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Tuesday, November 20 , 2018, 10:47 am | Fair 68º


Noozhawk Receives Mayor’s Award for Disabilities Coverage

Santa Barbara's annual Mayor's Breakfast puts the focus on companies making a difference for those with disabilities.

Santa Barbara City College officials, from left, Marilynn Spaventa, Susan Ehrlich and Jack Friedlander teamed up to accept Santa Barbara Mayor Marty Blum's Outstanding Effort Award.
Santa Barbara City College officials, from left, Marilynn Spaventa, Susan Ehrlich and Jack Friedlander teamed up to accept Santa Barbara Mayor Marty Blum’s Outstanding Effort Award. (Dan Weisman / Tri-Counties Regional Center photo)

From architectural standards to the environmental movement, Santa Barbara is considered a leader in community trends. Betcha didn’t know that included assistance for those with disabilities.

In the spirit of that tradition — which Mayor Marty Blum traced to the curb cutouts and wheelchair ramps installed at the urging of then-Mayor David Shiffman in the 1970s — more than 150 people turned out for the Fourth Annual Mayor’s Breakfast on Wednesday at the Cabrillo Pavilion Arts Center. The breakfast, begun by Blum and City Councilwoman Helene Schneider in 2005 and now part of October’s National Disability Awareness Month activities, recognizes local businesses that help promote and participate in the employment of people with disabilities. Noozhawk was among this year’s honorees.

The keynote speech was delivered by Ralph Black, assistant legislation director at the state Department of Rehabilitation. In a wryly laconic delivery, Black recounted his own job-hunting odyssey after graduating near the top of his class from Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. At first, he said, he attributed the flurry of rejections to his choice of interview ties or maybe his answers to mundane questions. Only later did he realize it likely had more to do with his visual impairment. Black’s tongue was planted firmly in his cheek while he dropped the punchline but his point was crystal-clear: Hiring decisions should be based on the whole package.

Private-sector law’s loss was the public sector’s gain and Black has gone on to have a distinguished legal career. For more than 20 years, he worked in the California Community Colleges’ Chancellor’s Office, establishing the foundations for programs for students with disabilities on campuses throughout the state. In his current post, he advises Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s office on legislation relevant to employment, independence and equality for those with disabilities.

Noozhawk publisher Bill Macfadyen and Santa Barbara Mayor Marty Blum.
Noozhawk publisher Bill Macfadyen and Santa Barbara Mayor Marty Blum. (Dan Weisman / Tri-Counties Regional Center photo)
Although the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act established a broad range of guidelines, misconceptions remain nearly 20 years later.

According to Black, 70 percent of working-age people with disabilities are not employed. He didn’t call for full employment but he appealed to employers to consider several points when making their hiring decisions.

» Don’t talk to the lawyers. By the time you’re done with attorneys and human resources directors, he joked, you won’t want to hire anyone!

» Don’t make assumptions about what people can or cannot do. Today’s high-tech tools are rapidly expanding the horizons of people with disabilities.

» Expensive changes to your workplace are not necessary; the law requires reasonable accommodation. “You tell me what you need and we’ll figure out how to do it,” is what Black advises. Open communication and talking through the issues is all he asks.

With a show of hands, SBCC American Sign Language instructor Ignacio Ponce gets a signed welcome.
With a show of hands, SBCC American Sign Language instructor Ignacio Ponce gets a signed welcome. (Dan Weisman / Tri-Counties Regional Center photo)
» Don’t be afraid to establish expectations for employees with disabilities, but then make sure you hold them to those standards.

If equal responsibility is as important as equal opportunity, Scott Durfor, manager of Metropolitan Theatres Corp.‘s Paseo Nuevo Cinemas, is a model employer, albeit a modest one. In accepting the Employer/Accommodations Award from Blum, Durfor insisted his crew, which includes a number of workers with disabilities, was nothing out of the ordinary. The secret of their success, he said, is the expectation that a uniform standard will be met every day.

Blum bestowed the Design/Accessibility Award on Dan Cornet, recently retired from the state Department of Industrial Relations, and the Media Award on Noozhawk for its extensive coverage of disabilities issues.

Metro Theatres' Scott Durfor and Mayor Marty Blum.
Metro Theatres’ Scott Durfor and Mayor Marty Blum. (Dan Weisman / Tri-Counties Regional Center photo)
Meanwhile, the Mayor’s Award for Outstanding Effort was given to Santa Barbara City College for its enthusiastic expansion of opportunities through the School of Modern Languages and Disabled Student Programs and Services. Accepting the award for SBCC was Marilynn Spaventa, dean of the School of Modern Languages, who was accompanied by Susan Ehrlich, vice president of human resources and legal affairs, and Jack Friedlander, executive vice president of educational programs. Spaventa introduced Ignacio Ponce, the school’s first tenure-track instructor for American Sign Language.

Receiving honorable mention were KEYT, Moss Motors, the Santa Barbara Daily Sound, the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, the Santa Barbara News-Press, Starbucks Montecito and Vons Montecito.

Wednesday’s breakfast was coordinated by Julie Holmes of the Department of Rehabilitation, which co-sponsored the event with PathPoint, the city of Santa Barbara, Tri-Counties Regional Center and United Cerebral Palsy Work Inc.

Noozhawk publisher Bill Macfadyen can be reached at [email protected]

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