Recognizes and promotes the achievements of employers, organizations and individuals who have improved employment opportunities for people with disabilities.
Each year, nominations begin in May and run through the end of August. Categories include Small, Medium, and Large Private, Non-Profit, Public, and Youth Employers of the Year. The Direct Support Professional Award is a lifetime achievement award also presented to an individual within the field of supported employment. The Governor's Trophy is another lifetime achievement award presented to an individual with a disability. Finally, the Toby Olson Legacy Award is a new lifetime achievement award in its second year of accepting nominations, that recognizes an individual who has made a lifetime commitment to addressing the inequities people with disabilities face in their community and at the state and national levels and can demonstrate specific, direct actions dramatically changing the lives of those in the disability community.
We are pleased to share the photos from our event on Friday, October 22, 2022!
The national anthem video can be viewed here, and stay tuned for a video of the full ceremony (coming soon!)
To read the full transcript from the ceremony, click here. To view the press release about recipients, click here.
The program celebrated it's 29th anniversary in 2021 with a virtual ceremony that can be viewed here (please note, Dropbox will display a 15 minute preview by default. To view the whole video, you must click the "Download" button in the top right corner). You can also read the announcement about recipients.
The Toby Olson Lifetime Impact Award Nomination Process is live!
The GCDE is proud to present the Toby Olson Lifetime Impact Award, honoring an individual who embodies the qualities and characteristics of the late Toby Olson, and has made a lifetime commitment to addressing the inequities those with disabilities face in their community and at the state and national levels and can demonstrate specific, direct actions dramatically changing the lives of those in the disability community!
GCDE is implementing a two-step process for this Award. The first step is a Letter of Intent prepared by the nominator and an Endorsement Letter prepared by a current, former or emeritus GCDE Member. GCDE will review the information provided in the first step to determine if the nomination should proceed. The nominator will be advised by telephone or by email whether the submission will be approved to move forward. Following approval, the second step requires completion of an official nomination packet and supporting material which will then be reviewed by the Judging Panel. A link to the official Toby Olson Nomination will be included in the GCDE approval letter.
Use the forms below to complete Step 1 of the process to nominate an individual for the Toby Olson Award:
These forms should be saved and emailed to Awards Program staff for review at: GCDEAwards@esd.wa.gov. Nominations for this award are accepted year round. To be considered for the following October's ceremony, nominations must be received by July 31 of the current year.
To read instructions about the nomination process, please utilize the link below:
Nominations closed for 2022 Program year, stay tuned this Spring for information about the 2023 program!
Help us spread the word about this year's event!
Updated brochure for 2023 coming soon!
This year's event was held at the Lynnwood Embassy Suites on October 21! Thank you to everyone who contributed to a great event!
Thank you to our sponsors, Microsoft, Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, Washington State Employees Credit Union, and Auntie Anne's Pretzels!
Janet Bruckshen (Chair)
Ryan Bondroff (Staff)
Previous Award Winners
2016 Large Non-Profit Employer of the Year – Battelle/Pacific Northwest National Laboratory; 2016 Medium Non-Profit Employer of the Year – Excelsior Youth Center; 2016 Small Private Employer of the Year – InsideWorks; 2016 Youth Employer Award of the Year – Little Anchor Daycare; 2016 Large Private Employer of the Year – Microsoft; 2016 Local Government Employer of the Year – Snohomish County; 2016 Medium Private Employer of the Year – Sodexo - Walla Walla University Team; 2016 Small Non-Profit Employer of the Year – Washington Access Fund; 2016 State Public Employer of the Year – Washington State Department of Licensing; 2016 Governor's Trophy – Emily Cooper; 2016 Direct Support Professional – Sue Ann Lemkin
2017 Governor's Trophy – Mark Adreon; 2017 Direct Support Professional – Bonnie Sinclair; 2017 Medium Non-Profit Employer of the Year – Bridgeways; 2017 Large Private Employer of the Year – Seattle Mariners; 2017 Medium Private Employer of the Year – Port Angeles Safeway; 2017 Small Private Employer of the Year– Northwest Trophy; 2017 Youth Employer of the Year – Seattle Children's; 2017 Public Employer of the Year– City of Seattle
2018 Governor's Trophy Don Kay – As a Washingtonian living with a disability, Don’s lifetime achievements reflect his leadership within the disability community, statewide and throughout the country. In the 1970s Don helped create a statewide forum for people with disabilities that promoted the emergence of a disability movement focused on civil rights and opportunities to be full citizens of the state. This gave voice to people with disabilities in the adoption of state law, policy and practice and led to groundbreaking developments recognizing people with disabilities as full citizens with rights rather than as medical patients or charity cases. He continues to work tirelessly on behalf of members of the disability community. Don has made a consummate effort to bring about equality within our state despite the many barriers confronted in bringing about profound change.
