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If you happen to be a Spotify user, you know that in a few weeks you’ll be getting your year-end wrap up -- your most-played songs during 2022.

As this is the last newsletter before 2023, I want to take the time to do the same here. We have been fortunate to work with partners, employers and community leaders around the state. To give you a short summary, in 2022 The Able Trust:

  • Held more than 15 listening sessions around Florida to hear directly from stakeholders on the opportunities and challenges in disability employment in their area.
  • Launched a focused initiative to meet with employment service providers with whom we had not engaged or worked with before.
  • Conducted several research projects and released reports illustrating changes in employment of Floridians with disabilities, as well as highlighting the economic benefit to Florida of expanding disability employment over the next ten years.
  • Hosted our first in-person Project Venture state final competition in Orlando.
  • Presented four webinars during October to share information and resources for diversifying Florida’s workforce.
  • Hosted a Disability Employment Awareness Month celebration in Jacksonville, the first in three years!

Personally, I find it hard to reflect on work being done while it’s in process. I am sure the same can be said for you and your organization.

I hope you take some time to reflect on your successes over 2022. The work you’ve done. The impact you’ve made. Together we are making a positive impact on the lives of Floridians with disabilities: entering the workforce, training and upskilling, independent living skills, quality of life activities.

I am excited for what 2023 may bring. If we have yet to meet one-on-one, I hope the opportunity presents itself in the next year. Most importantly though, thank you for engaging with us over the past year. I look forward to continuing engaging with you in ’23! 

Joey D'Souza

Vice President, External Engagement

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During the Disability Employment Awareness Month celebration in October, we were pleased to hear from Angie White, Director, Area 2 with the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation.

In addition to providing an update on VR performance measures, Ms. White shared several Project SEARCH success stories and discussed programs like Building Readiness in Construction Knowledge (BRICK) that engage Brevard County employers in industries with high-skill, high-wage occupations. Our attendees appreciated hearing about these opportunities and we look forward to sharing more information about these programs.


In this issue, we hear from Devin O'Connor, Director of The Grow Group in Tampa.

Q: What was the path like that led you to found The Grow Group?

While in school, I volunteered with my grandmother at a small non-profit organization that served individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities by hosting recreational activities and giving them the opportunity to socialize and meet new friends. I loved the environment and the people I met, and I continued to volunteer until I graduated from high school. After graduating from USF’s Muma School of Business I worked in a few positions, but felt the urge to follow my passions and to do more for others. While searching for the perfect job, a friend of mine recommended that I become a job coach where I could support job seekers in obtaining meaningful employment opportunities. I LOVED the job and the opportunity it gave me to combine my business mind with my social service heart to make a difference in people’s lives. After gaining experience in the field I began to think about different ways to offer a higher quality of service for job seekers with different abilities, and started to develop my own non-profit where I could spend the rest of my career doing just that.

Q: What do you think The Grow Group does better than anyone else in the field of disability employment?

Our team is constantly considering ways to improve our own services while supporting and strengthening statewide systems. We are constantly meeting with each other, businesses, universities and other stakeholders throughout the country to identify best practices and deliver successful outcomes.

Another thing I am really proud of is our ability to attract and retain talent. We’re a person-centered organization, and that approach does not stop with our clients. By offering our team higher pay and benefits such as unlimited time off and self-care stipends, we can keep people longer and develop individual expertise. As an industry, we need to continue to think about ways to professionalize our field and the services we deliver while building a cohesive culture of support internally.

Q: What do you feel is the largest value that a disability employment provider can provide to employers or the business community?

As most of us know, employers are struggling with labor shifts and shortages. Disability employment providers are serving a relatively untapped talent pipeline that could fill many of these vacant positions. In addition to labor needs, the business community is also focusing on creating more inclusive workplaces. Providers are in a great position to support these businesses in establishing sustainable practices while ensuring that disability inclusion is part of their larger DEI initiatives.

Q: What have been some of the biggest changes in disability employment you have seen since founding The Grow Group thirteen years ago?

We are finding that employers are much more open to the idea of hiring an individual with a disability compared to a decade ago. More and more people know and love someone with a disability, which can personalize and destigmatize the term ‘disability’ for employers allowing them to focus on strengths rather than preconceived notions of a limitation. We also find that the people we are serving have changed with the passing of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act in 2014. Before this we primarily served adults, but now we have the ability to serve youth as they transition out of high school and into postsecondary education, training, or employment.

Some more recent changes have been experienced as a result of the pandemic and VR’s staffing crisis. These changes have impacted our operations in substantial ways and we’ve begun to focus on providing our services for other underserved populations within the workforce system. Unfortunately, we’re seeing a lot of great people leave this field due to these disruptions which is negatively impacting our field.

Q: If there is one piece of advice that you would share with your colleagues in the disability employment industry, what would it be?

Don’t allow your staff to become too removed from the people we’re serving. When possible, have every person within your company provide at least one service for job seekers with disabilities (even your leadership team). If they can not work directly with your clients, be sure to constantly share their stories, successes, and challenges so that your organization stays in touch. Whether it is training, job coaching, or self-employment, the more people on your team providing direct services the more human-centered your services become.


As we come to the end of 2022 and, for many of our partners, year-end giving campaigns, we hope your Giving Tuesday was a success. We appreciate your commitment to expanding disability employment in Florida and we look forward to continuing to strengthen our relationships in the new year.



The Able Trust is a 501(c)(3) public charity established by the Florida Legislature as a direct support organization for the Florida Division of Vocational Rehabilitation.

Your support ensures Floridians with disabilities have opportunities to gain meaningful employment.


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