By Darla Shelden
City Sentinel Reporter
On Tuesday, April 5 the 22nd annual People With Disabilities Awareness Day will be held at the Oklahoma State Capitol from 12 – 4:30 p.m. Registration and check in will begin at noon on the first floor.
The public is invited to visit 76 exhibitors on the second and fourth floor rotundas and enjoy performances by the Oklahoma School for the Blind Jazz Band and Oklahoma School for the Deaf cheerleaders.
In a first for Awareness Day, the Yukon American Sign Language Club will entertain with spontaneous flash mob performances throughout the day.
The event gives people with disabilities and advocates a chance to talk with decision makers who can preserve or expand services that make a critical difference in the lives of disabled Oklahomans.
The program, themed “Empower the People,” supports the belief that all Oklahomans are equal and should be given the chance to live their lives to their fullest including pursuing independence and being in the workforce.
Event organizers estimate over 800 Oklahomans with disabilities and advocates will participate in the free event hosted by the Oklahoma Department of Rehabilitation Services (DRS) and friends.
This year’s special guest speaker will be Health and Human Services Secretary, Terry Cline. He will address attendees at 3 p.m. in the Supreme Court hallway (west side) on the 2nd floor.
Other speakers will include DRS Interim Superintendent Larry Hawkins; DRS Chair, Commissioner Lynda Collins; DRS Vice Chair, Comm. Steve Shelton; DRS Member, Comm. Jack Tucker; and KaAnn Varner Superintendent, Oklahoma School for the Deaf.
Event emcee will be DRS Interim Executive Director Noel Tyler.
“Awareness Day provides a unique opportunity to visit with Legislators and their staff about personal experiences and disability issues that affect success in reaching employment and other goals,” said Tyler.
“We encourage everyone to wear green, if possible, to show unity,” Tyler added. “When decision makers at the state Capitol see us in the halls or rotundas all wearing disability-awareness green, our efforts have an even greater impact.”
At 3:30 p.m. the PWDAD annual awards presentation ceremony will take place.
In recognition of his willingness to achieve and share his success, DRS will honor Alex Pippins with the 2015 Client of the Year Award, which will be presented by Commissioner Lynda Collins.
A heating, air conditioning and refrigeration technician at McAlester Regional Heath Center, Pippin also operates a small business using his unlimited journeyman’s and mechanical contractor’s licenses to repair his customers’ homes
“I wouldn’t be where I am today without help from DRS and my counselor Miss Gayle Lee,” Alex said. “You accepted me with open arms and helped me get an awesome trade. It’s hard work, but once you learn it, it’s a good living.”
Commissioner Jack Tucker will bestow the 2015 DRS Student of the Year award to Oklahoma School for the Deaf senior Keith Montrell Adams from Tulsa. Adams is the first deaf student ever named to the Oklahoma’s All State Cheerleading Team
In addition, on behalf of DRS Transition students who have the courage to achieve their dreams, Commissioner Jack Tucker will present the 2015 Transition Employee of the Year award to Carter Williams. Through his experience with iJobs and the OKC Dodgers, who are DRS’ Business of the Year award-winners, Carter has recently been accepted to attend The University of North Carolina at Greensboro Beyond Academics Program.
Participants are encouraged to pre-register online. Late registrations will be accepted the day of the event at noon on the first floor.
Volunteers will be available to take participants on legislative visits and provide other assistance if needed.
Accessible parking at the Capitol is located at the base of the south steps. Overflow parking will be available at the Jim Thorpe Building west of the Capitol on Lincoln Blvd.
Visitors may enter the building at the accessible southeast entrance on the first floor. Every Capitol visitor is required to pass through a metal detector and run all purses and bags through an x-ray scanner.
More than 577,000 Oklahomans – almost one in six — have disabilities, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates.
In state fiscal year 2015, the Oklahoma DRS served 88,383 Oklahomans with disabilities through career planning and employment services, residential and outreach education, independent living assistance and the determination of eligibility for Social Security disability benefits.
For more information, call 405-951-3478 or 800.845.8476.