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November 3, 2008    DOL Home > ODEP > New Freedom Initiative   

The Secretary of Labor’s New Freedom Initiative Awards - 2008

Wednesday, October 8, 2008
Grand Hyatt Hotel
Washington, D.C.

Message from U.S. Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao

Welcome to the seventh annual Secretary Of Labor’s New Freedom Initiative Awards ceremony. Since I established these Awards in 2002, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) has recognized 45 businesses, nonprofit organizations and individuals for this special honor. This year, it is a pleasure for me to acknowledge the achievements of eight additional recipients for advancing President George W. Bush’s New Freedom Initiative. We are also pleased to honor two recipients of the Secretary’s SPIRIT Award.

The New Freedom Initiative program ensures that Americans with disabilities have equal opportunity to participate in all aspects of community life, including employment. The President and I firmly believe that our nation, as it moves into the second decade of this new century, must fully utilize the talents of all job-ready Americans, including workers with disabilities, in order to strengthen our global competitiveness. The Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy is moving us towards achieving this objective and today’s awardees are shining examples of this progress.

The theme for the October 2008 celebration of National Disability Employment Awareness Month is so appropriate: America’s People…America’s Talent…America’s Strength! Today, please join me in congratulating this year’s winners of the New Freedom Initiative Award and the SPIRIT Award for recognizing the inherent value that people with disabilities bring to the 21st century workforce.


Read Assistant Secretary Neil Romano’s remarks



Skills for Success

The HSC Foundation, Washington, D.C.

Values at Work: Promoting a Positive Transition to Work and Adulthood

Deputy Secretary Howard Radzely (right) and ODEP Assistant Secretary Neil Romano (left) present a 2008 New Freedom Initiative Award to Dr. Thomas W. Chapman, President and Chief Executive for The HSC Foundation (DOL Photo/ Neshan Naltchayan)

The HSC Foundation (HSCF) is an organization that strives to improve access to services for individuals and families in the Washington metropolitan area who face social and health care challenges due to disability, chronic illness or other circumstances.  In support of this mission, HSCF also supports The HSC Pediatric Center and Health Services for Children with Special Needs, Inc., and participates in various local, regional and national initiatives. 

A major focus of HSCF's work is its Youth Transitions Initiative, which assists young people with disabilities and chronic illness to successfully move from school to adulthood and the world of work.  It uses a comprehensive approach combining health, education, vocational training, youth and leadership development, employment preparation, and social activities.  

The Youth Transitions Initiative was launched at a summit that convened more than 200 youth with disabilities and their families and service providers.  This was followed by a roundtable at which clinical experts shared their insight and experience. The Initiative's efforts are conducted in collaboration with many organizations, including the National Council on Independent Living, the PACER Center, the Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation, The John F. Kennedy Center, George Washington University, National Collaborative on Workforce and Disability for Youth, and the D.C. Department of Mental Health, among others. 

In addition, HSCF assisted the U.S. Business Leadership Network to form a Student Advisory Council and sponsors the annual Advocates in Disability Awards, which honor talented young people involved in public advocacy for people with disabilities.  Through its different programs, HSCF personally impacts the lives of more than 150 young people each year and countless more through its capacity-building grants to organizations that serve youth and its transitions research initiative.

Empowerment Through Opportunity

Linking Employment, Abilities and Potential (LEAP), Cleveland, Ohio

Values at Work: Assisting Youth and Adults to Achieve Their Aspirations

Deputy Secretary Howard Radzely (right) and ODEP Assistant Secretary Neil Romano (left) present a 2008 New Freedom Initiative Award to Ms. Melanie Hogan, Executive Director for LEAP (DOL Photo/ Neshan Naltchayan)

Cleveland-based Linking Employment, Abilities and Potential (LEAP) provides information, education, training, employment and independent living services to people with disabilities in eight counties in Northeast Ohio.  It was established in 1981, and since this time has itself followed a philosophy of employing qualified people with disabilities as a majority of its staff.

In Ohio, LEAP is one of ten Centers for Independent Living, one of four Ohio Developmental Disabilities Council Public Policy Centers, and one of four High School/High Tech locations. Its programs and services are accredited by the Commission on Rehabilitation Accreditation, and its youth program is a Promising and Effective Practices Network (PEPNet) awardee.

To help persons with disabilities achieve greater independence, LEAP increases access to assistive technologies and implements innovative employment and training programs.  For example, it runs a unique program that trains people with disabilities to work as personal assistants, home health aides and attendants to other people with disabilities.  Furthermore, its Center for Personal Assistance prepares people to become state-tested nursing assistants.  In 2007, 44 people successfully completed the program. 

