ANNAPOLIS – Lee Ann Colbert has worked at the Red Lobster here for the past five years — sorting and rolling silverware, filling salt and pepper shakers and doing light cleaning. One of her favorite parts, she says, is the interaction with other people.
“I enjoy working with my co-workers,” Colbert, 38, said Thursday, getting some help with the words from her counselor from the Providence Center, a local facility for the developmentally disabled.
Gov. Parris N. Glendening wants to see more disabled Marylanders like Colbert move into the work force through new tax credits for employers who hire the disabled.
The law “puts Maryland on the map” as one of only four states offering a such a benefit, Glendening said at a press conference in the Red Lobster where Colbert works.
The credit law offers up to $1,200 per employee per year for hiring people who qualify under the national Americans with Disabilities Act. In addition, companies that provide transportation and child care services to their disabled employees may get up to $600 per employee in the first year and $500 in the second year.
Maryland’s unemployment rate, while at a 10-year low of 4.6 percent overall, is significantly higher among the state’s disabled community, Glendening said.
“We should also be absolutely appalled by [the fact that] over 62 percent of people with disabilities who want to work… are unable to find jobs,” he said. “This is unacceptable.”
The state Division of Rehabilitation Services, part of the Department of Education, helps to get disabled people ready for work.
“This legislation says to young people `there will be opportunities because there will be incentives for employers to make this happen,'” said Dr. Nancy Grasmick, the state superintendent of schools, who joined Glendening at the restaurant.
Glendening chose Red Lobster to highlight the seafood chain’s record of hiring and retaining disabled workers, he said.
Colbert and two other employees who were on hand received accolades from restaurant manager Sandy Few for their hard work and positive attitudes.
“They give a lift to everybody working here,” Few said. “A lot of [employers] are missing out by not hiring these people.”
Grasmick said Colbert and her disabled co-workers, all of whom received training from rehabilitation services, “serve as a model,” indicating that the disabled can be independent.
“They would just as soon pay their own way as receive support” from government, she said.
Three-year Red Lobster veteran Tanya Shultz, 25, said that earning a regular income has meant a great deal for her.
“I usually get a paycheck once a week – every Friday,” she said, bearing a proud smile. “It gives me a life.” Employees with disabilities must work for at least one year (full- or part-time) before their employers are eligible for credits under the law. The credits will be available until Oct. 1, 2001. -30-