Governor’s Employer Awards Program
Resources on this page include: Overview | Toby Olson Award | Subcommittee Members | Past Award Winners
About the program
Recognizes and promotes the achievements of employers, organizations and individuals who have improved employment opportunities for people with disabilities.
Each year, nominations begin in May and run through the end of August. Categories include Small, Medium, and Large Private, Non-Profit, Public, and Youth Employers of the Year. The Direct Support Professional Award is a lifetime achievement award also presented to an individual within the field of supported employment. The Governor's Trophy is another lifetime achievement award presented to an individual with a disability. Finally, the Toby Olson Legacy Award is a new lifetime achievement award in its second year of accepting nominations, that recognizes an individual who has made a lifetime commitment to addressing the inequities people with disabilities face in their community and at the state and national levels and can demonstrate specific, direct actions dramatically changing the lives of those in the disability community.
We are pleased to share the photos from our event on Friday, October 22, 2022!
Attendees, if you have additional photos you'd like to share, please send them to: GCDEAwards@esd.wa.gov. Hover over the photo below and click the arrow that appears on the right to scroll through the photos. They can also be viewed at the link here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/196852833@N08/
The national anthem video can be viewed here, and stay tuned for a video of the full ceremony (coming soon!)
To read the full transcript from the ceremony, click here. To view the press release about recipients, click here.
The program celebrated it's 29th anniversary in 2021 with a virtual ceremony that can be viewed here (please note, Dropbox will display a 15 minute preview by default. To view the whole video, you must click the "Download" button in the top right corner). You can also read the announcement about recipients.
The GCDE is proud to present the Toby Olson Lifetime Impact Award, honoring an individual who embodies the qualities and characteristics of the late Toby Olson, and has made a lifetime commitment to addressing the inequities those with disabilities face in their community and at the state and national levels and can demonstrate specific, direct actions dramatically changing the lives of those in the disability community!
GCDE is implementing a two-step process for this Award. The first step is a Letter of Intent prepared by the nominator and an Endorsement Letter prepared by a current, former or emeritus GCDE Member. GCDE will review the information provided in the first step to determine if the nomination should proceed. The nominator will be advised by telephone or by email whether the submission will be approved to move forward. Following approval, the second step requires completion of an official nomination packet and supporting material which will then be reviewed by the Judging Panel. A link to the official Toby Olson Nomination will be included in the GCDE approval letter.
Use the forms below to complete Step 1 of the process to nominate an individual for the Toby Olson Award:
Letter of Intent (to be submitted by the Nominator)
Letter of Endorsement (to be submitted by a Current, Former, or Emeritus GCDE Member).
These forms should be saved and emailed to Awards Program staff for review at: GCDEAwards@esd.wa.gov. Nominations for this award are accepted year round. To be considered for the following October's ceremony, nominations must be received by July 31 of the current year.
To read instructions about the nomination process, please utilize the link below:
Nomination process instructions
Nominations closed for 2022 Program year, stay tuned this Spring for information about the 2023 program!
Help us spread the word about this year's event!
Updated brochure for 2023 coming soon!
This year's event was held at the Lynnwood Embassy Suites on October 21! Thank you to everyone who contributed to a great event!
Thank you to our sponsors, Microsoft, Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, Washington State Employees Credit Union, and Auntie Anne's Pretzels!
- Yvonne Bussler-White
- Amy Cloud
- Clarence Eskridge
- Cullyn Foxlee
- Janet Bruckshen (Chair)
- Ryan Bondroff (Staff)
- Kevin Frankeberger
- Daniel Ledgett
- Matt Nash
- Mike Hatch
- Pat Bauccio
- Tammy Pitre
- Lucas Doelman
Previous Award Winners
2016 Large Non-Profit Employer of the Year – Battelle/Pacific Northwest National Laboratory;
2016 Medium Non-Profit Employer of the Year – Excelsior Youth Center;
2016 Small Private Employer of the Year – InsideWorks;
2016 Youth Employer Award of the Year – Little Anchor Daycare;
2016 Large Private Employer of the Year – Microsoft;
2016 Local Government Employer of the Year – Snohomish County;
2016 Medium Private Employer of the Year – Sodexo - Walla Walla University Team;
2016 Small Non-Profit Employer of the Year – Washington Access Fund;
2016 State Public Employer of the Year – Washington State Department of Licensing;
2016 Governor's Trophy – Emily Cooper;
2016 Direct Support Professional – Sue Ann Lemkin
2017 Governor's Trophy – Mark Adreon;
2017 Direct Support Professional – Bonnie Sinclair;
2017 Medium Non-Profit Employer of the Year – Bridgeways;
2017 Large Private Employer of the Year – Seattle Mariners;
2017 Medium Private Employer of the Year – Port Angeles Safeway;
2017 Small Private Employer of the Year – Northwest Trophy;
2017 Youth Employer of the Year – Seattle Children's;
2017 Public Employer of the Year – City of Seattle
2018 Governor's Trophy Don Kay – As a Washingtonian living with a disability, Don’s lifetime achievements reflect his leadership within the disability community, statewide and throughout the country. In the 1970s Don helped create a statewide forum for people with disabilities that promoted the emergence of a disability movement focused on civil rights and opportunities to be full citizens of the state. This gave voice to people with disabilities in the adoption of state law, policy and practice and led to groundbreaking developments recognizing people with disabilities as full citizens with rights rather than as medical patients or charity cases. He continues to work tirelessly on behalf of members of the disability community. Don has made a consummate effort to bring about equality within our state despite the many barriers confronted in bringing about profound change.