LEAP works with youth with disabilities through its award-winning Job Link program.  Implemented collaboratively with the Cleveland Metropolitan School District, this program helps approximately 100 youth prepare for work and adult life annually.  LEAP also established the Doris Brennan Center for Disability Education and Advocacy, which assists people with both professional and personal development by offering benefits, housing and transportation assistance and social and recreation activities.

A Commitment to INCLUDE

Best Buy Co., Inc., Richfield, Minnesota

Values at Work: Turning Ideas into Action

Deputy Secretary Howard Radzely (right) and ODEP Assistant Secretary Neil Romano (left) present a 2008 New Freedom Initiative Award to Mr. John Pershing, Executive Vice President, Human Capital for Best Buy Company, Inc. (DOL Photo/ Neshan Naltchayan)

Best Buy Co., Inc. is a worldwide retailer of consumer electronics, personal computers and entertainment software and appliances that employs almost 150,000 people.  Offering the complete range of technology products, the company serves a diverse clientele and is committed to mirroring this diversity through an inclusive and innovative work environment.

To ensure this goal takes into account people with disabilities, Best Buy established an Employee Business Network called INCLUDE.  Reflecting its slogan of "Focus on Abilities, not Disabilities," the group advocates for culture change by promoting employment opportunities, supportive services and accommodations for people with disabilities in a manner designed to benefit everyone-employees, customers, families and local communities.

Within months of its formation in 2006, INCLUDE received more than 300 inquiries regarding accommodations and other disability issues, many of which resulted in changes designed to improve employee and customer experiences.  Examples are subtitling all training DVDs, adding coverage for hearing aids in the company-sponsored health plan, proactively targeting job candidates with disabilities and implementing disability awareness training for employees.

As part of the effort, Best Buy has also established strategic partnerships with disability organizations, including the Maryland School for the Deaf, Career Opportunities for Students with Disabilities and the Minnesota Business Leadership Network.  These partnerships and the overall success of INCLUDE are already translating into a competitive edge for Best Buy by closing gaps not only in its workforce, but also its customer base.

Putting Ability First

Deloitte, Washington, D.C.

Values at Work: Supporting Those Who Have Sacrificed in Service

Deputy Secretary Howard Radzely (right) and ODEP Assistant Secretary Neil Romano (left) present a 2008 New Freedom Initiative Award to Mr. Greg Arend, Partner for Deloitte (DOL Photo/ Neshan Naltchayan)

"Deloitte" is the brand under which 165,000 dedicated professionals in independent firms throughout the world collaborate to provide services to selected commercial and government clients.  These firms are members of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu ("DTT"), a Swiss Verein. In the United States, Deloitte LLP helps coordinate the activities of the following subsidiaries, who provide audit, consulting, financial advisory, risk management, and tax services: Deloitte & Touche LLP; Deloitte Consulting LLP; Deloitte Financial Advisory Services LLP; and Deloitte Tax LLP.  Deloitte considers diversity a core value in serving its customers and promotes a corporate culture that embraces people's individual differences and unique strengths and skills.

Reflecting this, Deloitte's Business Resource Groups (BRGs) allow those with similar interests to join forces and turn collective ideas into action.  In May 2007, Deloitte's Washington-area offices formed a chapter of the AbilityFirst BRG.  After an initial meeting during which the documentary "Alive Day Memories:  Home from Iraq" was viewed, members decided to focus on helping disabled veterans reintegrate into the workforce. 

To get started, they met with several veterans featured in the film, as well as representatives from Walter Reed Army Hospital and other organizations.  Based on what they learned, they established the Employment Network for Disabled Veterans, a collaborative partnership through which Deloitte-as well as other businesses-could offer individualized professional development services to disabled veterans.  The network was launched in April, 2008 with a day-long program culminating in an event attended by more than 250 disability, business and government leaders. 

Today, more than 40 individuals from 20 corporations have joined the network.  Despite most being competitors, all are united in their commitment to leverage resources to assist disabled veterans and capitalize on their unique skills and talents.  To date, the network has helped six veterans through services ranging from registering a small business owner as a Deloitte subcontractor and hiring a veteran spouse in the GWA practice, to counseling a college student exploring career options.

