SPRINGFIELD -- The state of Illinois today honored the achievements of those who have done an exceptional job of supporting persons with disabilities in the workplace, including the Illinois Tollway, Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago), Schnucks grocery store and four employees of the Illinois Department of Human Services. The awards were presented by Illinois Department of Human Rights (IDHR) Director Rocco J. Claps and Department of Illinois Human Services Secretary (IDHS) Michelle R.B. Saddler at a ceremony of the state’s Interagency Committee on Employees with Disabilities (ICED).
"Our Illinois is a state where every person has the opportunity to chase their dreams and reach their full potential," Governor Pat Quinn said in a statement. “Today we honor those who have helped other people achieve their dreams. As I said in my State of the State address, I'm committed to making Illinois the nation's leading employer of people with disabilities.”
The ceremony at the State Fairgrounds also featured a demonstration of a support dog program called Helping Paws, run by the Illinois Department of Corrections out of the Logan Correctional Center. ICED (www.state.il.us/iced) represents the interests of more than 3,000 employees with disabilities in state government. The Awards Program promotes independence, access, and opportunities for employees with disabilities.
“On behalf of the administration of Governor Quinn it is a privilege to be here today to shine a light on the truly exceptional performance of these organizations and individuals who have all worked so hard to create opportunities for people with disabilities to participate in the workforce,” said IDHR Director Claps. “Rep. Harris has worked tirelessly as an advocate for persons with disabilities. And the Illinois Tollway was deservedly singled out for recognition for its outstanding affirmative action record in employing people with disabilities, including recruitment, hiring and accommodation practices.”
“IDHS is proud that four of our employees - among so many who work hard every day to to serve and empower persons with disabilities around the state – were singled out for special recognition today,” said IDHS Secretary Saddler. “We also salute the Tollway, Rep. Harris and all the other honorees for their dedication to creating a workplace environment that gives every worker an opportunity to fulfill their potential.”
ICED honored Rep. Harris as the Legislator of the Year in recognition of his dedicated work on behalf of people with disabilities, particularly in the area of abuse and neglect prevention.
The ICED’s Agency of the Year award recognizes the Illinois Tollway as a leader among state agencies for its approach to implementing the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Illinois Human Rights Act by fully engaging in a flexible and interactive process to explore reasonable, effective and sometimes creative accommodations. The Tollway currently employs 176 people with disabilities, about 12 percent of its workforce of nearly 1,500 employees.
“The Illinois Tollway values the diversity of our workforce and we are continually striving to improve access to our employment opportunities,” said Executive Director Kristi Lafleur. “While we have become more proactive when it comes to addressing the needs of people with disabilities, we always look to deepen the Illinois Tollway’s talent pool by hiring the best and brightest people available.”
ICED gave Certificates of Award to the following state agencies for hiring employees through the successful Disability Opportunities Program: The Departments of Military Affairs, Children and Family Services, Public Health, Natural Resources, Transportation, Veterans Affairs, and Human Services as well as the Gaming Board and the State Retirement System.
The ICED award for Employee of the Year went to Richard Jonathas, a ten-year employee of DHS’s Division of Rehabilitative DRS Services in Waukegan. Jonathas is described as a knowledgeable and dependable worker who empowers customers on a daily basis with his caring, positive approach. DHS employees Elisabeth Mann of Rockford and Benro Ogunyipe of Chicago received Certificates of Award.
The ICED award for a non-profit or business went to Schnucks Springfield Montvale grocery store. The award recognizes Schnucks for hiring a number persons with disabilities, many of whom are longtime employees.
Certificates of Award in the non-profit/business category went to Hope Church Deaf Ministry; Mary Miller, Director, WalMart Zion; and North Chicago VA Medical Center
In the media category, ICED awarded a Certificate to the Geneseo Republic in Northwestern Illinois for its fair depiction of the diversity in the lives of people with disabilities.
The ICED Advocate of the Year award went to Wanda Bethel Satkas, a DHS employee at the Ludeman Developmental Center in Park Forest. Satkas advocates on behalf of her son and others with autism. She started an autism organization 16 years ago that has made a real difference in the lives of countless parents and persons with disabilities.
One of the highlights of the Awards Ceremony was a demonstration of the Helping Paws support dog program run by the Illinois Department of Corrections at Logan Correctional Center. Under the program female inmates train support dogs and the trained dogs are subsequently provided to people with disabilities. The program is supported by Purina One which attended the event and announced a donation of a pallet of Purina One dog food to the Helping Paws program.
For additional information on ICED, please contact Susan Allen at the Department of Human Rights, at (217) 785-5119 (V), 1-866-740-3953 (TTY), or Susan.Allen@Illinois.gov.