Release: Governor’s Committee on People with Disabilities Announces its 2014 Lex Frieden Employment Awards

Release: Governor’s Committee on People with Disabilities Announces its 2014 Lex Frieden Employment Awards

We are pleased to announce the impressive list of winners of the Governor’s Committee on People with Disabilities’ 2014 Lex Frieden Employment Awards. We had many wonderful entries, but these stood out the most. Please join us in offering these winners a congratulations, and we hope you can join us for the LFEA luncheon ceremony; mark your calendars for Tuesday, October 21, 11:00am, Dallas (Hosted by the Dallas Mayor’s Committee on the Employment of People with Disabilities). Tickets to the ceremony are free, but seating is limited. To make an RSVP, visit the Dallas Mayor’s Committee website.

2014 Lex Frieden Employment Award winners:

GOVERNOR’S TROPHY: Celia Hughes, Executive Director of VSA Texas, Austin

Celia Hughes has been devoted to improving the lives of people with disabilities by creating inclusive access to the arts. Committed to the notion that all people deserve the opportunity to learn through, participate in, and enjoy the arts, she has made it her mission to provide cultural opportunities for all. She has been described as a visionary, a grant writer, a newsletter publisher, an event organizer, a staff coordinator, a community collaborator, and an artist in her own right. She has brought forth a more creative and barrier-free community through various ventures, including audio description for blind patrons at local venues through an organization she co-founded, Access Arts Austin; building accessibility into the Bob Bullock History Museum; partnering on the national arena for Access Arts to become an affiliate of VSA; raising funds for the first writing workshop and theatre troupe for people with disabilities in Actual Lives Austin; opening Access Gallery, a showcase for visual and sculptural arts by people with disabilities; and many other events and activities.

ENTREPRENEURSHIP: William Hernandez, Per4Max, Grand Prairie

William Hernandez is founder and co-owner of Per4max wheelchairs and medical supply and he uses a wheelchair himself. The company works with customers to personally fit wheelchairs, sports wheelchairs and other medical supplies. He employees several people with disabilities as sales people, customer service people, office (bookkeeping) and manufacturing work. He was one of the first two athletes at UTA to come to the University on a wheelchair basketball scholarship, and he completed his degree in Mechanical Engineering. He used his Senior Design Project as the beginning of a business plan that has become Per4max Wheelchairs. His original vision was to produce a new and innovative product that would perform and look like no other chair in the market at that time. Through the years, Per4max has grown from a small, two person business into a larger international business with employees and representatives around the world.


AT&T knows that its success in today’s market does not come merely through recognition of diversity. Rather, the company considers full inclusion to be essential in generating a variety of opinions, a variety of ideas, and a variety of knowledge. AT&T attracts people with disabilities through targeted automatic recruitment advertising, attendance at disability careers events, and engagement with professional associations. AT&T has several programs in place to specifically recruit and include people with disabilities, including their Project capABILITY; their partnership with VetConnexx; the AT&T Global Supplier Diversity Mentoring Program; their employee resource group (IDEAL); the AT&T Advisory Panel on Access and Aging; and other programs aimed to ensure full inclusion.

MEDIUM EMPLOYER: Applebee’s Restaurant, San Antonio

Applebee’s markets its restaurants as members of the community and has made it a critical part of their philosophy to not only be part of the community but to be an active part of the changing force that makes that community better. This change often takes the form of employment of people with disabilities who might require specific help to achieve a level of employment independence. The San Antonio area Applebee’s (Brian Boylan, Area Manager) networks through Unicorn Centers to utilize onsite trainers (job coaches) to help transition people to the tasks required, and has incorporated Unicorn-supported employment participants in almost all aspects of operations at the restaurant. Applebee’s believes that a little help goes a long way both with its employees and with its community.

SMALL EMPLOYER: Rockin’ Tomato, Austin

Rockin’ Tomato is a small business which actively goes out of its way to interface with the community to provide work opportunities for people with disabilities. The business works closely with the Division for Blind Services and the Mary Lee Foundation, and has remodeled their site to make it more accessible to employees and customers. Two of the Rockin’ Tomato employees are legally blind and are regarded as more than employees, more like family. The business follows a philosophy of “no boundaries, only opportunities.” Rockin’ Tomato worked with DARS/DBS for advanced training for employees. Meals are provided for all employees during working hours; management provides flexible work schedules and works closely with family members and Capitol Metro to make sure transportation can be arranged to fit employees’ work schedules. All employees are provided 24 hour access to their supervisor’s cell phone for assistance at any time.

NON-PROFIT EMPLOYER: UT Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas

The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center is one of the leading medical education and biomedical research institutions in the country, and has a successful history of recruiting, hiring, developing and retaining people with disabilities. The Institution’s Office of Diversity & Inclusion and Equal Opportunity provides training and coaching to managers and supervisors, encouraging them to keep an open mind about abilities and strengths. UT Southwestern provides Disability Etiquette training to entire teams and departments. UT Southwestern hosts frequent “lunch and learn” sessions covering important topics like workplace inclusion and disability in the workplace, and often invites local speakers to give talks. The Institution also publishes articles about workplace inclusion and disability issues on its intranet pages. Through the Institution’s Employee Advisory Council, it has in place a strong system for all employees to identify barriers and concerns without fear of retaliation. Employee Resource Groups are an integral component of the Institution’s diversity and inclusion strategy. UT Southwestern regularly posts job openings in outlets that are specific to people with disabilities, and participates in job fairs that are sponsored by organizations which advocate for the ADA. UT Southwestern serves on the Dallas Mayor’s Committee for the Employment of People with Disabilities, and participates in its annual EmployAbility Job Fair. UT Southwestern also uses its reputation to engage and encourage other members of the business community to join the effort.

MARTHA ARBUCKLE AWARD: Austin Mayor’s Committee for People with Disabilities: Business of Work Seminar

AMCPD’s Annual Business of Work Seminar is a workshop designed to assist persons with disabilities in improving their job seeking skills, including successfully interviewing for a job, writing an effective resume, dressing for success as well as providing information on when to disclose a disability, Social Security work incentives and Medicaid Buy-in programs. The Seminar was planned with numerous community partners including the City of Austin, DARS, UT Athletic Dept, Mary Lee Foundation, Easter Seals, Goodwill Industries, Social Security Administration, Workforce Solutions, Capital Metro, Texas State Licensing Dept, and HHSC. This seminar prepared about 100 individuals with disabilities for participation in the Community Career Expo Job Fair, leading to a more successful job search outcome. Another significant outcome was improvement of AMCPD’s collaboration efforts within its community, providing a better understanding of the common challenges and differences to meeting the rehabilitation and employment needs of Austin citizens with disabilities. The community partnership also enhanced the ability to share helpful information with each participating partner.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.