2018 Direct Support Professional Paula Bouwer –Paula fought hard for her first job as a job developer. She was told that because of her own disability, she wouldn’t be able to meet the requirement for strong communication skills. She didn’t accept the many times she was told “no” and continued to pursue the job until she was successful at getting a 6-month position. This led to her long successful career. For the past 24 years Paula has positively impacted numerous lives by using her job development and networking skills to enable individuals to obtain the job they desire. She has consistently exceeded all agency targets for successful placements, job retention, and revenue and productivity goals. At the same time, Paula maintains high quality standards. She has been recognized by St Martin’s University with the Distinguished Alumni Award. Graduating in 1986 she was the first student with a hearing disability to graduate. Paula enjoys recognizing employers for their best practices and nominates them for recognition which helps to strengthen her employer base. One employer said, “If Paula gives her word that she thinks the person is a good match, then we will accept her word because she’s proven we can.”
2018 Medium Non-Profit Employer of the Year Cascade Public Media – Cascade Public Media (KCTS9) wants every employee to have the opportunity to be successful. When they hired a person with a disability, they welcomed the support of a job coach and assistance from the Department of Services for the Blind. They provide an inclusive environment demonstrated by things like celebrating birthdays and identifying natural supports in the workplace. As needs are identified, they remove the hurdles. This may mean modifying work schedules, providing assistive devices, or looking for specific strengths that can bring new talents to the organization. They relocated equipment to make it easier to use; purchased software to accommodate visual barriers; and purchased ergonomic keyboards. Cascade Media was aware this employee depends on ACCESS for transportation to and from work. As an accommodation they provide plenty of notice for his schedule changes. This employee feels KCTS 9 truly cares about him and the support he needs to be successful. The employee received 2 pay increases over the last 18 months, a $2,000 bonus and the opportunity to move from a part time employment to permanent full-time position.
2018 Large Private Employer of the Year Fred Meyer #122 –Fred Meyer, Store 122 actively recruits for diversity. They work with a number of employment vendors to ensure they have the greatest network possible. They participate in job fairs, resource fairs and maintain relationships to assure they know of opportunities where they can network with the disability community. They are open to Employment Consultants joining the interview process and even invite a family member if they feel it would be in the person’s best interest. Once hired they encourage additional support from job coaches, consultants and work with families to support their employees. Employees have regular evaluations and pay increases. They let the employee decide who they want to join them for their evaluations including a family member. This allows for additional support on the employee’s job responsibilities. Additionally, all employee training includes how best to support their shoppers with disabilities.
2018 Medium Private Employer of the Year Kulshan Brewing Co. –Kulshan Brewing Company’s management understands the importance of making accommodations where necessary and setting the tone for success with clear expectations around work performance. Promoting high expectations conveys respect and a belief in the workers abilities. It also conveys a strong message that their contributions are critical to the success of the business. All employees have annual evaluations along with ongoing feedback. Employees take ownership of their responsibilities and job coaches ensure supported employees have the tools and support to achieve their goals. This growth-oriented mindset lays the groundwork for retention, promotion and expansion of duties and workhours. The Kulshan team actively fosters a workplace culture characterized by mutual support and inclusion. The team routinely recognizes and expresses appreciation for the contributions of the supported employees, setting the tone for equality and mutual respect. Support to workers with disabilities flourishes naturally as a result of the company’s overarching culture celebrating individuality and emphasizing community.
2018 Small Private Employer of the Year Gigglechops Dog Wash – Gigglechops Dog Wash (GDW), is a self-service dog wash in Seattle committed to providing employment opportunities for workers with disabilities. Gigglechops hires employees with special needs and learning differences through word of mouth and other means. 4 out of the 5 employees or 80% have self-identified as having a disability. Employees are paid $15 an hour. Scheduled work hours are flexible based on employee wishes. Employees are encouraged to learn from one another by scheduling them to work at the same time. Training needs are designed utilizing each individual’s strength. As an example, “How To” videos are used for some and others may prefer written guidance and check lists. They seek employee feedback and accommodate based on what they learn. Employees are provided with advancement and leadership opportunities. The employer values social network supports and adjusts work schedules so employees can participate in Toastmaster meetings, comic book conventions and sport activities as examples.
