How Rich is Your Diversity

The Department of Labor (DOL) reports that one of the largest market segments in the U.S. is not a particular race, gender or age group, but people with disabilities – some 56 million. That’s quite a “purchasing power” especially when you include their families, caregivers and friends. So, the questions that follow: How is your business tapped into this huge potential workforce? Is it targeting, or engaged with, this expansive customer base at all?

According to the DOL’s 2012 report, Business Strategies that Work: A Framework for Disability Inclusion, the best way to reach a specific market is to have it represented in your workforce and in your market research. By doing this, you better understand a community’s needs and interests, while they in turn can assist in your efforts to reach new segments and broaden your business.

Embracing Challenges from a Dependable Workforce

In October 2015, members of Duvall Homes’ board and executive staff reached out to MBI, the INC 500 print and mail company in DeLand, to discuss contracting participants from Duvall’s Adult Day Training (ADT) program. Duvall Homes, Inc. is a nonprofit 501c3 organization that has provided residency and services for people with developmental disabilities in Central Florida since 1945. Its ADT program trains people with Down syndrome, Autism, Cerebral Palsy and many other types of disabilities, to help them achieve social, vocational and life skills.

After meeting with MBI’s Piecework/Fulfillment Department, a pilot test was scheduled. “There were definite challenges that surfaced during that first project, and we were grateful for the patience and understanding that took place during the learning curve,” said Shirley Zonnevylle, Duvall Homes’ Director of ADT. After certified support specialists from Duvall matched the skills of ADT participants with specific tasks, the ADT team was able to prepare up to 12,000 mail pieces in less than a day. For some of Duvall’s participants, who range in age from 34 to 69, it was the first time in their lives they had earned a paycheck. This makes everyone involved proud, including the contracting company. “Duvall Homes is the only organization we have worked with off-site, and we’re proud of the work they do, but this is not charity work,” said Linda Newman, MBI’s Human Resources Coordinator. “It’s all about business, and getting the job done well by a dependable workforce.”

Florida’s Agency for Persons with Disabilities and Division of Vocational Rehabilitation advocates for people with disabilities by providing vocational assessments, job coaches and talent scouts to find meaningful careers. Providers like The Arc of Volusia, WORC and Conklin Center for the Blind offer similar services as Duvall. Managed by CEO Shawn Abbatessa, a disabled USAF Veteran, staff at The Arc research jobs in the community with their clients to determine individual interests prior to applying for a position. “Our Supported Employment Department will then assist with filling out applications, the interview process and with on-the-job training,” said Julie Bluel, Director of Programs at The Arc.

“Employers that hire individuals we serve consistently tell us how dedicated they are to their jobs and the workplace,” said Brevard Achievement Center President & CEO, Amar Patel. “People with disabilities want to work because, like all of us, they want to be independent and self-sufficient.”

Developing a Team Culture of Inclusion

Employers can learn from the Anne Sullivans (Helen Keller’s teacher) and Eustacia Cutlers (Temple Grandin’s mother) of the world, who persevered to teach, correct, train and empower their loved one living with a disability so they could flourish in life to become competitive, happy citizens. It was not by luck that Keller became the first deaf-blind person to earn a BA or Grandin, who is Autistic, a PhD. Support specialists, teachers and job coaches are similar to these maternal cheerleaders. They collaborate with business leaders from all sectors, providing insight on how to better understand and utilize the talents of people living with a developmental disability.

One can learn from leaders who advocate employment inclusion. Leaders like Publix Super Markets, who have hired people with disabilities for decades. DaVita Labs, the diagnostic laboratory servicing kidney dialysis organizations and physician practices, serves people with special needs on a daily basis. This is one reason why DaVita is an expert voice on serving people with disabilities living in our community. “At DaVita Labs, we’re a community first and a company second,” said Jason Cline, DaVita’s Vice President and General Manager. Moving group home furniture, landscaping, and even providing a respite space and entertainment in its new facility in DeLand for Duvall residents following Hurricane Irma, are some examples of how DaVita Labs engages its employees with the developmentally disabled community. “In addition to participating in various service projects at Duvall Homes during the past four years, our teammates and leaders derive great fulfillment and a unique camaraderie from supporting and interacting with our Duvall neighbors. I am encouraged by the endless possibilities of our partnership in 2018 and beyond.”

So how can you create an environment to employ, contract or engage people living with a disability? The Office of Disability Employment (; the What Can You Do Campaign? (; Florida’s Agency for People with Developmental Disabilities Abilities Work Help Desk ( and EARN, the Employer Assistance Resource Network ( are just a few informative resources for businesses interested in diversifying their employee culture and the way they do business. Assess your organization’s culture of inclusion by taking the Disability Equality Index (DEI) Survey ( “The more the community gets involved with the people we serve, the sooner we’ll be able to remove the misconceptions about people with developmental disabilities,” said Steven DeVane, Duvall Homes’ Chief Executive Officer.

Be a divergent leader. Attract new talents that enrich your company’s diversity by tapping into a market segment that most definitely will do much more than just stimulate your bottom line.

Recipients of Community Service by People with Developmental Disabilities in Volusia County

  • Halifax Humane Society
  • Salvation Army
  • Publix Super Markets
  • Retirement Community Visits
  • Freedom Playground Rebuild
  • Council on Aging (Meals on Wheels)
  • Rise Against Hunger
  • Habitat For Humanity Restore
  • Journey’s End Animal Sanctuary

(Duvall Homes & The Arc of Volusia, 2015-2017)

30,000 Central FL Households

have an individual between 18 and 65 with a developmental disability who could live on their own (thus work)

Edyth Bush Charitable Foundation,

Common Jobs

held by people with developmental disabilities:

Total Dollars Earned from Supported Contracted Workshop Employment: $156,000

(Duvall Homes & The Arc of Volusia, 2015-2017)

Tax Incentives Up To $9,600

are available to businesses who hire unemployed veterans with service-connected disabilities

US Dept. of Labor’s Work Opportunity Tax Credit,



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