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Goodwill Southeast Georgia discusses disability employment with partners, employees
goodwill disability program
Goodwill Southeast Georgia AbilityOne employees celebrate National Disability Employment Awareness Month in October.

For more than 20 years, Goodwill Southeast Georgia has provided training and employment opportunities for people with disabilities through the AbilityOne program. During National Disability Employment Awareness Month in October, the organization engaged partners and employees in conversations about the impact individuals with disabilities have on the workforce.

On Oct. 18, Candace Mims, District 8 Manager of the Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation Center Agency and Juliet Hardeman, Parent & Community Liaison of the Savannah-Chatham County Public School System met with Michael Winckler, President & CEO of Goodwill Southeast Georgia. The group discussed the importance of celebrating National Disability Employment Awareness Month, barriers for securing employment for people with disabilities and how partnerships help increase employment opportunities. Alex Vazquez, Vice President, Performance Excellence and Business Services of Goodwill Southeast Georgia led the conversation which was broadcasted live to more than 30 Goodwill Southeast Georgia employees.

According to Winckler, the highest rate of unemployment is among people with differing abilities so every day the organization works to reduce the rate from nearly 16 percent. One of the keys to success has been partnering with organizations such as Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation Center and SCCPS who have the common goal of supporting people with disabilities in the workplace by preparing them for work and finding employers who are willing to include them in their companies.

“The unemployment rate for individuals with differing abilities is almost three times the national average,” Winckler said. “Goodwill is committed to working together to help solve this problem through awareness that employing people with different abilities makes for great diversity and inclusion which means a stronger workforce.”

The panelists shared that they are grateful at how far inclusion has come for people with disabilities noting that more programs are available to educate, train and employ people with different abilities. For example, the AbilityOne Program with Goodwill is part of the Javits Wagner O'Day Act. It allows federal government contractors to set aside contracts for services and products to nonprofit organizations that employ at least 75 percent of its labor force from individuals with disabilities. Goodwill Southeast Georgia has four contracts with Federal agencies across Southeast Georgia. All of the contracts have continued to exceed federal standards, which proves the case that people with different abilities are valuable to the workforce.

The Savannah Chatham County Public School System also has the Parent Mentor program to increase quality engagement for parents so that students with disabilities can be prepared for further education or employment. Planning starts early for students and mentors track for a year after graduation to continue connecting students with local resources. Hardeman shared a personal success story of her student who was diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and math learning disability. That student was able to overcome those challenges, graduate from college and gain employment as well as independent living.

“There is a job out there for everyone, but you got to have the motivation and you have to want to go after it,” Hardeman said. “With support she is a great example of someone who overcame two types of disabilities.”

Mims also shared a success story about a client with a visual impairment wanting assistance.

A job coach was assigned, and the client began a training program with Publix. Eventually she was hired full time and is still employed. The client’s mother was so impressed that she applied, and now works at Publix.

“This is very timely celebrating National Disability Employment Awareness Month in October because this is a season of recovery from COVID and a lot of people, disability or not, are hesitant to get back in the economy and get back to working,” Mims said. “Disability and Employment are important, but awareness is also important. We have to bring awareness to those success stories to give people hope.”

While the panel was happy to share success stories, they all agreed that there are several challenges to getting people with disabilities employed.

“We know that there is an enormous amount of demand for jobs amongst people with different abilities and today there just simply aren’t enough jobs to go around and we need to change that,” Winkler said.

Anyone wanting to help employ people with disabilities, consider partnering with organizations such as Goodwill and the Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation Center Agency to find qualified candidates; refer people who are seeking help to train and employ people with differing abilities; encourage other employers to include people with disabilities; and use resources such as parent mentors in the local school system.

For more information on job training and job placement, visit or call the Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation Center Agency hotline at 844-367-4872. For student support, learn more from the Georgia Department of Education website at

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