2018 Youth Employer of the Year Educational Service District 123 – The Educational Service District 123 (ESD) began transition services in 2016 with 7 rural schools and have expanded to 30 high schools with Pre-Employment Transition Services in the 2017-2018 school year. Over 800 students participated in monthly group activities. In addition to the monthly trainings, ESD 123 partnered with Career Path Services and Columbia Services to provide high quality work-based learning experiences. Starting in May there were 37 job shadow experiences and 12 paid internships. Some resulted in summer employment at minimum wage. The ESD has coordinated with several local services including the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation with the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, and a large list of others. ESD 123 established a local Interagency Transition Network of teachers, parents, Arc of Tri Cities, Developmental Disabilities Administration, as well as several other agencies who meet monthly to improve transition outcomes for students with disabilities. They report the strength of their success is in the building of these relationships within local communities, schools, employers and businesses. These relationships make it possible for students to explore careers, learn strong employment skills and develop hew career goals.
2018 Public Employer of the Year City of Bellevue – The City of Bellevue has demonstrated a strong commitment to expanding and promoting an inclusive workplace for all people. Their Supported Employment Initiative promotes inclusivity within the city departments. It has support from the top, including the City Manager and the Human Resource Director. This kind of commitment from the top levels of leadership is inspiring and ensures participation at all levels of the organization. They established an important collaborative partnership with Puget Sound Personnel, Inc. (PSP) which contributes to the Supported Employment Initiative success. The Supported Employment Task Force continues to build positive momentum encouraging directors and managers to develop job opportunities in their departments. Jobs are customized to match the employer’s business needs along with the individual’s employment goals. These employment opportunities not only dramatically changed the lives of the individuals that they hired, but the ripple effect has positively impacted their team members at work and the community.
2019 Governor's Trophy Duane French – Duane was a gentleman and a rebel. With his engaging smile and charming ways, he listened to people carefully. He tried to get to know each person he met. He wanted to help. He was a vocational rehabilitation counselor working with people with physical injuries and disabilities. He helped people transition from nursing homes to independent living. While his people to people skills and accomplishments were many, his success meant promotions. He became Executive Director of Access Alaska; then Director of Alaska’s Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, then Director of Policy for Washington’s Employment Assistance Program and eventually Director of Disability Determination Services, a division of the Washington Department of Social & Health Services. But he always was a rebel fighting for people with disabilities. He participated in his share of demonstrations highlighting the very critical need to pass the Americans with Disabilities Act. He came face to face with people who just didn’t get it… people who didn’t understand the proposed legislation recognized the civil rights of those with disabilities. It prohibited discrimination and guaranteed that people with disabilities have the same opportunities as everyone else to participate in the mainstream of American life. He continued the fighting spirit, managing a division where Washington residents apply for Social Security disability benefits. He was so proud of Division’s staff and consultants, who worked tirelessly to help those who are unable to work navigate the bureaucracy. Duane’s legacy is found in federal and state legislation and in state agencies in Nebraska, Alaska and Washington. But for him, it was the people he served that mattered most. He was a gentle man.
2019 Direct Support Professional Collen Thornburg – Colleen builds success even in challenging situations. She is known for her determination and creativity. Her supervisor regularly receives praise for Colleen’s work. Multiple case managers and counselors specifically request that Colleen work with their customers. An example of her determination - she dealt with an individual who needed very specific requirements for a successful job placement. The job needed to be located near her home, to provide healthcare benefits for part-time work, to have a consistent schedule, and no lifting over 15 pounds or customer service work. As situations become more challenging, Colleen becomes more motivated. As a result of her person-centered focus, she found an impossible dream job and it even paid $1.50 per hour more than the person was currently making. Colleen’s” make it work attitude”, her compassion, and her stellar communication skills make her a natural for this work. Colleen’s creative thinking shapes success, and her determination guarantees her participants are placed in the best opportunity for their skills, interests, and needs. At the conclusion of last year’s awards program, Colleen approached an employer who was a nominee. After a brief conversation, Colleen began a relationship that would eventually provide an opportunity for a participant she had in mind. The most impressive part of this story, and not unusual for Colleen, was that the individual was not even on her caseload.