Accessing Ability

Ernst & Young LLP, New York, New York

Values at Work: Empowering Employees to Succeed and Grow

Deputy Secretary Howard Radzely (right) and ODEP Assistant Secretary Neil Romano (left) present a 2008 New Freedom Initiative Award to Ms. Billie Williamson, Partner and Americas Inclusiveness Officer for Ernst & Young LLP (DOL Photo/ Neshan Naltchayan)

Ernst & Young is a global provider of assurance, tax, transaction and advisory services that employs 130,000 people.  Through its professional services, it strives to have a positive impact on not only businesses and markets, but also society as a whole.  

Ernst & Young has a long legacy of integrating people with disabilities into its workplace; in fact, one of its founders, Arthur Young, was deaf.  Today, the organization understands that a diverse, inclusive workforce is critical to attracting and retaining top talent, particularly in the highly competitive accounting industry.  To ensure inclusiveness for people with disabilities, it established the AccessAbilities program, which aims to foster a disability-aware corporate culture and an empowering environment in which every individual can reach his or her full potential.  

As part of this, the company has a network of nearly 250 people dedicated to promoting disability inclusiveness.  It has also improved existing office accessibility and incorporating accessibility into standards for new construction.  Accessibility efforts also extend to technology and communications, allowing employees with disabilities-and many without-to perform their jobs more efficiently.  Furthermore, the needs of people with disabilities are incorporated into emergency preparedness planning.

To ensure qualified people with disabilities are aware of opportunities at the company, Ernst & Young capitalizes on the services of disability organizations, including the Employee Assistance and Recruiting Network (EARN) and disability-oriented Web sites.  It also supports veterans with disabilities,
as well as several internship programs for students with disabilities.  

A Focus on Ability

Lockheed Martin Corporation, Bethesda, Maryland

Values at Work: Ensuring Access to Opportunities for Veterans and Others with Disabilities

Deputy Secretary Howard Radzely (right) and ODEP Assistant Secretary Neil Romano (left) present a 2008 New Freedom Initiative Award to Ms. Geeth M. Chettiar, Vice President Diversity & Equal Opportunity Programs for Lockheed Martin Corporation (DOL Photo/ Neshan Naltchayan)

Lockheed Martin Corporation is a global security company that provides information technology services, systems integration and training to the U.S. Department of Defense and other Federal agencies.  In order to most effectively serve the U.S. Government and taxpayers, the company is committed to ensuring its diverse workforce of 140,000 is comprised of skilled, dedicated employees. 

To deliver on this dedication, Lockheed Martin works to ensure all qualified individuals, including those with disabilities, have opportunities to pursue careers at the company.  This vision is implemented by the Focus on Abilities (FOA) team, which works to integrate disability employment issues across all aspects of the company's recruitment, retention and promotion processes.

Lockheed Martin is also looking ahead to ensure an inclusive future workforce by supporting student internship programs, including the Entry Point and Emerging Leaders programs.  In fact, in 2007, the company hired seven interns from the Emerging Leaders program, two of whom are now full-time employees. 

As a defense contractor, Lockheed Martin places special emphasis on hiring those who have served and sacrificed for the cause of freedom.  Through a strategic partnership with Disabled American Veterans, the company provides veterans with disabilities with part-time, telecommuting information technology jobs.  In addition, the two-year Seamless Transition Apprenticeship Program (STAP), a collaborative effort with the Department of Veterans Affairs' Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment Service, provides veterans with disabilities with not only employment, but also mentoring, coaching, training and other employment supports.

An Initiative that EnAbles

PepsiCo, Inc., Purchase, New York

Values at Work: Demonstrating Diversity Through Innovative Ideas

Deputy Secretary Howard Radzely (right) and ODEP Assistant Secretary Neil Romano (left) present a 2008 New Freedom Initiative Award to Mr. John N. Stevenson, Vice President – Transformation for PepsiCo, Inc. (DOL Photo/ Neshan Naltchayan)

PepsiCo, one of the world's largest food and beverage suppliers, reflects the diversity of people who consume its products daily by using a variety of innovative strategies across its workforce globally.  These strategies also make the most of PepsiCo's greatest strength: its employees - who number approximately185,000 worldwide, with about 58,550 in the United States alone. 

One example of the innovative strategies that inspire and challenge PepsiCo associates is EnAble.  This employee network implements programs designed to foster an inclusive corporate culture and actively recruit, attract and advance people with different abilities.  Since its formation, PepsiCo has contributed to EnAble's efforts to cultivate talent through a multi-million dollar capital allocation by the CEO in 2007, as well as partnerships with disability organizations and programs for caregivers.  It also worked to make different abilities a prominent theme at PepsiCo's 2007 Multicultural Inclusion Summit.

