The Howard County Commission on Disability Issues announced the winners for the county’s 22nd annual Awards Program. The program honors the outstanding efforts of individuals and organizations that advance full participation in community life for all people, and promote the spirit and intent of the Americans with Disabilities Act and other disability rights laws.

Listed below are this year’s award winners.

  • Employer Award: Academy Linens. Academy values diversity and demonstrates the belief that all individuals deserve an opportunity to be productive members of society. The company is noted for advancing workplace opportunities for people with disabilities, as evidenced by its hiring, staff development and accommodations practices, and for its encouragement of other businesses to utilize the skills and talents of job seekers who have disabilities.
  • Service Awards: The Howard County Autism Society. The organization demonstrates the belief that all individuals on the autism spectrum have a contribution to make to their family, the community and society at large. NAMI (the National Alliance on Mental Illness) Howard County is dedicated to improving the lives of individuals with mental illness and their families through education, advocacy and support. The Howard County Autism Society and NAMI Howard County are each recognized for empowering individuals with disabilities to live self-directed, meaningful lives as full participants in their communities.
  • Accessibility Award: Marisa Olszewski. Olszewski researched, developed and implemented new assistive technology to enhance the accessibility of exhibits at Howard County’s Robinson Nature Center for visitors with vision disabilities. She is recognized for her commitment to providing inclusive recreation opportunities and innovative accommodations to people of all backgrounds and abilities.
  • Individual Achievement Award (Youth): Olmer Gutierrez. A graduate of the 2016 Project SEARCH Howard program, Gutierrez successfully completed work study placements in Howard County Government, learning new tasks and developing new work skills. Since April, he has been working at Mobern Lighting, in Jessup, and is recognized for his strong work ethic and determination, thus serving as a positive role model.
  • Individual Achievement Award (Adult): Claudia Wehdeking Friend. Wehdeking Friend co-founded the Howard County chapter of NAMI more than 30 years ago and currently volunteers in a leadership role at The Serenity Center, a Columbia meeting house for 12-step recovery groups. She is recognized for her leadership and advocacy in promoting the well-being of people with mental health disabilities.

In addition to this year’s award recipients, the following employers are recognized for their efforts to build inclusive workforces: Jiffy Lube, Clarksville; Mobern Lighting; MOM’s Organic Market, Jessup; Roger Carter Community Center; Safeway, Long Gate/Ellicott City; The Outer Office; Tino’s Italian Bistro & Wine Bar; Turf Valley Resort; Win Kelly Chevrolet Buick GMC; and ZIPS Dry Cleaners, Scaggsville.

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM), an observance created to spread awareness about disability employment issues, promote inclusion and celebrate the many and varied contributions of America’s workers with disabilities.

Honorees will be recognized at an awards ceremony on Thursday, Oct. 6.