2019 Small Non-Profit Employer of the Year Bella's Voice – Bella’s Voice participates in community-based assessments; assisting transitional aged youth identify their individual skill sets. They work with volunteers, many who have disabilities. Two volunteers with disabilities who demonstrated their motivation and strong work ethics, and were hired, which is the best possible outcome. One employee needed a quiet location to work; staff designed a workstation away from customer service and public walkways. Other accommodations include flexible work schedules, use of job coaches and allowing more time to learn job tasks. With compassion and acceptance, employees flourish, build confidence and experience success. In addition to being a great place to work, staff receive bonuses and birthday gifts. It is clear that Bella’s Voice understands and values the contributions individuals with disabilities bring to the workplace.
2019 Large Private Employer of the Year Huntwood Industries –Huntwood Industries has incorporated an innovative approach to hiring by breaking down barriers in their hiring process. They have restructured job positions and created part-time employment opportunities. These steps taken by Huntwood have opened a variety of opportunities to people who experience disabilities. Huntwood’s culture has developed into one of inclusiveness and learning. Department managers and supervisors have been open and eager to learn about supported employment and how they can help their employees be successful.
2019 Medium Private Employers of the Year Quality Inn/Welcome Home Oak Harbor – The Quality Inn & Suites at the Olympic National Park is known for their excellent customer service, diversity in the workplace and for their exceptional work environment. With nearly 25% of their workforce experiencing a disability, they are a model of diversity and inclusion. No matter the challenge, management and staff are willing to overcome any obstacle with innovation and a positive attitude. Job descriptions are developed or modified to increase employment opportunities for individuals with differing abilities. Since 2015, the Quality Inn & Suites have expanded their supported employment program from a single staff person to 6 staffers. The hotel utilizes an employee of the month recognition program. In September, an employee who experiences a disability received the award. This is the third time a recipient with a disability was honored. Management also welcomes transition students from the local high school weekly to work on new skills throughout the hotel. This opportunity provides a foundation to develop skills needed to obtain future employment. All employees take pride in their work and are valued members of the team, contributing to the success of the hotel.
Welcome Home Oak Harbor Senior Memory Care is located in Oak Harbor. They actively recruit talent with disabilities from all the employment providers in their areas. Currently, they employ individuals that are supported by three employment providers in Island County. They also work with the Oak Harbor Transition and School to Work programs, offering fantastic learning opportunities for students in high school. Job shadowing and carved positions are used to create custom positions. Management is open to innovation and is willing to try a work around before the idea is dismissed. Training opportunities are provided to help people grow in their positions. Effective training materials are sought out for their employees with disabilities; one size does not always fit the need. Maintaining a happy workforce enables a strong and productive workforce. Welcome Home believes that a contented staff directly relates to the wellbeing and happiness of their residents. Open communication and willingness to make necessary organizational changes influences the success of their workers with disabilities. Welcome Home exhibits the ideal qualities of an inclusive employer and goes above and beyond to drive their team to success. Not only do residents feel like they’ve found a good place to call home but so do their staff.
2019 Small Private Employer of the Year Jerrol's – Jerrol’s is committed to hiring people with a wide range of abilities and empowering them to grow beyond their own expectations. Jerrol’s employees represent a range of disabilities requiring individual and unique accommodations. They have created an inclusive work environment where persons with disabilities employed are simply members of the team. The only retention strategy Jerrol’s employs is to value all team members, give them meaningful job duties and continue to look for ways to increase their responsibilities to build confidence and success. Jerrol’s sponsors many events bringing awareness and acceptance for people on the autism spectrum and all individuals with disabilities. Several team members serve on local boards of disability-related organizations. Jerrol’s provides additional employment opportunities through job carving. The skills of individuals with disabilities are matched to tasks they can accomplish well. Working with job coaches, they analyze what kind of supports are needed to be successful. Job tasks, increased salary and increased hours are added when the employee masters the skills required. Through Jerrol’s newsletters and their social media presence, they consistently increase awareness about disabilities and inclusion. Jerrol’s embraces diversity and believes it is what makes life interesting.
