Golden Key Awards Honor Businesses for Hiring People with Disabilities

SALT LAKE CITY (Sept. 29, 2022) — Every year the Utah Governor’s Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities and their partners honor people and businesses with the Golden Key Award. Presented today at the Disability:IN Utah Summit, these awards recognize those who have helped promote employment opportunities for people with disabilities.

“We receive dozens of outstanding nominations from around the state. These awards recognize companies and individuals who are supporting Utahns with disabilities in the workplace,” said Sarah Brenna, Director of the Utah State Office of Rehabilitation. “It’s great to see these employers take the lead in overcoming biases and building an understanding of the employability of people with disabilities.”

The recipients of the annual Golden Key Awards were Star Nursery, Living Planet Aquarium, Lowe’s, the Internal Revenue Service, the Utah Department of Commerce, Canyons School District, Southern Utah University, Weber School District’s Kennedy Wahlen, and Allies Supported Employment’s Chris Hineman.

By working directly with Utah businesses, the state’s vocational rehabilitation staff provide training on disability awareness and job accommodations. Ultimately, vocational rehabilitation wants to connect these businesses with job-ready employees.

The Golden Key Awards recognize the people and businesses that believe in the potential of Utahns with disabilities. People with disabilities provide a wealth of knowledge, skills, talents and experiences. They add diversity, resourcefulness and creative energy to Utah’s workforce.

Small Business of the Year Award was presented to Star Nursery. Doug Northingham, General Manager of the Star Nursery in Washington, Utah, was willing to hire three individuals with disabilities. Each of them has improved their ability to provide a higher level of customer service.

Medium Business of the Year Award was presented to the Loveland Living Planet Aquarium. Dan Albro, Volunteer Manager at the Loveland Living Planet Aquarium, reached out to the USOR business relations team to request assistance with training volunteers on disability etiquette and inclusion. Dan had the business relations team come out to train three groups of volunteers and plans to continue having us help with training volunteers.

Large Business of the Year Award was presented to Lowe’s. Lowe’s has hired several USOR clients with disabilities. Lowes has been willing to cross train these clients to do numerous different jobs and accommodated them. Most importantly, they provided a welcoming, family-like environment for clients. 

The Ace Advocate/Citizen Award was presented to Weber School District’s Kennedy Wahlen. Kennedy empowers her employees with disabilities by providing training, showing empathy, and building a warm workplace where they feel welcomed.

The Ace Employee with a Disability Award was presented to Allies Supported Employment’s Chris Hineman. Hineman, Director of Operations for Allies Supported Employment, is profoundly deaf. He was a driving force at Allies and acted as an advocate for people with disabilities in the workforce. Chris oversaw hiring and training of new employees, job development, some job coaching, internal business operations, and provided consultations for employers to learn how they can improve profitability by hiring people with disabilities. 

The Freedom Award was presented to the Internal Revenue Service. The IRS worked with the Department of Workforce Services to expand their hiring practices to include veterans. Through fast-track hiring they were able to bring veterans on quickly and integrate them into their operations.

The ASAP Award was presented to the Utah Department of Commerce. The Department of Commerce Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing (DOPL) used the state's ASAP program to hire a vocational rehabilitation client. DOPL demonstrated how the State of Utah is working to be a model employer in hiring a diverse workforce.

The Educator Provider Award was presented to Melany Johnson and the Canyons School District. Nathan Edvalson, Melany Johnson and Linda Hall are among the greatest advocates for students with disabilities. Their goal is to ensure that students with disabilities leave Canyons School District with a roadmap to success and independence.

The  Educator Provider Award was presented to Susan Hunter, SUU DRC and SUU Intergovernmental Internship Cooperative. Susan Hunter is the Grant Coordinator for Southern Utah University's Disability Resource Center. She administers state grants specific to supporting students with disabilities find paid work experience in their chosen field of study.

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