Lex Frieden Employment Awards

front and back of Lex Frieden medallion The Texas Governor’s Committee on People with Disabilities’ Annual Lex Frieden Employment Awards are named in honor of disability rights champion Lex Frieden. Frieden is one of the chief architects of the Americans with Disabilities Act and a recognized leader of the independent living movement. He is a professor of Biomedical Informatics and Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston and director of the Independent Living Research Utilization program at TIRR Memorial Hermann. As a spokesperson on disability, Frieden advises national organizations and has authored many publications.

The Governor's Committee on People with Disabilities has worked to highlight the outstanding efforts of employers to hire and retain employees with disabilities for over thirty years. The Lex Frieden Employment Awards (LFEA) are held each October to coincide with National Disability Employment Awareness Month; by recognizing these best practices in hiring and accommodation, GCPD hopes to help build an inclusive, accessible work environment for all Texans with disabilities. When an employer makes creating a supportive work environment a centerpiece of their philosophy, everyone benefits! Lex Frieden Employment Award winners are employers who see themselves as community partners, and enthusiastically promote and pursue business opportunities for people with disabilities. For more information on LFEA categories and entry forms, continue below.

2023 Lex Frieden Award Winners

Recording of 2023 Lex Frieden Employment Awards - Hireablility Employment Forum

Governor's Trophy Award

Dr. Lidia Fonseca (McAllen)
Dr. Lidia Fonseca- a Hispanic woman with long brown hair wearing a black jacket and red blouse.Dr. Lidia Fonseca of the Valley Association for Independent Living in McAllen works around the clock to enhance employment opportunities for people with disabilities through coordination of job fairs, assistive technology demonstrations, employment preparatory programs, ensuring accessibility of facilities, and other support. Dr. Fonseca has a broad reach with impact on transportation programs, education, healthcare, youth employment, community engagement, and statewide and national leadership with various organizations focused on the goal of competitive integrated employment. Her efforts are marked by a passionate and unwavering sprit of advocacy and empowerment. She embodies the principles of disability justice and leaves her mark on a wide range of disability issues covering local, state, and national levels.

Martha Arbuckle Award

Valley Association for Independent Living (McAllen)

With a core principle of consumer control, the Valley Association for Independent Living (VAIL) in McAllen is actively managed and staffed by people with disabilities. VAIL collaborates with other service providers, educational institutions, commercial business, and other supportive organizations to help their constituents identify employment opportunities, participate in job fairs, earn certifications for specific careers, access assistive technology, and work toward permanent employment. VAIL’s program can and should be easily implemented in communities across Texas.

Large Employer Award

The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (Edinburg)

Located in Edinburg, the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) is dedicated to upholding Equal Employment Opportunity and Affirmative Action principles. The institution adheres to all governmental directives to ensure nondiscrimination across all educational programs and student activities including employment. Among other proactive efforts, UTRGV stepped onto the world stage by nominating their Sustainable Opportunities for Advancement and Recruiting (SOAR) Project to the ENACTUS EXPO and brought home first prize. SOAR collaborates with Texas Workforce Solutions VR Services, the Valley Association for Independent Living, and the Disability Chamber of Commerce Rio Grande Valley and addresses all aspects of the employment experience, including interests, application, interview, accommodations, job retention, and advancement.

Medium Employer Award

TrueHarvest Farms (Belton)

Fully inclusive hiring, including applicants with disabilities, is a commitment honored by TrueHarvest Farms. TrueHarvest is growing their operation through their extremely talented employees, hand-picked from one of the most underrecognized populations in the community. In fact, employees with a disability represent 25% of TrueHarvest’s work group. TrueHarvest is committed to helping ensure all of their employees are successful, and diligently matches job applicants with right job that is best for them. The company’s “Disability Awareness Training” also fosters comfort, accommodations, inclusion, team support, supervision, promotion, and success. TrueHarvest Farms also partners with local vocational rehabilitation services and school districts.

Small Employer Award

Nacho's Restaurant Cantina & Grill (San Angelo)

At Nacho’s Restaurant Cantina & Grill, employees, managers, and owners support new hires in both learning their jobs and providing reasonable accommodations in the workplace—leading to success and job retention among employees with a disability. Whether the job is as a server, a dining room attendant, or in the kitchen, Nacho’s understands the value of having employees who are content and comfortable in their jobs. Providing natural accommodations is even in their employee handbook.

Non-Profit Organization

Upshur County Library (Gilmer)

Coworkers at the Upshur County Library in Gilmer are quick to help teach, guide, understand, and retain new employees. Library trainees may move into permanent clerical, library assistant, or production positions. At the Upshur County Library, there is known value in providing extra training, creating task lists, and accommodating needs for breaks or flexible work schedules for employees with a disability.

The Entrepreneurship Award

Christian Torres, Christian's Cookie House (Pharr)

Christian Torres, owner and founder of Christian’s Cookie House in Pharr, embodies resilience and determination. Growing up, Christian overcame difficulty with social interactions and understanding subtle nuances of communication and nonverbal cues. This experience made Christian a stronger person—someone who would go on to hold two jobs while building his dream career. Today, Christian’s Cookie House presents stuffed cookies and other sweets to Texans in the Rio Grande Valley. Christian is a member of several community organizations and donates to charitable causes near home. Christian’s story is a perfect example of empowerment, community, and passion pursued with heart.

Read about previous Lex Frieden Employment Awards Winners

How to Submit a Nomination

Download Guidelines
Download the Submission Guidelines in Word format

Category Descriptions and Entry Forms

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.

Employer 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. Each category serves to recognize employers in Texas who have fostered a diverse, inclusive, and accessible workplace and who have developed innovative ways to integrate people with disabilities into the workplace.

To be nominated or apply:

  • your business must include individuals with disabilities in an integrated workplace, and
  • people with disabilities must make up at least ten percent of your Texas-based workforce.

This ten percent must be employees with disabilities who:

  • work full or part time (at least 15 hours per week),
  • in competitive, integrated employment,
  • at or above minimum wage,
  • are paid the same wage as employees without a disability, and
  • where the employee with a disability works alongside employees without disabilities and interacts with other people without disabilities, like vendors and customers, just as much as employees without disabilities in similar roles interact with them.

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 and accessible services.

The Governor's Trophy 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.

Nominations, including self-nominations, in any of these categories are encouraged. A completed submission form specific to the category, along with any supporting material, can be mailed to:

Texas Governor's Committee on People with Disabilities
P.O. Box 12428
Austin TX 78711
or send the submission by email to:

 Please submit the appropriate Entry Form for your nomination. The deadline for 2023 nominations is August 24, 2023.

Above and Beyond:  Employment Practices

Suggestions for creating a welcoming and inclusive environment for ALL people to help make your business or service stand out.

Download Above and Beyond: Employment Practices in PDF format

What Can YOU Do to Advance the Employment of People with Disabilities?

In support of the What Can YOU Do? outreach effort, the Campaign for Disability Employment is pleased to present the following video tools. Help us spread the word about the value and talent that people with disabilities bring to the workplace by sharing these videos and playing the Campaign for Disability Employment:

View the “I Can” public service announcement (PSA)