2019 Youth Employer of the Year Swedish Edmonds Hospital – Swedish Hospital Edmonds operates a successful internship program, Project SEARCH, a 9-month training program, to ensure program graduates are prepared for employment within the hospital. Currently in its 4th year of operation, over 20 departments at Swedish Edmonds have hosted more the 28 interns. These departments provide one-on-one mentors for each intern and ensure that youth coming into their departments are exiting prepared to be employed in their communities. During the 3 years of operation, Swedish Edmonds Hospital has hired four graduates, all of whom are working significant hours at well over minimum wage. A key to the program’s success is the welcoming environment. Swedish staff have been very invested in the success of the students and have developed a strong sense of commitment to seeing students develop the skills they need for competitive employment. Beyond Projects SEARCH; they host a robust volunteer program that offers people with disabilities the opportunity to build work skills. They have also been a partner of Work Opportunities for over 30 years, providing space for Work Opportunities customers to work and congregate in their community.
2019 Public Employers of the Year Seattle Army Corps/Employment Security/Kittitas Co. – With over 800 employees, building a diverse and inclusive workforce requires strategic planning and follow-through. The Seattle District Corp of Engineers annually puts together a working group of key essential personnel, management and employees to analyze workplace barriers and to set goals to increase recruitment and retention for underrepresented groups. Last year, over 75 employee requests for reasonable accommodations were approved. In a collaborative effort between the Equal Employment Office, Safety Office and the Ergonomic Assessment Team, a total workforce assessment for current employees with reasonable accommodations were reviewed, to make recommendations for improvements and identify other beneficial modifications to individual workstations. Developing a working partnership with the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation has provided access to qualified workers with disabilities, of which many have been hired. One individual was hired and promoted within 6-months. She was appointed as a Special Emphasis Program Manager and selected to attend advanced training. The agency is also providing travel arrangements for her care provider. Another new hire in the mail room reported that he felt included and welcomed after only working for two weeks. He attended the company picnic and a team sport activity. He has been encouraged to contribute his trivia questions in their employer newsletter. The Equal Opportunity Office and staff exemplify best practices in Disability Inclusion by setting goals to achieve a Model Equal Employment Opportunity Program.
The Washington State Employment Security Department offers centralized funding for reasonable accommodations, removing any financial barrier program managers face when providing employee accommodations. Management coaching is conducted prior to an interactive reasonable accommodation discussion with an employee. This year over 132 reasonable accommodations requests have been addressed. Employment Security partners with the Department of Services for the Blind to co-facilitate the state’s Barrier and Access Solution’s Committee. This group’s goal is to identify and begin removing barriers and drive solutions for universal access to the workforce system. Employment Security is committed to creating greater accessibility for their staff and customers. They upgraded the wireless internet in each WorkSource office so customers can bring their own devices and have access to the same resources as other customers. WorkSource offices actively seek input from disability communities about ways to improve accessibility. Through community input, a WorkSource center was made aware their office layout met ADA standards, but was not disability friendly. Adjustments were made, making the physical access more open and useable by individuals who use mobility devices. Through their actions, policies, and stated value, the Employment Security Department demonstrates the agency’s appreciation for the contributions individuals with disabilities bring to the workforce.
With the backing and guidance from the Kittitas County Board of Commissioners, a supported employment program was developed and continues to grow. The initial job carve positions were set at minimum wage and a single department was selected for the kick-off. Within a short period of time, three more hires were added. Jobs were set for 10 or fewer hours per week with flexible work schedules. Several work accommodations are been utilized to guarantee success, such as working with job coaches to collaborate on training technique and best practices for ensuring work tasks are completed timely. Additional accommodations include assigning a specific point of contact for equipment failures and office supplies, and clarification of work assignments. A picture book was created to guide a worker through her daily activities. A specific daily routine of tasks was developed which improved an employee’s productivity and confidence in their work. In addition, a communication process was developed between a supervisor and the employee, making time management a priority. Computer screens have been enlarged, noise canceling headphones purchased, and special procedure template was created for more detailed tasks. The Board of Commissioners are setting an example of their “can do” attitude to inspire and motivate other county offices to model their program. They recognize the importance of an inclusive workplace and how employing workers with disabilities improves productivity and access to a broader pool of qualified workers.