2018 Direct Support Professional Paula Bouwer –Paula fought hard for her first job as a job developer. She was told that because of her own disability, she wouldn’t be able to meet the requirement for strong communication skills. She didn’t accept the many times she was told “no” and continued to pursue the job until she was successful at getting a 6-month position. This led to her long successful career. For the past 24 years Paula has positively impacted numerous lives by using her job development and networking skills to enable individuals to obtain the job they desire. She has consistently exceeded all agency targets for successful placements, job retention, and revenue and productivity goals. At the same time, Paula maintains high quality standards. She has been recognized by St Martin’s University with the Distinguished Alumni Award. Graduating in 1986 she was the first student with a hearing disability to graduate. Paula enjoys recognizing employers for their best practices and nominates them for recognition which helps to strengthen her employer base. One employer said, “If Paula gives her word that she thinks the person is a good match, then we will accept her word because she’s proven we can.”
2019 Governor's Trophy Duane French – Duane was a gentleman and a rebel. With his engaging smile and charming ways, he listened to people carefully. He tried to get to know each person he met. He wanted to help. He was a vocational rehabilitation counselor working with people with physical injuries and disabilities. He helped people transition from nursing homes to independent living. While his people to people skills and accomplishments were many, his success meant promotions. He became Executive Director of Access Alaska; then Director of Alaska’s Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, then Director of Policy for Washington’s Employment Assistance Program and eventually Director of Disability Determination Services, a division of the Washington Department of Social & Health Services. But he always was a rebel fighting for people with disabilities. He participated in his share of demonstrations highlighting the very critical need to pass the Americans with Disabilities Act. He came face to face with people who just didn’t get it… people who didn’t understand the proposed legislation recognized the civil rights of those with disabilities. It prohibited discrimination and guaranteed that people with disabilities have the same opportunities as everyone else to participate in the mainstream of American life. He continued the fighting spirit, managing a division where Washington residents apply for Social Security disability benefits. He was so proud of Division’s staff and consultants, who worked tirelessly to help those who are unable to work navigate the bureaucracy. Duane’s legacy is found in federal and state legislation and in state agencies in Nebraska, Alaska and Washington. But for him, it was the people he served that mattered most. He was a gentle man.
The Washington State Employment Security Department offers centralized funding for reasonable accommodations, removing any financial barrier program managers face when providing employee accommodations. Management coaching is conducted prior to an interactive reasonable accommodation discussion with an employee. This year over 132 reasonable accommodations requests have been addressed. Employment Security partners with the Department of Services for the Blind to co-facilitate the state’s Barrier and Access Solution’s Committee. This group’s goal is to identify and begin removing barriers and drive solutions for universal access to the workforce system. Employment Security is committed to creating greater accessibility for their staff and customers. They upgraded the wireless internet in each WorkSource office so customers can bring their own devices and have access to the same resources as other customers. WorkSource offices actively seek input from disability communities about ways to improve accessibility. Through community input, a WorkSource center was made aware their office layout met ADA standards, but was not disability friendly. Adjustments were made, making the physical access more open and useable by individuals who use mobility devices. Through their actions, policies, and stated value, the Employment Security Department demonstrates the agency’s appreciation for the contributions individuals with disabilities bring to the workforce.
With the backing and guidance from the Kittitas County Board of Commissioners, a supported employment program was developed and continues to grow. The initial job carve positions were set at minimum wage and a single department was selected for the kick-off. Within a short period of time, three more hires were added. Jobs were set for 10 or fewer hours per week with flexible work schedules. Several work accommodations are been utilized to guarantee success, such as working with job coaches to collaborate on training technique and best practices for ensuring work tasks are completed timely. Additional accommodations include assigning a specific point of contact for equipment failures and office supplies, and clarification of work assignments. A picture book was created to guide a worker through her daily activities. A specific daily routine of tasks was developed which improved an employee’s productivity and confidence in their work. In addition, a communication process was developed between a supervisor and the employee, making time management a priority. Computer screens have been enlarged, noise canceling headphones purchased, and special procedure template was created for more detailed tasks. The Board of Commissioners are setting an example of their “can do” attitude to inspire and motivate other county offices to model their program. They recognize the importance of an inclusive workplace and how employing workers with disabilities improves productivity and access to a broader pool of qualified workers.
