Inclusion drives innovation. That’s the theme of National Disability Employment Awareness Month, being observed this month, and was a topic Tuesday at a meeting of the Mayor’s Committee For Employment of Individuals With Disabilities. “One of our goals is to help employees with disabilities gain confidence and job skills that will help them take a job and turn it into a career,” said Ken Wiseman, the committee’s chairman and president of AMS Fulfillment Services. “This is not a matter of doing your civic duty,” he said. “It makes business sense to give opportunity to people who want that shot. As a result, you get employees with higher productivity, better attendance, better attitude, and stronger loyalty, all of which drive innovation.” Santa Clarita City Council member Bob Kellar represented Mayor Smyth and the city at the meeting Tuesday at AMS on Witherspoon Parkway. “Providing employment opportunities for people with disabilities is critical, and the city takes its involvement in this mission very seriously,” Kellar said. “The city provided a $5,000 grant last year to support the committee’s work, and is sensitive in its own hiring.” Vivian Kimoto, Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor at the California Department of Rehabilitation, provided background on how the awareness campaign got started, with a Congressional declaration in 1945 of “National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week.” Kimoto cited figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics that only 17.9 percent of Americans with disabilities are employed, compared with 65.3 percent of Americans without disabilities. “That’s a huge disparity,” she said. “Opportunities for inclusion are all around us. Collaboration in this valley the last two years has been phenomenal, and it’s very exciting.” Thomas Iland, co-author with his mother Emily Iland of “Come to Life: Your Guide to Self-Discovery,” was the event’s featured speaker. The book is meant to help youth with autism and learning disabilities shape their futures. Tom Iland was diagnosed with autism when he was 13. “This book is me talking to my peers,” he said, while his mother is working on a second volume to help families create transition plans. “I loved Star Wars growing up and always wanted to be George Lucas’s accountant,” Iland said. “My parents very realistically told me what that would require, in terms of courses, exams, and experience,” and he did achieve his goal of becoming a certified public accountant. “And since I interned for a time at Disney, and Disney bought Lucasfilms, you could almost say I achieved my goal,” he added. Iland spoke about the importance of accept yourself for who you are, which he distilled into the phrase, “know yourself, love yourself, be yourself.” When he learned of the autism diagnosis, he was shocked at first. “But then I said to my parents, ‘You know, this explains a lot.’” Noting speculation that historical figures like Albert Einstein, Thomas Jefferson, and Bill Gates might be on the autism spectrum, he decided “that if I’m going to have autism, I’m going to have it like Bill Gates.” The Mayor’s Committee has created a new way to recognize local employers while celebrating the artistic talents of area students. The SCV Mayor’s Committee asked special education students from the William S. Hart Union School District to enter an art contest. Entries include digital drawings, self-portraits, landscapes and chalk drawings. First, second, and third place winners will be selected and offered prizes of $500, $250 and $100. The winning artwork and artists will be recognized in February at the Mayor’s Committee Business Recognition Luncheon. All businesses recognized at the luncheon will receive a framed picture of the winning artwork and a brass nameplate signifying their efforts to support hiring of individuals with disabilities.