Division A – Public Relations Programs
Category 1 – Community Relations
Disability Employment Awareness
Melanie Mowry Etters, Communications Office, Agency for Persons with Disabilities

Research/Situation Analysis
: In 2004, Governor Jeb Bush created the Agency for Persons with Disabilities (APD) to serve Floridians with 5 developmental disabilities. About 35,000 people with autism, spina bifida, cerebral palsy, mental retardation, and Prader-Willi syndrome are served. APD has 14 area offices that work directly with customers and service providers, plus 3 developmental disabilities centers. Florida has 3.5 million people with disabilities (US Cen.). According to a 2000 Harris Survey, only 32 percent of people with disabilities have jobs while 67 percent want them. In Florida, only 26 percent of people with disabilities aged 18-64 are employed (Cornell 2002). People with developmental disabilities find it difficult to get jobs because they need assistance with some aspect of their job. Employment is an APD priority. APD has a 5-year initiative to move more people into jobs. At the beginning of 2009, 5,025 APD customers were working. In January, the Communications Office embarked on a public relations campaign to encourage employers to consider hiring a person with a disability. Stories of successfully employed APD customers are the basis for the media campaign. The first element was monthly success stories in the APD newsletter, second was an audience with the Governor and Cabinet on disability employment, followed by a huge month-long media campaign during October, which is National Disability Employment Awareness Month (DEAM). With this national news hook, Oct. is a good time to receive earned media and media impressions about employment of people with disabilities.

Objectives: (1) Despite the rising unemployment rate, increase the number of APD customers who are working by 100 individuals during 2009; (2) Receive $300,000 in earned media related to employment of people with disabilities and 5 million media impressions during DEAM; and, (3) Have 10 business and disability partners for DEAM event; and, (4) In the annual e-survey, have 85 percent rate disability employment stories in the APD Champion newsletter good or higher. Implementation: The Comm. staff looked at options to reach employers who may have jobs to offer people with disabilities. Area offices have Supported Employment Liaisons and Coordinators to reach out to businesses looking to hire. Beginning in Jan. 2009, every APD Champion newsletter featured an APD customer in successful employment. 1,300 external stakeholders subscribe to the newsletter. The stories include quotes from the employer about their satisfaction with the employee. Each newsletter issue is posted to the Web—APDCares.org. In the summer, APD gathered other state and disability organizations to begin planning a major event in Oct. for DEAM. The main partners, Blind Services, Vocational Rehabilitation (VR), Able Trust, and Agency for Workforce Innovation (AWI), have similar missions to promote the employment of people with disabilities. More than a dozen disability partners decided to participate, too. Oct. 1 was selected and dignitaries invited. APD, VR, and Blind Services planned to recognize 8 employers with a history of hiring people with disabilities. APD contacted the City Manager of Tallahassee to speak. An employer and her employee with a disability agreed to be speakers. The local Business Leadership Network (BLN) was invited to be a partner. BLNs are made up of businesses interested in hiring and promoting employment of people with disabilities. Electronic and printed invitations were sent. After much preparation, on Sept. 28, Gov. Charlie Crist and the Cabinet passed a resolution declaring October as DEAM in Florida. The APD Director and Bay County Property Appraiser Dan Sowell, who has a disability, spoke during the Cabinet meeting. Former House Speaker Allan Bense introduced Sowell to the Cabinet. Sowell received a standing ovation following his remarks. Other disability partners were introduced to the Cabinet. A large number of media covered this event. APD contacted the Tallahassee Democrat editor and requested the newspaper run a story each day of October on a person with a disability who is working, and the editor agreed. Beginning Oct.1, the paper ran a story and photo every day, mainly written by APD staff, about a person or disability issue. The stories and photos were posted on the paper’s Web site, which increased media impressions. The customer stories were also shared with their hometown media. A news release was issued. On Oct. 1, Tallahassee City Hall was packed with about 150 people. State and local media covered the ceremony. Gavel-to-gavel coverage was shown locally and statewide. Gov. Crist sent a welcome on DVD. Agriculture Comm. Charles Bronson was a keynote speaker. Positive feedback was provided to APD by those in attendance. Also, APD participated statewide on Oct. 21 in Disability Mentoring Day, promoting employment for youth by matching students with employers. The APD Director served as a mentor. APD was recognized as the state agency with the most DMD involvement. APD was sought for information by the media about disability issues.

Evaluation: Objective (1) was exceeded with 151 APD customers going to work in 2009, despite a 10 percent unemployment rate; Objective (2) was exceeded with $487,122 in earned media related to employment of people with disabilities and more than 6 million media impressions during the campaign; and, Objective (3) was exceeded with 18 business and disability partners for DEAM event; and, Objective (4) was exceeded with 93.2 percent rating employment stories in the Champion good or better in an online survey using Survey Monkey.

Budget: supplies =$125; Cost for salaried staff: Newsletters (30 hrs. each); DEAM campaign (80 hrs.); Event (40 hrs.); Cabinet meeting (4 hrs.)-Total = $11,985.60. Total cost=$12,110.60. Donated decorations, food, postage, and printing by partners ($894.10).