Governor’s Committee On People With Disabilities Announces 2021 Lex Frieden Employment Awards Winners
The Office of the Governor’s Committee on People with Disabilities (GCPD) today announced the winners of the 2021 Lex Frieden Employment Awards. Named for disability rights champion and Texan Lex Frieden, the awards are bestowed upon Texans who have displayed a commitment to empowering their employees, co-workers, and fellow Texans with disabilities. The awards coincide with Texas Disability Employment Awareness Month which is celebrated every October in the Lone Star State.
In Governor Greg Abbott's 2021 Texas Disability Employment Awareness Month Proclamation he noted, "The often-used slogan for the Lone Star State’s approach to commerce is that 'Texas is wide open for business.' This openness and dedication to inclusion and diversity in business has long been a truly Texan staple of our strong economy. An important part of this workforce are Texans with disabilities: strong, resilient workers who make invaluable contributions to our state and economy on a daily basis. Not only must we enhance Texas’ workforce so it better serves Texans with disabilities, we must also engage in disability employment awareness to ensure all Texans have an equal opportunity to contribute to the workforce and participate in building the Texas of tomorrow."
The winners will be honored during the Texas HireAbility Employer Forum and the Lex Frieden Employment Awards ceremony, which will be held on Thursday, October 28, 2021 from 9:00 AM – 12:00 PM in Austin with options for either in-person or virtual attendance. Free registration is available at: https://zoom.us/webinar/register/WN__Xp8KEELSAqFmi2_Gco1qQ
The Employer Forum features employer panelists with strong diversity and disability employment initiatives and expert legal and HR resource panelists that will provide their perspective on how Texas employers can build a lasting disability inclusive workplace. The keynote speaker features Special Guest Tracy Minish, Mission Control Operations Manager at the NASA Johnson Space Center. Tracy has worked for NASA’s Manned Flight Programs for more than 35-years and has been legally blind since college. While working at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, Tracy has traveled the world and is a strong disability advocate. Tracy will share his story, discuss his journey at NASA, and talk about how a culture of disability-inclusion creates better teams.
Large Employer – Lockheed Martin
Lockheed Martin has been recognized as one of the best places to work for disability inclusion for the sixth straight year. This Fort Worth-based corporation received the top score on Disability:IN’s 2020 Disability Equality Index®, which recognizes employers for creating equitable and accessible opportunities for all potential employees. Their Able & Allies Business Resource Group continuously works to increase access and opportunity for employees with disabilities, developing strong partnerships with corporate allies who are committed to advancing disability inclusion and equality across their businesses in the United States and around the world. A commitment to diversity and inclusion in the workplace helps drive innovation at Lockheed Martin by ensuring a range of perspectives are represented.
Medium Employer - Kumori Sushi & Teppanyaki
GCPD recognizes Kumori as the 2021 Medium Employer of the Year (26 to 500 employees) for fostering a diverse and accessible workplace. They are the first Modern Japanese restaurant with 11 locations in San Antonio and Rio Grande Valley. Kumori believes everyone deserves to excel in competitive employment and treats employees as if they were family with a strong commitment to see each employee succeeds. Currently over 10% of employees at Kumori have a disability and are employed in a range of positions from cooks to HR personnel and management.
Small Employer - ServiceMaster Commercial Cleaning by Legacy
GCPD recognizes Heidi Avedician, owner of ServiceMaster by Legacy as the 2021 Small Employer of the Year (25 employees or less). This El Paso cleaning and disinfecting company boasts that 25% of her staff are people with disabilities. The positions held by employees with disabilities are mainly, but not exclusively, operational support roles - the ones that the company could not succeed without.
Non-Profit Organization - Endeavors Unlimited
GCPD recognizes Endeavors Unlimited. They believe that everyone deserves a chance to obtain and maintain gainful employment in a position that fits their skills and abilities. Approximately 75% of the employees have disabilities, and Endeavors encourages all employees to grow and develop. They promote advancement through providing accessible training and learning opportunities at all levels. They have been recognized by the National Organization on Disability as a Leading Disability Employer in 2020 and 2021 due to the organization’s focus and policies towards individuals with disabilities.
Entrepreneur – Gregory Stavinoha
The Entrepreneur award is awarded posthumously to Gregory Stavinoha. Mr. Stavinoha was legally blind and successfully operated a business in the Mickey Leland Federal Building in Houston Texas through the Federal Randolph Sheppard program from 1996 until his recent passing in September 2021. The business included food service, vending, and the production and sale of United States Passport photographs. Mr. Stavinoha was an outstanding business mentor to other aspiring entrepreneurs with disabilities wishing to achieve his same level of success.
Martha Arbuckle – Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) Texas Chapter
In 2017, the Texas Chapter PVA recognized the shortage of accessible parking places for people with disabilities due to the overuse of eligible Disabled Veteran (DV) license plate users by people without a mobility disability. Working with the Texas Legislature over the past four years, following many sessions providing testimony and educating the legislature on this issue, SB 792 87th Legislature was signed into law by Governor Abbott, becoming effective January 1, 2022. This law will ensure better availability of accessible parking spaces across the state for anyone with a mobility disability and valid parking placard or accessible tag.
Governor's Trophy Award – Kristi Avalos
The Texas Governor’s Trophy award goes to Kristi Avalos, the CEO of Accessology Too, LLC. Ms. Avalos is a longtime advocate for people with disabilities, beginning her journey in 1977 when she worked at a convalescent home for children. She was later hired by American Airlines to implement the Air Carrier Access Act and in 1990 created Accessology to provide training and consulting services on ADA compliance to architects, contractors, designers, building owners, universities, municipalities, commercial lenders, attorneys, and others throughout the nation. For more than 30 years, Ms. Avalos has provided onsite direction and expert technical support to bring state and local governments into compliance through their legally mandated Transition Plans. Her entire adult life is dedicated to removing barriers for people with disabilities and bridging the gap between what people with disabilities need/want and what business or agencies can provide. As a consultant for many large projects around the country, Ms. Avalos insists upon developing advisory boards made up of individuals with disabilities, giving each group a voice within their own community.
About the Lex Frieden Awards:
The Employment Awards are given in four categories - Small Employer (25 or fewer employees), Medium Employer (26 to 500 employees), Large Employer (more than 500 employees), and Non-Profit Employer (any size; includes Government Agencies). Each category serves to recognize employers in Texas who have fostered a diverse and accessible workplace and who have developed innovative ways to integrate people with disabilities into the workplace, going beyond the requirements of the ADA and other laws regarding workplace practices.
The Governor’s Trophy Award is the Governor's Committee's highest honor and is awarded to the person who has achieved the highest success in enhancing the empowerment and employment of Texans with disabilities. The Governor's Trophy recognizes long-term commitment and outstanding efforts at both the community and state level to a professional or volunteer in the field of disability issues.
The Martha Arbuckle Award recognizes the most innovative local committee project and is presented in memory of Austin's long-time disability advocate Martha Arbuckle. The project does not necessarily have to be from a formal Mayor’s Committee, but from any committee, organization, or collective that works together on an innovative project that helps raise awareness of disability issues or that promotes inclusion in the community.
The Entrepreneurship Award is awarded to a living entrepreneur with a disability who has shown extraordinary ingenuity and drive to create and sustain a successful business that has created jobs, accessible services, or other aspects of benefit to people with disabilities.