DEO Press Releases

DEO Director Proctor, Senator Gardiner and Orlando Businesses Announce Launch of Unique Abilities Partner Program

Oct 26, 2016

ORLANDO, Fla. – Today, Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) Executive Director Cissy Proctor joined Senate President Andy Gardiner, along with Florida businesses and advocates, to announce the launch of the Florida Unique Abilities Partner Program.

Governor Rick Scott said, “We want all Floridians to have the opportunity to live independent, healthy lives. The Florida Unique Abilities Partner Program will highlight businesses who demonstrate their support and commitment to individuals with unique abilities. I look forward to seeing this program implemented across the state and appreciate all those working together to help everyone achieve their dreams in Florida.”

This new initiative recognizes businesses in our state that advance the independence of individuals who have disabilities. The Florida Unique Abilities Partner Program will strengthen the state’s economy and workforce by giving a talented but untapped group of Floridians who want to work more opportunities to do so.

“Florida is at the forefront in enhancing opportunities for individuals with unique abilities,” said Senate President Andy Gardiner, who spearheaded the legislation that created the program. “The Florida Unique Abilities Partner Program will provide career and financial opportunities to really make a difference in the lives of individuals with unique abilities.”

The Florida Unique Abilities Partner Program, administered by DEO, was designed to highlight businesses that demonstrate their dedication to strengthening communities and the economy by helping individuals with unique abilities to become more independent and to partnering with other businesses, organizations and state resources in this endeavor.

“The Florida Unique Abilities Partner Program is designed to contribute to our workforce by raising awareness about the economic and social benefits of employing individuals with disabilities,” said DEO Executive Director Cissy Proctor. “We encourage businesses and organizations that become partners to connect with other like-minded companies and to share best practices with those businesses that do not yet employ Floridians with unique abilities.”

Today, elected officials, business leaders and advocates were joined in Orlando by Walgreens, AT&T, SeaWorld and Northrop Grumman as the first partners in this program.

“The Florida Unique Abilities Partner Program is an excellent opportunity to make sure we are serving all of our students by connecting them with jobs and building new ties with the business community,” said Marshall Criser III, State University System Chancellor. “Governor Rick Scott and Senate President Andy Gardiner have been tireless champions for people with unique abilities, as have many Florida businesses, and the State University System of Florida is committed to working with all of our partners to help empower our students and foster their unique talents so they can live productive lives.”

The program was signed into law by Governor Rick Scott on January 21, 2016. To qualify as a partner, a business entity must meet one of these three criteria:

  • Employ at least one Florida resident with a disability for at least nine months prior to applying.
  • Provide a financial or in-kind contribution to programs that serve individuals with unique abilities.
  • Contribute to the establishment of a program that helps individuals with unique abilities achieve independence.

Multiple national and Florida businesses have already committed to serving individuals in their communities.

“Walgreens remains committed to integrating persons with disabilities throughout our workplaces and this concept has become fully engrained in the fabric of our organization,” said Steve Pemberton, Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer at Walgreens. “Industry leading inclusive policies and practices – now known as Walgreens ‘same job, same performance’ operating model – continue to revolutionize who we employ and how we operate across our distribution network, retail stores, support center and field operations.”

“At AT&T, we believe that individuals with disabilities are a valuable part of a diverse workforce. Our employee resource group is focused on supporting these individuals in the workplace and in the community, and our community involvement efforts include volunteer time and financial support for numerous organizations that assist individuals with disabilities,” said Troy McNichols, Director of External & Legislative Affairs at AT&T Florida.

“Our family of SeaWorld and Busch Gardens Parks have hired hundreds of team members with disabilities over the years, and are committed to making our parks accessible for employees – as well as guests – with varying needs. Every individual is important and unique, and we focus on seeing ability,” said Christine O’Neal, Vice President of Human Resources at SeaWorld.

“At Northrop Grumman, we are committed to fostering a work environment that values diversity and inclusion. It creates innovation, improves productivity and ultimately boosts profitability,” said Rick Matthews, Vice President at Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems.  “People with unique abilities are an important component of a diverse pool of talent, and we consciously draw from this valuable resource.”

“Florida’s highly skilled, diverse workforce includes a significant talent pool of people with disabilities whose contributions make a positive difference to their employers every day,” said CareerSource Florida President and CEO Chris Hart IV. “CareerSource Florida is a proud Unique Abilities Partner, with a network of professionals focused on helping all Floridians achieve economic self-sufficiency through rewarding employment.”

Learn more about the partnership or sign up to be a partner at 


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