Ashley Williams has a sweet job.
She spends her days at Kilwins Jacksonville cutting caramel chews into pieces, wrapping and weighing them to make sure they are 7 ounces.
She gets along with her co-workers and likes to work on her communication skills, Williams said.
“I enjoy being obedient and listening, and I like positive things being spoken to me,” she said.
Williams is a 34-year-old woman with a disability. Her job coach at Arc Jacksonville, Christine Thomas, encouraged Kilwins to hire her.
“They are professionals, and I am too,” Williams said.
The Jacksonville store was recognized this month by the state of Florida as an Exceptional Employer. Businesses that receive this award show great commitment to hiring individuals with disabilities.
Other businesses like Lowe’s Home Improvement, Office Depot and LEGOLAND Florida were also recognized, said Melanie Etters, communications director of the Agency for Persons with Disabilities.
To recognize October as National Disability Employment Awareness Month, the 10th annual celebration was held on Oct. 7 at Tallahassee City Hall, according to the agency’s press release.
Organizations like Kilwins give people with disabilities the opportunity to reach their full potential, Etters said.
The most recent unemployment rate for people with disabilities is 10.4 percent, which is down from 16.9 percent in 2011, said Patricia Moscoso, the Department of Labor’s Disability Employment public affairs director.
Dana Stallings, owner of Kilwins Jacksonville, said she networks in Jacksonville and always tries to have at least two people with disabilities on her staff of 25.
Stallings knows how important employment can be. Her sister has a disability, and she wants to be able to provide jobs to people who are in similar situations, she said.
“For her to have a job — it’s like her life,” Stallings said. “She will go to work on Christmas morning — that’s just how important it is to her.”
She said these employees are given the opportunity to earn money and gain independence.
“The biggest benefit to them is that they feel part of a community,” Stallings said.
At the same time, her other employees benefit from the example that employees like Williams set.
“The majority of our staff are college students and, at that age, you don’t really look at life as the big picture,” Stallings said.
This helps other employees learn that people with disabilities are capable of doing well at their jobs. They just need to be given a chance, she said.
Stallings said other businesses should make an effort to employ people with disabilities.
As a mother, she knows every parent wants the best for their children, she said. Giving people with disabilities the opportunity to have a job also means so much to their families.
There should be a place for every person with disabilities who is seeking employment, Stallings said.
“Every workplace has something that can be done by a person with a disability — there is always something,” she said.