The first annual UMass Medical School Work Without Limits conference, Raise the Bar Hire!, drew nearly 400 attendees and featured more than 40 exhibitors, all gathered at the Four Points by Sheraton in Norwood last week to highlight ways to advance employment for people with disabilities.
A statewide network of employers and partners, Work Without Limits is part of the Disability, Health and Employment Policy unit within the Commonwealth Medicine division of UMass Medical School.
The conference, which featured a keynote address from AMC Entertainment Senior Vice President Keith P. Wiedenkeller and breakout sessions, also offered the opportunity to present awards to those who have advanced the employment of individuals with disabilities in Massachusetts. Statistics show that people with disabilities face much higher rates of unemployment than those without disabilities. Only 33 percent of working age people with disabilities are employed versus 76 percent of people without disabilities, according to the American Community Survey.
“We are gratified that so many individuals, businesses and organizations joined us at the conference, and share with us the commitment to full inclusion of people with disabilities in workplaces across the commonwealth,” said Alexis Henry, director of the Disability, Health and Employment Policy Unit.
The Leadership Award was given to Gov. Deval Patrick, the Innovator Award was presented to Riverside Community Care and the Central Massachusetts Employment Collaborative, and the Entrepreneurial Partnership Award was bestowed to Blu2Green, a Cambridge start-up company.
It was a partnership between Work Without Limits, Blu2Green and Riverside Community Care and the Central Massachusetts Employment Collaborative that resulted in the employment of people with disabilities at a Seven Hills Foundation work site. The Work Without Limits conference bags were produced by Blu2Green, which hired more than a half-dozen individuals with disabilities to create the bags. This video highlights that partnership.
“We wanted to create a business where we can help the environment while at the same time help people who might have a hard time finding employment,” said Christopher Bodkin, chief executive officer of Blu2Green, which creates products from recycled blue wrap - a material used to cover sterilized surgical instruments.
“Our partnership with Blue2Green fits beautifully with our approach at Seven Hills to productively employ, at competitive wages, individuals with intellectual disabilities. Our collaboration with Blu2Green, through UMass Medical School, has enabled Seven Hills to creatively work toward a more sustainable planet while simultaneously participating in Employment First Initiatives,” said Dr. Kathee Jordan, senior vice president/senior program officer at Seven Hills.
Conference sponsors included Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, Clarks, Fidelity Investments, Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, Seven Hills Foundation and Affiliates, TD Bank and TJX Companies Inc.