2019 Toby Olson Legacy Award Toby Olson – When I think about Toby and his life’s work, I am awestruck. He had great courage and foresight to see how Washington State could be the leader in disability inclusion. Full inclusion - not only in the workforce, but in the communities where we live. His remarkable achievements are everywhere. Toby’s strong influence changed state and national laws and appears prominently in agency policy. In his 31 years of state service, he helped to pass approximately 40 laws to expand privileges in the areas of housing, employment, and civil rights. In 2014, for example, he helped strengthen Washington's laws penalizing people who violate disabled parking rules. The law increased fines for misusing a disability parking placard to $450, with $100 going to the Accessible Communities Program. This Program helps fund projects at the local level, allowing communities to be more welcoming and inclusive for persons with disabilities, and to promote and provide equal access to the opportunities available to others. Participation enriches communities, enhances the strength of the diversity of a community, and contributes toward the economic vitality of a community. Toby was a master at grant writing and his success rate was nearly 100%. The Disability Employment Initiative aimed to improve education, training, and employment opportunities for youth and adults with disabilities. Through this grant and the Ticket to Work program, the WorkSource offices in King and Snohomish counties received over $450,000 in ticket revenue, making the program sustainable. The most recent grant was the RETAIN grant, Retaining Employment and Talent After Injury/Illness Network. The goal of these demonstration projects is to help Americans who are injured or ill remain in or return to the workforce, through early coordination of health care and employment-related supports and services. Washington was one of eight states to receive the grant. Toby touched the lives of numerous people with his encouragement and his tender soulfulness. No issue was too small or too big to address. He always found time and resources for those in need. As a change agent, his achievements continue to provide equality and opportunity to the disability community, here and across our nation. Toby Olson passed away on Sunday, Dec. 16.
2020 Governor's Trophy Dave Reynolds – For over the last 30 plus years, Dave has worked to break down barriers to inclusion for people with disabilities of all ages. He has researched and written extensively on what is being done domestically and globally to eliminate those barriers; from individual actions, to group efforts, to national and multi-national collaborations. Dave's compassion motivated him in October 2012 to be a founding member & primary organizer of Access 4 All. Access 4 All is an ongoing project with a diverse group of individuals with disabilities, advocates, and service provider networks who work together with a singular focus. Their mission is to celebrate and encourage accessible and disability-friendly places, services and events across Spokane County. They work to educate local businesses, city and county officials, and the general public about the barriers that people with disabilities often face when trying to access services and recreations. With the support of Spokane County officials and the Governor’s Committee on Disability Issues and Employment, Dave helped organize the Spokane County Accessible Community Advisory Committee whose purpose is to increase awareness of disability issues, and improve access, inclusion and acceptance of persons with disability. Dave's philosophy of bringing about change by fostering positive working relationships with local business and community leaders has been very successful. He designed "Making Welcome", a four-hour class in educating awareness of disability issues, identifying accessible features, advising on best practices for customer service and collaborative advocacy. Accessibility Ambassadors are trained to help places become more aware of the challenges people with disabilities might face at their locations. One of the lasting hallmarks is the renovation of Spokane’s Riverfront Park. Spokane now has a 8,000 square foot playground with universal design. Through Dave’s influence and tenacity every play element will be inclusive for all. Dave's success as an advocate for people with disabilities has been the work of a lifetime of dedication. He is uniquely skilled, singularly focused, and ferociously determined to bring about meaningful change in Spokane for people with disabilities.
2020 Direct Support Professional Debra Tan – The 2020 award recipient is Debra Tan who has faithfully served workers with disabilities for 25 years, bringing compassion, knowledge, creativity and an extraordinary attention to detail to building the lives and careers of workers with disabilities. It has been said of her that, “It takes a special person to devote 25 years to social services, while keeping her fire and passion like it’s day one. Deb maintains that passion and grit every day.” Debra’s greatest strength is providing a supportive and accepting environment for her customers. The main goal she has with every client is building their independence, which she achieves by establishing strong natural supports. She is also a master at fading supports while monitoring for those moments when a coach needs to jump back in. The supports and confidence Debra fosters are steppingstones for her customers to achieve their ultimate dream job. Debra’s open dialogue with employers helps knock down any barriers. Time and again, she has shown she understands how critical authenticity and transparency are when building employer relations. Having people like Debra Tan bring her knowledge, passion, and acceptance to employment services helps shrink the employment gap for people with disabilities.
