesome. They say hello because I always brighten their day.”

Williams, who has Down syndrome, has worked at the Mt. Washington Kroger for a decade but started at the grocery store’s Loveland location 13 years ago. “She was trying to find a job when we stopped in that Kroger,” said her mom, Steph Tacy. “The store manager talked to her and hired Laura on the spot because she had previous work experience at fast food places.”

Williams has always wanted to work in the community. At 16 years old she came to her parents, her mom said, and told them it was her “time to go and get a job” because her brother also started working when he was 16. “She just wanted to work like everyone else,” Tacy said.

laura3At Kroger, Williams helps with bagging customers’ groceries, gathering carts from the parking lot, cleaning and restocking items people leave at checkout or return to the store. And because she is efficient and dependable, Williams is now acting utility clerk, which means more responsibility.

“Laura is a real help to have around the store – she knows where everything is and you don’t have to hold her hand,” said Stephanie Reed, customer service manager at the Mt. Washington Kroger. “She has a positive attitude and always has a smile on her face. She’s amazing and makes my day every day.”

In all her years at Kroger, Williams has never taken a sick day and was named Employee of the Month. “It was my first time being Employee of the Month, and I’m proud of myself,” she said. “It’s nice to be recognized and feels good.”

When she’s not working, Williams practices taekwondo twice a week at a local academy. She earned her third-degree black belt and continues to train for the next level.

Record gains in employment for people with disabilities

More people with disabilities are getting jobs in the community, and the statistics are finally starting to reflect this.

For decades, people with disabilities have participated in the workforce less than the general population. Those numbers are still low (30 percent on average compared to 76 percent for the general population), but record improvements happened during 2016, according to a recent report released earlier this month.

Graphic from National Trends in Disability Employment monthly update
Credit: National Trends in Disability Employment monthly update

It’s been the longest run of employment gains for Americans with disabilities since the Great Recession. The good news comes just after the National Task Force unveiled a major report that outlines best practices and policy recommendations to help states remove employment barriers for people with disabilities.

“When we think about workforce development just generally, it may not be specifically focused on people living with disabilities. But to me, it’s all about realizing potential,” said Council of State Governments (CSG) Executive Director/CEO David Adkins. “When anyone is excluded, potential is left unrealized.”

About 1 in 5 Americans live with a disability and there are 22 million working-age Americans with disabilities. But many adults and youth with disabilities are unemployed or underemployed despite an ability, desire and willingness to work in the community and contribute to the economy.

The task force convened four subcommittees focused on policy areas that impact the employability of people with disabilities: Career Readiness and Employability; Entrepreneurship, Tax Incentives and Procurement; Transportation, Technology and Other Employment Supports; and Hiring, Retention and Re-entry.

Read more in this Huffington Post article.

Guest post: Finding the perfect fit with a local business

Contributed by the Ohio Department of Developmental Disabilities

The Cade sisters love to be with each other, and they love to clean. “Cleaning is their thing,” says Rebecca Puckett, an SSA at the Vinton County Board of Developmental Disabilities (VCBDD).

But their love for each other and necessity to work together meant finding a very accommodating employer, which was tricky. “They are just really, really close. Been together their whole lives…never been apart. It was a struggle to find employment because they would have to take on two,” Puckett remarks. “They wanted to work the same shifts.”

Margaret and Mamie Cade with Michael Williams at his business, where both sisters work.
Margaret and Mamie Cade with Michael Williams at his business, where both sisters work.

Enter Michael Williams, owner and director at R.M. Funeral Services.  As a student at Ohio University in Athens, Williams saw a young man with developmental disabilities working at a Wendy’s and vowed that if he started a business, he would do what he could to employ a person with developmental disabilities.

As a small business owner, he was wearing a lot of hats. In addition to cleaning and upkeep around his facility, he was performing all of the day to day business operations. He reached the point when cleaning and general maintenance, which he views as paramount to the success of his business, was falling to the backburner. “Cleaning is a constant. The busier we are, the more cleaning. We want to make sure that our facility is top notch for families,” stresses Williams.

The Cade sisters were matched with R.M. Funeral Services by Employment First Job Coach Ashley Darling and have been employed since March of 2016, working two days a week. Their hard work, earnestness, and attention to detail led to even more work from Williams, such as gardening, and property and building maintenance.

“Once I developed a relationship with them, I knew they would do a great job. There is always something that can be done,” Williams comments. “I wish I could get some of the other business owners here to jump on board. It’s beneficial for [them], beneficial for the person with special needs, and it benefits the customers.”

In addition to cleaning at R.M., the sisters have a great fondness for gardening, and work at a greenhouse. They also clean for other businesses as needed. In their free time, the sisters solve a lot of jigsaw puzzles, and love watching the Ohio University Bobcats play football and basketball.

