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October 7, 2015

CONTACT:Melanie Mowry Etters
Communications Director
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Companies Honored as Exceptional Employers

Tallahassee, FL -Eight businesses that hire and retain people with disabilities as part of their workforce were recognized by the state of Florida today for being exceptional employers of people with disabilities.  The businesses from around the state were honored with a plaque made by people with disabilities. The 10th annual celebration was held at Tallahassee City Hall as part of recognizing October as Disability Employment Awareness Month.

Agency for Persons with Disabilities (APD), Blind Services, and Vocational Rehabilitation presented the Exceptional Employer Awards to companies that have a strong commitment to employing people with disabilities.  Event sponsors were the Able Trust, City of Tallahassee, and RESPECT of Florida.

The eight award-winning businesses are:

  • Kilwins Jacksonville
  • LEGOLAND Florida
  • Lowe’s Home Improvement 
  • Miami-Dade County Parks, Recreation and Open Spaces Department
  • Office Depot
  • Popeyes
  • 3 Daughters Brewing of St. Petersburg
  • Winter Park Memorial Hospital

APD Director Barbara Palmer said, “We are so pleased to be honoring these outstanding businesses. These deserving businesses need to be recognized for making the commitment to employ a diverse workforce. These company leaders know that individuals with disabilities are some of the most dedicated employees any business could hire.”

“DEO is committed to making Florida the best state in the nation for every person to get a fulfilling job. Individuals with disabilities deserve the opportunity to benefit from the inherit dignity of work. Employers who provide these opportunities find hardworking, loyal, and talented employees. We encourage every employer to make this a priority,” said Jesse Panuccio, Executive Director of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.

Director of the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation Aleisa McKinlay said, “We are proud to honor these employers today because of their willingness to hire people with disabilities and give them the chance to be the wonderful employees we know them to be. We can’t do our job without our community partners – large and small businesses making Florida’s economy strong.”

Speakers at the event included Outreach and Training Manager with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Elaine McArthur, Abilities Work Help Desk Supervisor Jeff Michel, Executive Director of RESPECT of Florida Ryland Musick, APD employee Shannon Roberts, and AMC Theatres employee Philip Cheeseborough.

Here is information on the eight winning companies:

Kilwins Jacksonville

Kilwins Jacksonville is a true confectionery shoppe that has made a commitment to employing people with disabilities. This small business located in Jacksonville’s St. Johns Town Center has hired four people with disabilities, with two currently on staff. One employee is a Confectionary Packager. She cuts, weighs, rolls, and wraps caramel. She has become a craftsman. Another employee is a Product Demonstrator. She offers samples of delicious chocolate to customers. Having a valuable job makes both of these individuals shine and excel. They just needed the opportunity provided by Kilwins Jacksonville.


Located in the Winter Haven, LEGOLAND Florida has made a strong commitment to hiring people with all types of disabilities. The organization has more than 20 individuals with disabilities working in the theme park and newly opened LEGOLAND hotel. LEGOLAND has hired several people with hearing impairments, and working with Vocational Rehabilitation, the employees have been provided accommodations such as American Sign Language Interpreters, hearing aids, and uniforms. One individual who works in ground maintenance receives work direction through a wristwatch where the supervisor text messages the instructions to the watch. The employee feels the vibration and then reads the instructions. A highly effective accommodation. It is a win-win solution for all involved. This is an example of an employer who values the talents of their employees and works to ensure their success.

Lowe’s Home Improvement Companies 

Lowe’s Companies across the state have a hired 67 people with disabilities over the past few years. These people have all types of disabilities, including visual impairments, developmental disabilities, and disabled veterans. They have worked with Vocational Rehabilitation and Blind Services to meet the needs of individual employees. Today, we are highlighting the good work happening in the Panhandle at the Lowe’s stores in Milton and Gulf Breeze. These stores have worked closely with the Agency for Persons with Disabilities to assist people with developmental disabilities to enter the workforce. Lowe’s employees have participated in Mock Job Interviews for students. Lowe’s has conducted presentations on writing a resume and cover letter. Lowe’s has been an outstanding partner and a strong advocate for people with disabilities to enter the job market.

Miami-Dade County Parks, Recreation and Open Spaces Department

This employer estimates that 20 percent of its workforce of 1,648 has some type of disability—that is 329 people. In addition to hiring people with disabilities, Miami-Dade County Parks, Recreation and Open Spaces Department supports other disability initiatives such as Zoo Miami’s Project Search program. The Parks Department has made many accommodations to help employees succeed such as furniture adjustment for wheelchairs, magnifying computer screens for visual disabilities, and captions on videos. Clearly, Miami-Dade County Parks has made a tremendous commitment to inclusion. Miami-Dade County Parks worked with APD to develop an internship program for young adults. The Parks Department is mindful of being inclusive of all visitors to its facilities too, so it ensures employees are aware of disability issues and accommodations.

Office Depot

Office Depot recently merged with Office Max. This organization has hired 37 people with visual and other disabilities across the state.  In its South Florida Distribution Center, Office Depot has hired seven people through the Dan Marino Foundation. Office Depot offers job sampling and shadowing experiences for Marino Foundation clients to see if a job is a good fit. This company expects managers to ensure a diverse workforce. Office Depot has a culture of inclusion and providing accommodations when needed. Office Depot created a summer internship program four years ago so young people could develop their job skills. At the conclusion of the internship program, the company hired two people. Since then, Office Depot hired five more people served by the Marino Foundation.


Popeyes restaurants across the state have hired 34 individuals with disabilities over the past several years. In the Panama City Popeyes restaurant, currently one-fifth of its workforce of 30 has disabilities. Popeyes makes it a practice to hire people with all types of disabilities.  The company is willing to carve out a job for individuals looking for a chance to go to work. Once they are trained, the general manager is willing to hire them when an opening occurs or help them land a position at another restaurant. The company is a great disability partner.

3 Daughters Brewing of St. Petersburg

3 Daughters Brewing is a small business making a difference when it comes to hiring people with disabilities. 3 Daughters Brewing has hired three individuals with disabilities over the years. Currently, 1 individual with a disability is employed in this small business of 10 employees. 3 Daughters Brewing goes the extra mile to accommodate all types of needs. The company provides one-on-one training to new employees building natural supports in the work place. The business wants the individuals to be proficient at the job to ensure success. The current employee with a disability, named Virginia, has been given a sense of purpose and feels she is a true team member. This employee has developed new skills and increased her income as a result of her job with 3 Daughters Brewing.

Winter Park Memorial Hospital

This organization goes the extra mile to teach job skills and hire people with all types of disabilities. Winter Park Memorial Hospital has hosted Project Search for six years. Project Search is a model training program to help people with disabilities experience on-the-job training in a real work environment, plus classroom learning. The hospital leadership and employees have shown an outstanding commitment to individuals with disabilities through offering a variety of rotations in the hospital and hiring Project Search interns for jobs. 20 graduates for Project Search are employed at the hospital. Some of those people recently celebrated four years of employment. The hospital has also hired a person with a visual disability. Two employees with disabilities have been promoted to managers after two years on the job demonstrating the company’s wish to advance individuals with all types of abilities.

APD supports people with developmental disabilities to live, learn, and work in their communities.  The agency annually serves more than 50,000 Floridians with autism, cerebral palsy, spina bifida, intellectual disabilities, Down syndrome, and Prader-Willi syndrome. For more information about the Agency for Persons with Disabilities, visit or call toll-free 1-866-APD-CARES (1-866-273-2273).
Event Photos and Photos of Winners accepting their Awards Available Upon Request