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Awards recognize Weber district worker, IRS for hiring people with disabilities

By Deborah Wilber - | Oct 4, 2022

BENJAMIN ZACK, Standard-Examiner file photo

Josh Nelson sorts labels and boxes at EnableUtah in Ogden on Monday, March 6, 2017. EnableUtah provides training and employment for adults with disabilities.

PARK CITY — The Utah Governor’s Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities and partners honored individuals and businesses last week during the 48th Annual Golden Key Awards, held in conjunction with the Disability:IN Utah Summit, for employing disabled workers throughout the state.

Among those to receive a Golden Key Award this year were the IRS in Ogden and Weber School District employee Kennedy Wahlen.

Wahlen, the assistant head custodian at South Ogden Junior High School, was presented with the Ace Advocate/Citizen Award for empowering her disabled staff while showing empathy in building a warm and welcoming workplace.

“I’m quite flattered. Honestly, I did not know anyone recognized this type of work,” Wahlen said, praising the five special needs adults who work with her as quality employees who do an excellent job.

Shelly Sorenson, a Choose to Work specialist with the Utah State Office of Rehabilitation, brought a man to Wahlen who, although disabled, has proven to be a valuable, dependable member of her staff, taking on a leadership position.

Sorenson said the man not only flourished in his new job with Wahlen but also succeeded in getting something he really wanted — his own apartment — and has returned to school.

“Working with them and talking with them has taught me a lot,” Wahlen said.

While Sorensen was reaching out to find jobs for disabled workers, IRS Management & Program Specialist Wendy Jenkins was reaching out to the Department of Workforce Services to recruit disabled residents for a newly established program at the IRS.

Jenkins said she knew a program existed for hiring veterans and people with disabilities, although it had not been fully explored.

Following independent research by Jenkins, she received approval from management to promote employment opportunities for people with disabilities. The IRS currently employs around 60 disabled workers, including veterans.

“We have fit them for the best jobs, and they have actually excelled within the IRS,” said Lisa Duckworth, veterans employment representative with the Department of Workforce Services.

The 2022 Freedom Award was presented to the IRS for its hiring and retention of disabled employees.

“It’s great to see these employers take the lead in overcoming biases and building an understanding of the employability of people with disabilities,” said Sarah Brenna, director of the Utah State Office of Rehabilitation.

According to DWS, people with disabilities add diversity, resourcefulness and creative energy to Utah’s workforce by providing knowledge, skills, talents and experiences.

In a recorded speech for the 2022 Golden Key ceremony, Gov. Spencer Cox said the state has regularly led the nation in supporting people with disabilities.

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