In 2007, PepsiCo also signed on as a founding partner of Lime Connect, a non-profit that matches corporations with talented students with different abilities.  During Lime's first year, PepsiCo, along with partners Merrill Lynch and Goldman Sachs, attended nine events attracting more than 300 students.  In 2008, Google joined the effort, and Lime sponsored its first recruitment event targeting experienced hires with disabilities.  PepsiCo also supports the University of California at Los Angeles's Leadership Institute for Managers with Disabilities.

PepsiCo's efforts to promote inclusive workplaces-as well as communities-extend to promotional activities.  In 2008, the company aired a Super Bowl pre-game commercial, conceived and performed by EnAble members, that humorously illustrates a role reversal between the hearing and deaf worlds.  The commercial, titled Bob's House, is silent and was so well received that it became the second most-viewed YouTube video for three weeks.

A Dedication to Diversity

WellPoint, Inc., Washington, D.C.

Values at Work: Fostering Innovation Through an Inclusive Workforce

Deputy Secretary Howard Radzely (right) and ODEP Assistant Secretary Neil Romano (left) present a 2008 New Freedom Initiative Award to Mr. Larry C. Glasscock, Chairman of the Board for WellPoint, Inc. (DOL Photo/ Neshan Naltchayan)

WellPoint, Inc., the largest health benefits company in terms of medical membership in the United States, serves the needs of approximately 35.4 million members nationwide.  Its mission is to improve the lives of the people it serves and the health of its communities - a commitment reflected in its own innovative employment strategies.

In WellPoint's experience, a diverse workforce enhances its competitive edge by fostering innovative thinking.  To promote company-wide understanding of the value of diversity, WellPoint's Corporate Diversity and Workplace Culture Department works to ensure diversity is integrated into all aspects of the company, including professional development activities, strategic hiring policies and philanthropic efforts.  As a testament to its dedication, WellPoint earned a spot on DiversityInc's list of 2008 Top 50 Companies for Diversity®.

A core component of WellPoint's diversity initiative focuses on hiring and advancing individuals with disabilities, a strategy that has strong support from top management and is implemented through external partnerships.  The company offers innovative workplace accommodations to ensure inclusiveness of people with disabilities, as well as competitive career paths once they join the WellPoint team.

As a way to build a diverse talent pipeline for the future, WellPoint proactively recruits entry-level professionals with disabilities through a strategic partnership with Bender Consulting, a firm dedicated to improving employment opportunities for people with disabilities.  Since the partnership was formed in 2005, 50 consultants with disabilities have been placed in key positions, more than half with WellPoint's information technology team, and another 19 have been hired as full-time associates. 


Secretary of Labor’s SPIRIT Award

Initiated in 2006, the Secretary of Labor’s SPIRIT Award is given to an individual with a disability or an organization demonstrating leadership and an unyielding commitment to achieving success for those with disabilities. Award recipients are recognized for their qualities to inspire and enhance the ability of Americans with disabilities to enter and participate fully in the 21st century workforce.

These qualities include:

  • Strength in leadership
  • Perseverance in unyielding commitment to achieving success
  • Integrity
  • Role Model
  • Independence
  • Trail Blazer


Secretary's Spirit Awardees 2008

It's About Talent

JIM ABBOTT, San Diego, California

Values at Work: Pitching a Message of Inspiration and Experience

Deputy Secretary Howard Radzely (right) and ODEP Assistant Secretary Neil Romano (left) present a 2008 SPIRIT Award to Mr. Jim Abbott (DOL Photo/ Neshan Naltchayan)

Jim Abbott is a former major league baseball (MLB) pitcher who played for the California Angels, Chicago White Sox, Milwaukee Brewers and New York Yankees.  The highlight of his career was pitching a no-hitter for the Yankees in 1993.  But he is also remembered for excelling at the game despite being born with
only one hand.  Today he is using his experience on the field to help increase employment opportunities for people with disabilities in all fields.

Mr. Abbott started playing baseball in his front yard in Flint, Michigan.  After high school, he was drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays, but opted for college and pitched for the University of Michigan, where he played for three years.  While there, he was honored as the first baseball pitcher to win the James E. Sullivan Award as the top amateur athlete in the U.S.  In 1988, he was drafted by the California Angels and pitched the U.S. to a gold medal in the Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea. 

Mr. Abbott retired from baseball in 1998, but he is still using his talent-this time to help raise awareness about the value people with disabilities bring to America's businesses.  