2020 Governor's Trophy Dave Reynolds – For over the last 30 plus years, Dave has worked to break down barriers to inclusion for people with disabilities of all ages. He has researched and written extensively on what is being done domestically and globally to eliminate those barriers; from individual actions, to group efforts, to national and multi-national collaborations. Dave's compassion motivated him in October 2012 to be a founding member & primary organizer of Access 4 All. Access 4 All is an ongoing project with a diverse group of individuals with disabilities, advocates, and service provider networks who work together with a singular focus. Their mission is to celebrate and encourage accessible and disability-friendly places, services and events across Spokane County. They work to educate local businesses, city and county officials, and the general public about the barriers that people with disabilities often face when trying to access services and recreations. With the support of Spokane County officials and the Governor’s Committee on Disability Issues and Employment, Dave helped organize the Spokane County Accessible Community Advisory Committee whose purpose is to increase awareness of disability issues, and improve access, inclusion and acceptance of persons with disability. Dave's philosophy of bringing about change by fostering positive working relationships with local business and community leaders has been very successful. He designed "Making Welcome", a four-hour class in educating awareness of disability issues, identifying accessible features, advising on best practices for customer service and collaborative advocacy. Accessibility Ambassadors are trained to help places become more aware of the challenges people with disabilities might face at their locations. One of the lasting hallmarks is the renovation of Spokane’s Riverfront Park. Spokane now has a 8,000 square foot playground with universal design. Through Dave’s influence and tenacity every play element will be inclusive for all. Dave's success as an advocate for people with disabilities has been the work of a lifetime of dedication. He is uniquely skilled, singularly focused, and ferociously determined to bring about meaningful change in Spokane for people with disabilities.
20212021 Direct Support Professional - Cathy Eylar: The 2021 award recipient is Cathy Eylar. She has demonstrated what a true mentor, leader, and professional support provider should be by her actions every day - both in the field and in the office. Cathy is by the book for upholding integrity, policies, and best practices. Her dedication is a big reason for client's success and positive outcomes at Ability.
2021 Toby Olson Legacy Award - David Lord: David Lord has worked tirelessly alongside Toby Olson for inclusion and rights for people with disabilities for more than 27 years. His impact on protection and advocacy programs, legislation and inclusion has been immense. He is known for speaking with “the same careful and thoughtful consideration whether one is an elected official, or an individual with multiple disabilities”.
2021 Small Private Employer - Bean Box: The 2021 award recipient is Bean Box. Bean Box employs 20 people, and three of them are people with disabilities hired through Northwest Center. The south Seattle subscription company, which features specialty and micro lot coffee and supports local small businesses by paying fair trade values to small farms globally, is an inclusive workforce where employees with and without disabilities work side by side, participate fully in work and related social activities, and are supported and encouraged to gain new skills and advance in their careers. Says Operations Director Ben Adler, "they play a pivotal role in our success."
2021 Medium Private Employer - Tomlinson Linens: The Tomlinson Team has been described as very professional and a positive work environment. They make sure that all individuals feel included in the day-to-day operations. The employees with disabilities have been able to voice their interest in new opportunities and have been met with the opportunity to expand their knowledge. One employee said, “Tomlinson employees are valued, and the team supports one another and wants everyone to succeed together.”
2021 Large Private Employer - Amazon: Amazon operations personnel prepare orders for customers relying on their services. In 2020 they hired nearly 22,000 employees in the Seattle area and of those, 1,600 individuals disclosed their disabilities. Amazon has robust internal support systems for employees with disabilities including an applicant-candidate accommodation team, an internal vocational rehabilitation team, internal people with disabilities support groups, full-time and onsite ASL interpreters, onsite adaptive technology, and dedicated employee feedback mechanisms to ensure inclusion and diversity.
2021 Small Non-Profit Employer - DBSC: DeafBlind Service Center is committed to assisting deafblind people in reaching and maintaining their highest possible quality of life and degree of personal autonomy. They hire workers with disabilities and make sure the DeafBlind community has the communication access support services they need to be successful. One client said, “I can’t do without the Support Service Provider Program or without the DeafBlind Service Center, it is very hard to be independent without help because I am fully DeafBlind. I want to keep DBSC for good.”
2021 Youth Employer - King County Wastewater Treatment Division: King County Wastewater Treatment Division has stood out among several other youth agencies for their willingness and dedication to providing an inclusive work environment for people and youth of all abilities. King County Wastewater Treatment Division provides exceptional job opportunities to students in a variety of programs throughout the year. One parent of a student worker said, “It was clear that they put forth great effort into providing an inclusive work environment and doing whatever possible to make sure my son was comfortable and engaged.”