2020 Small Non-Profit Employer of the Year Community Seeds / Calico Cat Café – Community Seeds and the Calico Cat Café is a Small Non-Profit organization in Zillah Washington. Prior to their opening, they organized a broad recruitment process using community meetings and contacting disability organizations, employer vendors, school districts, social media and local news outlets. They have continued this wide-ranging recruitment process when openings occur. Community Seeds’ mission is to enhance lives and create opportunities for inclusion in community through social enterprise. All employees are cross trained for work efficiency and social interactions. Working in a team environment builds supports with other team members and fosters greater acceptance. Accommodations are customary - carts for serving food, special tools for cleaning and job sharing with people of different abilities have improved their employees’ work experience. Community Seeds easily job carves various duties at the café based on ability, hours desired, and interest, such as one person making dog biscuits, another feeding the cats, or busing tables. One employee said “This program is very important to people like me who have a disability. I have applied for tons of jobs only to be denied and turned down. I applied and was so happy to get the job! “I show up early and give it my all every day because I love it — and love the fact that someone finally gave me a chance to work. It improves my mental health and gives me a reason to get up and get out of the house each day.
2020 Large Private Employer of the Year MOD Pizza, Washington – MOD Pizza is the perfect place for people with disabilities to find meaningful employment and a supportive work environment. MOD customizes interviews for people who cannot express their talents verbally. They created an opportunity for job seekers to express their talents physically in a working interview. MOD has many accommodations in place for employees of all abilities. One example is workers set personal timers on their phones as reminders to clock in and out and take their breaks. MOD has been very transparent about necessary job changes with their supported employees. This transparency is important for the future success of their employees. Their mission statement says it all: "MOD has created a platform for people to achieve their goals by fostering a culture of putting people first and not allowing anyone to fail. You can make a mistake and you can struggle at a task, but the "MOD" Squad" will not quit on you.
2020 Medium Private Employer of the Year Safeway Store #1448, Sequim – The Sequim Safeway utilizes collaboration with Community Rehab Programs to hire, train and retain workers with disabilities. Safeway’s work environment promotes inclusion where people of all abilities, employees and customers alike feel respected. This store is unique in that its average customer base is over 70 years old. Arranging accommodations is a standard practice. Managers employ working interviews to find the best fit for employees with limited job experience. Tailoring work hours, customizing job duties, matching employee abilities and working with job coaches are a few examples. Workers with disabilities are often asked to work additional hours, especially during the holiday season, when the store is busiest COVID-19 brought new challenges and job requirements. Sequim Safeway retained their workers with disabilities and even added a couple of new hires. One employee with over six-year history struggled to adapt to the new safety protocols of hourly washing hands, social distancing and wearing a face mask. The employee walked off the job and did not return for this next shift. Instead of firing him, the store manager called his job coach and requested additional supports. The Front-End Manager encouraged the employee and provided positive feedback as he learned his new job duties. Natural supports are always on display building a supportive work environment. This Safeway store is a catalyst for change and foster an inclusive environment not just for their employees but for the community at large.
2020 Small Private Employer of the Year Papa Murphy’s Lake Forest Park – Papa Murphy’s of Lake Forest Park, a take-and-bake pizza company, has been truly exceptional in the hiring and support of workers with disabilities. Papa Murphy’s of Lake Forest Park goes above and beyond to provide opportunities to people of all abilities, working proactively with Community Rehabilitation Providers to fill job openings. Managers effectively provide natural supports and accommodations in the workplace. They creatively carve duties to fit individual employees.
2020 Public Employer of the Year King County Road Services Division – King County continues to be a leader in supported employment. Their Road Services Division is being recognized for their creative hiring techniques. The Road Services Division utilizes skills testing where applicants perform a series of tasks representative of the job description. Supported employment applicants receive their interview questions 1-week in advance. These recruitment practices are incredibly successful in finding the best candidate for their positions. Inclusion and respect are core elements of the Road Service Team. Matt, a supportive employee developed a “secret handshake” with the mail carrier who had not spoken to anyone for a few years! As a result of County’s work from home order, innovative accommodations were developed for telecommute options during the pandemic. Laptops were provided and work is being sent via a company courier with assigned pick-up and delivery times. Workers are staying connected though video calls, Skype, emails, FaceTime and texts. Staying connected is crucial aspect to success and adjusting to the “new normal”.
