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MAY 2022

This month I was able to attend and present at Florida College Access Network’s Talent Strong Florida Summit in Kissimmee. It's great to know there are groups around the state working toward a 60% goal of working-aged adults having a high quality credential or degree by 2025.

We need to be mindful that postsecondary education, while frequently associated with college or university, encompasses state colleges, technical schools, apprenticeships and other work readiness programs like Project SEARCH. 

This also includes those among us with the entrepreneurial spirit working with one of the Florida SBDC Network's offices or other start-up incubators around the state to help bring a dream to reality. There are more than 2.5 million small businesses in Florida and they are a powerhouse for job creation, as they employ nearly half of all private sector employees. 

Continuing your education to make you a more attractive employee is becoming more and more accessible. However, there is still work to be done to help our population, Floridians with disabilities, access those programs.

Some of Florida’s future entrepreneurs participated in The Able Trust’s Project Venture, a competition for students with disabilities participating in the High School High Tech program. They did an outstanding job, which you can read about below.

As for upcoming trips, I’ll be at Family Café this year hosting an employer expo. If you plan on being there, swing by the convention hall to say hello.

As always, thanks for being a part of our Able Network. Together we can help to increase the number of Floridians with disabilities engaged in the workforce!

Best regards,

Joey D'Souza

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Our affiliation with The Able

Trust and the High School High Tech program has allowed us to gift our students with real life experiences that propelled creativity, learning and a confidence to succeed.

Carman Cullen-Batt 

Lake County

High School High Tech Program

Having a partnership with The Able Trust brings so much added value to the work we are doing with transition age students. We have been able to expose students to a variety of STEM careers through volunteerism, paid internships and tours of local companies as well having exposure to post-secondary education and an opportunity to create their own business and present the concept to a

panel of judges.

Susan Hamilton

The Arc Jacksonville


High School High Tech Program


Keith Bourkney, Executive Director, employU

Q: What was the path like that led you to become the Executive Director of employU?

     The path that led me to start and lead employU was not one that was typical for most people in our industry. My college degree is in business management. I worked for my father for 3 years after college as a carpenter. It wasn’t what I wanted to do for a career, but he taught me my work ethic and what it was like to be a business owner. In 2001, I moved to Florida to work with my best friend from high school at his marketing firm as the Director of Operations. I hired, trained, and built out all our processes for multiple campaigns. In 2010, we opened an office next door to a Vocational Rehabilitation office in Casselberry, Florida. I befriended some of the counselors, learned about their programs and I signed our company up as a vendor with VR. We hired several people referred to us and I quickly realized they had an appreciation for the opportunity to learn and work at our company. They would ask what they could do for the company when most people we hired from the industry asked what we are going to do for them. Once I learned of the opportunity to work with VR participants all the time and help them find employment, I filed the paperwork for the nonprofit and the VR Vendor contract. Once approved I just started working with one client at a time. It didn’t take long before I realized this is what I was put on this earth for, and I have loved every minute of it.


Q: What do you feel employU does really, really well when it comes to disability employment?

      If I had to state what employU does really, really well it is ensuring the people we serve have an excellent experience. We understand the value of consistent communication with our customers and stakeholders. We teach our team to do things the right way and never take short cuts. We provide supports and processes so that our team can provide vocational services of the highest quality and we consistently work to improve upon everything we do.


Q: What is employU’s  biggest success you want to shout and sing for all to hear?

      In 2022, our company reached our 10th anniversary. I think hitting that 10-year milestone is one that says that we have a business that is providing a service people are benefiting from, we have a strong structure, and our employees are happy. We made the Nonprofit Times Best Nonprofits to Work For and Orlando Sentinel Top Workplaces list for the 3rd consecutive year and we are very proud of that accomplishment.


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

     If I were to provide one piece of advice to my colleagues in the disability employment industry, I would say one of the most important parts of growing the business is hiring smart and treating your employees well. A mistake management often makes is that they hire people to cover an immediate need and rush the process, especially in this market where it is difficult to find new employees. It typically only makes the situation worse. Take your time to hire, and hire the right person. Once you have the right people, if you treat them well, they will stay. Be loyal and honest to your team and they will be loyal and honest with you.


Q: When it comes to employment and people with disabilities, what is the one thing that you wish you could tell an employer about hiring a person with a disability?

      When we speak to employers about hiring a person with a disability, we let them know that our job is to bring them someone that is going to be a great fit for their business. When working with an employment service, the Employment Specialist is skilled at learning what the needs of the business are, what the working environment is like, what the atmosphere and personality of the company is, and match them with someone that is the right fit. Our customers work hard at their job, they appreciate the opportunity, and they typically are some of the most loyal employees. In a world where workers are hard to come by, an open mind will lead to the ability to access a workforce that you will be grateful you explored. 


Join our June webinar, Vocational Rehabilitation & CareerSource Florida: Strengthening Career Pathways through Partnerships, where we will host a conversation with Michelle Dennard, President & CEO of CareerSource Florida and Brent McNeal, Director of the Florida Division of Vocational Rehabilitation.

Strengthening Career Pathways

through Partnerships

June 7, 2022 | 2:00 - 3:00 PM (EDT)




The Able Trust launched Project Venture for students with disabilities participating in the High School High Tech program. Project Venture is a business development competition that provides hands-on experience, giving students the opportunity to create a plan for a business or product, in any sector of their choice. 

We are proud of the accomplishments of all our High School High Tech students and the ten teams that participated in this year's Project Venture competition. High School High Tech is a community effort and would not be successful without our partners, schools, parents and local employers. As the school year comes to a close, we want to thank our partners for their work and recognize the High School High Tech program partners who worked with our three top Project Venture teams: Orange County Public Schools, The Arc Jacksonville and the Education Foundation of Lake County.


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nTIDE April 2022 Jobs Report - Economic recovery for people with disabilities holds strong 


The post-pandemic economic recovery of people with disabilities remained strong in April and continued at historic highs, according to today’s National Trends in Disability Employment. Looking ahead, nTIDE experts will watch closely for the potential impact of anti-inflation measures on the labor market.





Q&A: Microsoft’s director of inclusive hiring and accessibility, Neil Barnett

Neil Barnett is director of inclusive hiring and accessibility at Microsoft, where he’s head of the company’s disability hiring strategy. Barnett, who started out at Microsoft 20 years ago in customer service, was integral to the recent rollout of the Neurodiversity Career Connector (NDCC). The site was unveiled in February, connecting neurodivergent talent with employers looking to recruit workers from this underrepresented community.



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