“Employment First is exemplified by the cooperation of multiple agencies, supports provided through the VCBDD, and the desire of a local business to hire to people’s strengths,” says Tina Spanos from VCBDD. “That is what provided the Cades the springboard to success [at] their jobs.”

The Ohio Department of Developmental Disabilities (DODD) oversees a statewide system of supports and services for people with developmental disabilities and their families. The agency’s mission is continuous improvement of the quality of life for Ohio’s citizens with developmental disabilities and their families.

Job readiness course starts Jan. 18

searchCenter for Independent Living Options is hosting a five-week job readiness course beginning Wednesday, Jan. 18. This new class will prepare you for employment through self-assessment, creating a plan and setting goals, finding a job, and learning to manage your career.

Participants will receive a certificate of completion at the end of the five-week course, which is held every Wednesday from 1-2 p.m. Click here for a flier or email Yonel Robinson for more information.

2016: Expanding awareness and showcasing employment successes

This past year was filled stories recognizing how successful people with disabilities can be when they work in the community—not just by us as an agency or a blog but also by our local partners, statewide media and even Ellen DeGeneres.

Sharon Whitling shows off some of the famous treats at Cheesecake Please Cafe

We highlighted the stories of Sharon Whitling, who works at Cheesecake, Please! in Colerain Township; David Walters, who has worked for Frisch’s for 25 years; Leah Alexander, whose creativity shined while she worked at Sewn in Oakley; and Zachariah McCall, whose smile lights up the Panera restaurant in Kenwood.

Emily Schneider’s story showed how customizing employment benefited both her and one local Marco’s Pizza, where she enjoys making the dough. And Jillian Daugherty shared, in her own words, what it was like to have a job she loves in the athletic department at Northern Kentucky University.

Matthew Wheeler is fast, efficient and does his work with a smile.

Other successes include: Ron Martin, who has cerebral palsy and works in the mail room at our agency’s Support Center; Matthew Wheeler, who learned skills at Franks Adult Center that helped him get a job at Kroger; Hannah Hartman, who is nonverbal and worked in the Mercy Hospital Fairfield stock room while attending Rost School; and students at Fairfax School, who learned assembly line skills to pack food bags for a local charity.

We debuted a new column by HCDDS Benefits Specialist Antonio Akins about how having a job impacts benefits like Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). His column joined others by Employment Coordinator Nathan Beck, who wrote about how data can drive disability hiring initiatives, and Transition Supervisor Lisa Grady, who provided insight on using preferences, interests, needs and strengths (PINS) to find the right fit for transition-age students.

Local providers like Ohio Valley Goodwill, Easterseals serving Greater Cincinnati, and Living Arrangements for the Developmentally Disabled (LADD) also told stories about people with developmental disabilities who are successfully employed in the community. And the Down Syndrome Association of Greater Cincinnati and Starfire shared how they’re reaching out to businesses to get more people jobs.

Joe Lautenslager and Diann Shafer of Kings Island at the Workforce Solutions Summit

As a region, the continued partnership among the county boards of DD in Butler, Clermont, Hamilton and Warren counties is making strides. Together, we produced four 30-second television commercials featuring people from each county that aired throughout the year. We also debuted two new videos—one aimed at businesses and the other for individuals and families—that have been widely shared, including at a regional Workforce Solutions Summit where businesses shared strategies for making people with disabilities part of diversity and inclusion hiring initiatives.

And the message of “Employment Works for People with Disabilities” reached the broadest possible audience with television promos airing throughout Super Bowl Sunday.

These efforts are starting to get more recognition from Cincinnati media and other outlets around the state. Local 12 told the story of a coffee shop in Covington that helps with job training and how thinking outside the box created a new position for Doug Goering. WCPO shared how persistence helped Brianne Hoagland get a job she loves. The Columbus Dispatch highlighted a job-training program that focuses on soft skills to improves success rates, as well as a partnership between ARC Industries and Cheryl’s Cookies.

Nakiea Spaulding at her job at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. She was featured in our commercials this year.

Nationally, the U.S. House Small Business Committee conducted a hearing on disability inclusion and heard from Terri Hogan, owner of Contemporary Cabinetry East, who has employed people with disabilities for years. “Hiring people who are physically, genetically or cognitively diverse is not just the right thing to do, it is the smart thing to do,” she told the Committee. Even Ellen DeGeneres shined a light on employment for people with disabilities by having viral video star Sam, the dancing barista with autism, and his manager Chris on her national talk show.

But our Employment Spotlight blog isn’t just about sharing successes—we try to provide resources to businesses and job seekers. We highlighted the new hiring toolkit for employers and managers, the Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities new hiring hotline and website for job seekers, the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber’s Diverse by Design pilot program and related events, as well as how big tech companies report on disability inclusion in the workplace.

It’s nice to look back and reflect on how far we’ve come regarding employment for people with developmental disabilities, but it’s also important to recognize this work is far from complete. We hope you’ll continue on this journey with us in 2017!