All Abilities Want to Work

By Director Barbara Palmer

Governor Rick Scott and the Cabinet have declared October as Disability Employment Awareness Month in Florida. This is when our state and the nation focus on job opportunities for people with disabilities. Florida’s theme is “Abilities Work."

At the Florida Agency for Persons with Disabilities (APD), we have many people with developmental disabilities who are earning a living and contributing to the state’s tax base.

If you’ve ever eaten lunch at Paisley Cafe in Tallahassee, you’ve probably met Kevin Graham. He’s constantly on his feet, welcoming customers at the host stand, seating them, bringing food out to tables, clearing dishes, manning the cash register, and helping his coworkers with anything they need, including special events and catering. His official position, “Host with the Most,” was created for him this summer. Graham always has time to say hello to regulars, who greet him by name with a smile. He also helped start Autism Cooks Foundation together with Paisley Cafe leadership.

When asked his favorite part of working at Paisley, Graham replied, “Greeting people, hosting, just saying, ‘Hi, welcome to Paisley’ – that’s my favorite part of my job, because I love to smile with our customers.” He enjoys having a job because he loves to help customers and his coworkers, he makes extra money, and it helps him stay busy.

“We love having Kevin on our team,” Owner Kiersten Lee said. “Kevin brings an element of devotion to our company, staff, patrons, and purveyors that is unique to him. He cares so much about others and loving them unconditionally. Kevin wants to please and serve others – a wonderful example of servanthood and hospitality in and out of the workplace.”

Operating Partner Jeri Madden has noticed Graham’s communication and problem-solving skills have really been enhanced since he started working at Paisley. “He just possesses all the qualities that you would want in a worker. Any word that you could think of for the best worker around, that’s Kevin – the perfect employee!”

Florida State University (FSU) employee Derek Carraway relies on the Tallahassee Dial-a-Ride service to get him to and from work each day. Carraway has been working full time for the Information Technology Services Department for almost a year.

“I fit right in when I started. I got into a good group. I am busy updating websites, preparing mass emails to large groups, and many other tasks,” said Carraway.

FSU ITS Service Deployment Manager Ron Kimberly said, “Derek works diligently, gets things done, and is eager to learn.”

Carraway, who has a Computer Science degree, started his professional career working part-time at the Agency for Persons with Disabilities. “I enjoyed my time at APD. It was a useful learning experience. It definitely prepared me for the job I have now at FSU.”

Individuals with disabilities just want a chance to show what they can do for a willing employer. APD works in partnership with the state's Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) program to provide support that the individual and the employer may need to ensure a successful job match.

We want more companies to provide job opportunities to all people who are qualified and able to perform the work. APD and other programs will help your organization find the right job match. We will be there in the future should there be a need. We want your organization to have diligent and reliable employees like Kevin and Derek.

On October 4, APD, VR, Blind Services, Department of Economic Opportunity, Veterans' Affairs, Able Trust, and other agencies will gather at Tallahassee City Hall, 300 South Adams Street, to recognize 12 employers from around the state who have shown their commitment to hiring people with disabilities. The 13th annual Exceptional Employer Awards expo and ceremony event begins at 8:30 a.m. (EDT). I hope to see you there.