OKLAHOMA CITY – Governor Mary Fallin joined more than 750 disability advocates at the 24th People with Disabilities Awareness Day on March 13 at the state Capitol.
The Oklahoma Department of Rehabilitation Service hosted the event, which included 76 disability-related exhibitors and 120 volunteers.
The agency provided Braille and large print materials, certified sign language interpreters and other accommodations to enable all guests to fully participate.
For the second year, DRS partnered with Oklahoma People First, which promoted self-advocacy to 300 participants at their morning Developmental Disabilities Rally on the South Plaza.
Many advocates visited their legislators throughout the day.
Oklahoma School for the Blind jazz band student Richelle Zampella entertained the crowd with a saxophone concert.
Governor Fallin presented her keynote speech before a capacity crowd in the South Plaza during the agency’s afternoon awards ceremony, noting that DRS served 97,864 Oklahomans with disabilities in 2017.
She also read a proclamation declaring March 13 as People with Disabilities Awareness Day in Oklahoma.
Two high school students, senior Trinity Lewis from DRS’ Oklahoma School for the Blind and freshman Parker Simpson from DRS’ Oklahoma School for the Deaf, shared personal stories about challenges they faced before achieving academic and personal success at their current schools.
Commission for Rehabilitation Services Chair April Danahy and Vice Chair Emily Cheng joined DRS Executive Director Noel Tyler to present the agency’s awards to seven recipients:
State Agency Partner of the Year: Oklahoma State Department of Education accepted by Joy Hofmeister, state superintendent of public instruction, and Matt Holder, deputy superintendent of finance and federal programs.
Business of the Year: Cintas Tulsa accepted by Jonathan Mackey, plant manager and Holly Fisher, senior resource manager.
Legislator of the Year: Senator A. J. Griffin (R-District 20).
Excellence in Communication: Journal Record accepted by reporter Milly Fleming.
Transition Employee of the Year: Drew Whitlow, employed at Integris Baptist Medical Center.
Client of the Year: Jennifer Pellat-Finet, employed at Limbs for Life Foundation.
Access for All Partner of the Year: Office of Workforce Development, accepted by Erin Risley-Baird, executive director; Jeane Burruss, Workforce System Oversight Sub-Committee manager; Lindsey Workman, Workforce Innovations and Opportunity Act equal opportunity officer; and Linda Emrich, Governor’s Council on Workforce and Economic Development coordinator.
“People with Disabilities Awareness Day gives advocates an opportunity to engage lawmakers and share experiences and thoughts about the role of disability services in helping them reach their goals,” DRS Executive Director Noel Tyler said. “This year’s theme ‘Go All In’ was a call for everyone to work together to remove barriers so that Oklahomans with disabilities can achieve employment and enjoy independent, self-sufficient lives.”
DRS served 97,864 Oklahomans with disabilities in 2017 with career preparation, employment, residential and outreach education, independent living programs and the determination of medical eligibility for disability benefits. The agency helps job seekers with disabilities face barriers to employment, such as inaccessible worksites, lack of transportation or the need for specialized equipment or training. For more information, visit http://www.okdrs.gov or phone 800-845-8476.