OKLAHOMA CITY –– More than 830 Oklahomans with disabilities and supporters came to the state Capitol March 12 to celebrate the 24th People with Disabilities Awareness Day and honor disability award winners.
Those who were recognized by the Oklahoma Department of Rehabilitation Services included Meg Wingerter, a health reporter for The Oklahoman, who earned DRS’ he 2018 Excellence in Communication award.
DRS Commissioner April Danahy acknowledged Wingerter’s “well-researched and interesting stories about Oklahomans with disabilities and critical disability issues.”
Speaker of the House of Representatives Charles McCall was named Legislator of the Year on March 12 by the Oklahoma Department of Rehabilitation Services.
Speaker McCall has enthusiastically supported educational excellence for all students, including those who come to OSD in Sulphur from all over the state,” Commission Chair Cheng said. “His presence at OSD confirms his commitment and concern, and assures that he continues to be well known and appreciated by students and educators at the school.
DRS Vocational Rehabilitation client Katie Wehmeyer was honored as DRS’ Client of the Year. She was hired as the phlebotomy manager at Oklahoma State University Medical Center and continued to pursue additional education in respiratory therapy.
DRS also recognized Wehmeyer’s employer OSU Medical Center as the 2018 Business of the Year “for capitalizing on the value and talent that employees with disabilities add to the workplace,” DRS Commission Vice chair Jace Wolfe said.
OKC’s public transit agency EMBARK earned DRS’ 2018 Access for All Partner of the Year award for providing public transit options with features that accommodate riders with disabilities. EMBARK agency provided a free shuttle service for Awareness Day participants with disabilities.
DRS Commission Chair Emily Cheng presented the award to Marilyn Dillon, EMBARK’s special services administrator.
Former DRS employee Jean Jones received a DRS Lifetime Achievement award from Commissioner Jace Wolfe for her 40-year career dedicated to disability advocacy.
“… Our next award-winner helped thousands of Oklahomans with disabilities understand and navigate complex disability service systems. Her meticulous research, analysis and reporting about national, state and local legislation
empowered disability advocates to develop more progressive laws and policies,” Wolfe said.
Mike Dixon, current grand master for the Masonic Fraternity of Oklahoma accepted DRS’ 2018 Community Leader of the Year award presented by DRS Commissioner April Danahy. The Masonic Charity Foundation of Oklahoma provided a generous grant to purchase 776 hearing aids through the statewide Senior Citizens Hearing Aid Program operated by DRS’ School for the Deaf.
“OSD is normally able to serve only 150 lower-income senior citizens every year with the amount of funding the program receives,” Danahy said. “Some seniors had been on waiting lists since 2016 and expected to wait another three years without help from the Masonic Charity Foundation.”
The People with Disabilities Awareness Day theme “Front and Center” encouraged Oklahomans with disabilities to share their stories of success with state lawmakers as well as promoting access for all, independence, independence and employment goals.
Last year, DRS served 83,540 Oklahomans with disabilities with career preparation, employment, residential and outreach education, independent living programs and the determination of medical eligibility for Social Security disability benefits. The agency helps job seekers with disabilities face barriers to employment, enabling them to become employed taxpayers who no longer depend on government benefits or services. For more information, visit http://www.okdrs.gov or phone 800-845-8476.