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Disabled people hailed as ‘untapped resource'

By Ed Brock

When you see Gill Sheats, Jr., moving boxes on the job the word ”disabled“ does not come to mind.

But Sheats, who is hearing impaired, is one of the more than 30 disabled workers at the FedEx Ground hub in Ellenwood. The man who hired him, human resources representative Scott Reid, is one of the honorees of next week's National Disabilities Employment Awareness Month award ceremony sponsored by the WORKTEC Work Training and Employment Center in Jonesboro.

”He's a good man,“ said Rick Phelps, WORKTEC's director of development. ”This truly is a man who saw the potential of these individuals and FedEx has benefited from that.“

Also to be honored at the ceremony on Tuesday are Dr. Sharon Moroz, owner of Animal Amour in Lovejoy, the human resources staff at Southern Regional Medical Center, Morrow Hobby Lobby Manager Doug Harris and Lisa Sewell with the Morrow Tourist Center. Reid, however, is receiving the top honor, the STARR Award, named after state Sen. Terrell Starr who helped establish WORKTEC 28 years ago.

Reid said he actively recruits employees from programs like WORKTEC.

”Some recruiters choose to recruit at colleges or churches. I wanted to be a little different,“ Reid said. ”It's been a pretty good match.“

Giving jobs to people with disabilities gives them a sense of normalcy, and sometimes their supposed disability really gives them an advantage, Reid said.

”Hearing impaired folks, they have a focus like no others because they don't have the distractions you and I do,“ Reid said.

Sheats, 21, of Lithonia said the job makes him work hard and improves his skills. He gets a lot of support from Reid, too.

”He is a good man and he helps deaf people who have a problem with co-workers,“ Sheats said.

Gordon Everett, employee relations manager for the FedEx hub, fully supports Reid's approach.

”I think it's an excellent opportunity for us as a company to show that we are committed to meet the needs of the community,“ Everett said.

Though advances have been made over the last several decades, about 70 percent of people with disabilities remain unemployed, according to WORKTEC. Phelps said the program trains and helps to place about 800 clients a year.

The theme for National Disabilities Employment Awareness Month this year is ”Workers with Disabilities: Ready for Tomorrow's Jobs Today.“ Along with the awards ceremony, WORKTEC will hold a ”Working with People with Disabilities“ lunch and learn session at the WORKTEC offices at 221 Stockbridge Road on the same day. The speaker at the lunch will be Betty Clark with the southern regional office of NISH, a national non-profit organization that assists programs like WORKTEC in securing federal contracts.

The awards ceremony will be at 4:30 p.m. at the Moose Lodge at 1595 Battlecreek Road.

Phelps said the purpose of the month is to educate the public ”so individuals can see the untapped resource that people with disabilities can provide the business world.“

Call (770) 473-2840 for more information on the month's activities.