Florida Rehabilitation Council
Florida Rehabilitation Council logo over an image of sunset at a Florida beach.

Stephen R. Wise Advocacy Award Winner

James "Chip" Byers and Isabel Garcia Honored
with Stephen R. Wise Advocacy Award for 2022

The annual Stephen R. Wise Advocacy Award recognizes dedicated leaders and champions in the cause of helping persons with disabilities achieve independence and dignity through meaningful employment. The Council considered outstanding nominees for this year’s award and selected both Chip Byers and Isabel Garcia for recognition due their outstanding leadership and personal commitment to serving individuals with disabilities.

Because both Chip and Isabel embody the spirit and qualities championed by Stephen R. Wise and because both were such outstanding nominee’s and deserving of recognition, both were selected for this year’s Award.

James "Chip" Byers is an autistic entrepreneur, community leader and disability advocate. Chip has experienced a great deal of employment discrimination due to his disability. After years of being turned down for and not advancing in jobs, he was qualified for, he chose to open his own Italian Ice business. His goal was to proactively recruit and hire people with disabilities to join his integrated workforce.

Chip's training program was featured on national television (CBS’s Undercover Boss) and as a result, his program will now be used to inform a disability inclusion program for the entire Rita’s Italian Ice brand. He not only employs persons with disabilities but he also trains his all-abilities staff to move into management roles because he employs many Discovery Program trainees. He is currently assisting the Florida Small Business Development Centers (SBDC) in developing a training program for small business owners and employers that want to hire, retain and promote persons with disabilities.

Chip also empowers and improves the lives of persons with disabilities by being an example and role model for others. He constantly advocates for inclusion with other business leaders. He is a regular speaker to companies, publications and media around the state advocating for disability workforce inclusion. He serves as a resource to employers and an advocate for employees to ensure all are successful.

Isabel Garcia is an example of someone who has tirelessly given of herself for the benefit of others.. Her sensitive, empathetic character and her fierce dedication to improving the lives of children and adults with disabilities is known throughout her community. Her passion stems from her own experience as a mother of a child with a disability. As the parent movement grew in the 1980s, Parent to Parent of Miami was founded. The organization’s mission was to “empower and support a network of parents who have children with disabilities.” Isabel joined the board of Parent to Parent of Miami in 1990. Her role as a board of trustee member was just the beginning. She became the Board President and then transitioned to the Executive Director of the newly funded parent center, in 1997.

Isabel spearheaded an important partnership with Florida International University and Miami Dade County Public Schools to launch the first transition program for students with intellectual disabilities in Miami Dade. The program provided the support young adults with disabilities needed to grow and learn in a university setting. More recently, Isabel secured grant funding to establish financial planning for children with intellectual disabilities and complex medical needs and continues to connect young adults with critical services in the community.

Isabel has dedicated the last 32 years to ensuring that children and all individuals with disabilities have a voice. In choosing to become an advocate, Isabel has positively impacted the lives of thousands of individuals with disabilities, many who are now thriving adults living meaningful lives to their fullest potential. Isabel’s selfless work has led to positive changes to a community who dares to dream big for persons with disabilities.

Isabel Garcia
Isabel Garcia
James Byers
James "Chip" Byers