In baseball, it was what Mr. Abbott could do-not what he couldn't do-that mattered.  Through his outreach and advocacy, he has helped employers across the country gain the same valuable perspective.

A Model Corporate Citizen

STEVEN A. BURD, Pleasanton, California

Values at Work: Gaining by Giving Back to the Community

Steven Burd is Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer of Safeway Inc., one of North America's largest food and drug retailers.  Under his leadership, the company is committed to creating an inclusive workplace and currently employs nearly 10,000 people with disabilities.  In addition, more than $172 million-the equivalent of 20 percent of Safeway's net income-has been donated to programs focused on assisting people with disabilities and to charitable causes such as cancer research, education and food banks. 

Mr. Burd joined Safeway in 1992 and since that time has placed special emphasis on corporate citizenship and philanthropy efforts.  As a result, the company has helped raise money to support a variety of organizations, including the Muscular Dystrophy Association, Easter Seals, Augie's Quest and Special Olympics. 

In fact, each year Safeway dedicates two months, April and August, to fundraising for disability-related organizations.  This year, Safeway will use money raised during April to fund community disability centers operated by Easter Seals that provide rehabilitation and training.  A portion will also go toward creating a grants program to fund job training and autism awareness and support initiatives.  In addition, through a unique partnership with Special Olympics, Safeway will help fund efforts to provide year-round sports training and competition to people with disabilities.

With Mr. Burd at the helm, Safeway is delivering on its commitment to be a model corporate citizen by making the communities in which it operates better places for all people, including those with disabilities, to live and work.


Past Recipients of the NFI Award


  • John D. Kemp, Washington, D.C.
  • Laurie Mitchell Employment Center, Alexandria, VA
  • Positive Vibe Café, Richmond, VA
  • The Dow Chemical Company, Midland, Michigan
  • Operation IMPACT Program/Northrop Grumman
    Corporation, Los Angeles, CA
  • Gap Inc., San Francisco, CA


  • Ilene Morris-Sambur, Marshall, VA
  • disabilityworks, Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce,
    Chicago, IL
  • National Technical Institute for the Deaf,
    Rochester Institute of Technology, Rochester, NY
  • PRIDE Industries, Roseville, CA
  • The RAVE Program, University of Alabama at
    Birmingham, Birmingham, AL
  • Aetna, Hartford, CT
  • CVS/pharmacy, Woonsocket, RI
  • Highmark Inc., Pittsburgh, PA
  • Raytheon Missile Systems, Tucson, AZ


  • Jim Westall, Port Townsend, WA
  • Breaking New Ground Resource Center
    and Outreach Program, West Lafayette, IN
  • Center of Vocational Alternatives, Columbus, OH
  • InspiriTec, Philadelphia, PA
  • Computer Sciences Corporation, Federal Sector,
    Falls Church, VA
  • Merck & Co., Inc., Whitehouse Station, NJ
  • TecAccess, Rockville, VA


  • Michael John Maslowski, Overland Park, KS
  • A & F Wood Products, Howell, MI
  • Hewlett-Packard Company, Palo Alto, CA
  • Marriott Foundation for People with Disabilities,
    Washington, DC
  • MBNA America Bank, N.A., Wilmington, DE
  • Microsoft Corporation, Redmond, WA
  • Project SEARCH, Cincinnati, OH
  • Salt Lake Community College Skills Center,
    Salt Lake City, UT
  • SunTrust Banks, Inc., Atlanta, GA


  • Joyce Bender, Pittsburgh, PA
  • Abilities, Inc., Albertson, NY
  • Booz Allen Hamilton, McLean, VA
  • Cingular Wireless, Atlanta, GA
  • Courage Center, Minneapolis, MN
  • Giant Eagle, Inc., Pittsburgh, PA
  • IBM, Armonk, NY
  • Manpower, Inc., Milwaukee, WI
  • Salisbury Area Chamber of Commerce, Salisbury, MD
  • Sensory Access Foundation, Sunnyvale, CA


  • Bruce Borden, Middleton, WI
  • Able-Disabled Advocacy, San Diego, CA
  • Lift, Inc., Warren, NJ
  • Vocational Advancement and Social Skills Training
    and Office Skills Training Program, Houston
    Community College System, Houston, TX

Past Recipients of the SPIRIT Award


  • The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis
    Represented by Marc A. Buoniconti, Miami, FL


  • Dave Dravecky, Colorado Springs, CO
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