2020 Toby Olson Legacy Award Mike Hatch – Mike has been a leader in promoting and expanding rights and opportunities for people with disabilities in Washington State and the country for over half a century. In the late 1960’s activist parents in Washington as well as nationwide were banding together to advocate for opportunities for their adult children. In Lynnwood, one of these groups were looking for someone who could take their vision and move it forward. They soon realized they found the right person in Mike. Not only did he put their vision into action, he greatly expanded their expectations when considering their adult children’s futures. As Executive Director of Work Opportunities, Mike moved a small group of individuals with disabilities who met regularly in the basement of a Shakey’s pizza parlor to a large manufacturing site where individuals could build new skills before moving into competitive employment. Over his 30-year career at Work Opportunities, Mike led the state in the development of numerous supported employee models, collaborative training models, and helped build the community values and practices of supported employment. The number of individuals who achieved employment and inclusion in their communities over the years and under his watch, is staggering. His ground-breaking leadership led many other community rehabilitation programs to follow suit. Mike led the charge making Washington State the first state to establish an employment first policy. Many other states look to Washington State for leadership and guidance, using us as a model as they define their priorities of services. Mike was a certified CARF accreditor for over 30 years. He traveled across the nation to assist employment and residential providers to improve the quality of their services meeting internationally recognized standards. He has been engaged in policy and advocacy on major societal issues. He has driven innovation, been involved in economic development and influenced national legislation on supported employment. He helped pool and leverage state and county funding to have the greatest impact on services. He mentored countless emerging leaders in the field, and changed the way others think, opening doors for adults with disabilities and assuring inclusion for all. His unfaltering efforts to impact change in equity, inclusion, and full participation for individuals with disabilities mirrors that of Toby Olson’s.
2021 Direct Support Professional - Cathy Eylar: The 2021 award recipient is Cathy Eylar. She has demonstrated what a true mentor, leader, and professional support provider should be by her actions every day - both in the field and in the office. Cathy is by the book for upholding integrity, policies, and best practices. Her dedication is a big reason for client's success and positive outcomes at Ability.
2021 Toby Olson Legacy Award - David Lord: David Lord has worked tirelessly alongside Toby Olson for inclusion and rights for people with disabilities for more than 27 years. His impact on protection and advocacy programs, legislation and inclusion has been immense. He is known for speaking with “the same careful and thoughtful consideration whether one is an elected official, or an individual with multiple disabilities”. 2021 Small Private Employer - Bean Box: The 2021 award recipient is Bean Box. Bean Box employs 20 people, and three of them are people with disabilities hired through Northwest Center. The south Seattle subscription company, which features specialty and micro lot coffee and supports local small businesses by paying fair trade values to small farms globally, is an inclusive workforce where employees with and without disabilities work side by side, participate fully in work and related social activities, and are supported and encouraged to gain new skills and advance in their careers. Says Operations Director Ben Adler, "they play a pivotal role in our success."
2021 Medium Private Employer - Tomlinson Linens: The Tomlinson Team has been described as very professional and a positive work environment. They make sure that all individuals feel included in the day-to-day operations. The employees with disabilities have been able to voice their interest in new opportunities and have been met with the opportunity to expand their knowledge. One employee said, “Tomlinson employees are valued, and the team supports one another and wants everyone to succeed together.”
2021 Large Private Employer - Amazon: Amazon operations personnel prepare orders for customers relying on their services. In 2020 they hired nearly 22,000 employees in the Seattle area and of those, 1,600 individuals disclosed their disabilities. Amazon has robust internal support systems for employees with disabilities including an applicant-candidate accommodation team, an internal vocational rehabilitation team, internal people with disabilities support groups, full-time and onsite ASL interpreters, onsite adaptive technology, and dedicated employee feedback mechanisms to ensure inclusion and diversity.
2021 Small Non-Profit Employer - DBSC: DeafBlind Service Center is committed to assisting deafblind people in reaching and maintaining their highest possible quality of life and degree of personal autonomy. They hire workers with disabilities and make sure the DeafBlind community has the communication access support services they need to be successful. One client said, “I can’t do without the Support Service Provider Program or without the DeafBlind Service Center, it is very hard to be independent without help because I am fully DeafBlind. I want to keep DBSC for good.”
2021 Youth Employer - King County Wastewater Treatment Division: King County Wastewater Treatment Division has stood out among several other youth agencies for their willingness and dedication to providing an inclusive work environment for people and youth of all abilities. King County Wastewater Treatment Division provides exceptional job opportunities to students in a variety of programs throughout the year. One parent of a student worker said, “It was clear that they put forth great effort into providing an inclusive work environment and doing whatever possible to make sure my son was comfortable and engaged.”