Championing disability employment in good times and bad

Work Without Limits focuses on business needs to expand opportunities

By Sandra Gray

UMass Medical School Communications

November 21, 2012

Business-to-business network connects employers committed to disability diversity

With its mission to create and expand competitive employment opportunities for persons with disabilities across Massachusetts through business-to-business connections, the Work Without Limits B2B Network was established as a forum for both private and public sector employers to connect and leverage each other’s experiences, knowledge and activities around disability diversity and disability employment. Business members from diverse industry sectors share, inspire and transfer knowledge and share promising practices for attracting, recruiting, hiring and retaining candidates with disabilities.

“What we heard is that the employers want to come together around this one issue to talk about the different barriers that are keeping them from hiring, so we created a forum where they can share experiences from leading companies in a range of industries,” said Michelle Nowers, Work Without Limits project manager for communications.

B2B Network members immediately connect with other employers and business professionals who are committed to the mission of Work Without Limits; get up-to-date notifications around B2B Network activities, events and webinars; participate in real-time on-line discussions on disability news and trends; and have access to the cross sharing of job opportunities and disability candidates.

New in 2012, the B2B Network is accepting corporate sponsorship packages, with increasing levels of participation, starting at $2,500 and going up to $15,000, offering enhanced exposure and participation benefits. Massachusetts employers already committed to sponsorships include John Hancock Financial Services, Eastern Bank and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, with others in the pipeline.

“The network formalizes an opportunity for employers to learn from each other,” concluded Petkauskos.

The state employment rate for adults with disabilities has remained stubbornly  low over the past decade, regardless of the economy: less than half that of adults without disabilies. The Work Without Limits disability employment initiative was created at UMass Medical School to improve those numbers, in large part by working directly with Massachusetts businesses.

“Companies are increasingly recognizing that to stay competitive in the global economy a diverse workforce is needed. Creating employment opportunities for people with disabilities is part of that diversity strategy,” explained Alexis Henry, ScD, associate professor of psychiatry and director of the Disability, Health and Employment Policy unit in the UMMS Center for Health Policy and Research (CHPR), which created Work Without Limits in 2008. “While employing people with disabilities has traditionally been about doing social good, it is also about good business sense and return on investment, and employers meeting their bottom line by positioning themselves with good talent.”

Work Without Limits engages businesses and employers to overcome barriers—real and perceived—to successfully employ individuals with disabilities, and supports business needs as employers create disability employment strategies. Such needs include developing an inclusive corporate culture and increasing managers’ skills and confidence in interviewing and managing staff members with disabilities.

“We are using a business-to-business approach, partnering with employers who have already been successful, to engage and inform other businesses,” said Kathy Petkauskos, Work Without Limits senior program director. “We’ve built a collaborative model.”

Work Without Limits was created as part of a broad strategic effort to develop a plan to maximize employment for people with disabilities. Today, the work continues beyond the conclusion of the 11-year, multi-million dollar Massachusetts Medicaid Infrastructure and Comprehensive Employment Opportunities grant from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services that allowed UMMS to build Work Without Limits. Awarded to CHPR, in partnership with the Massachusetts Executive Office of Health and Human Services, the grant continuously funded numerous initiatives since 2000.

Now that the grant has expired, Dr. Henry said, “Our intention is to continue the Work Without Limits initiative through other funding mechanisms, to leverage and build on the generous investment of federal money, which has given us such a solid foundation in building Work Without Limits.” “In addition to the B2B Network [see sidebar], we’re building training and consulting services that Work Without Limits can deliver to employers, employment providers and job candidates.”

Related links on UMassMedNow:

Mental Health First Aid a focus for Disability Employment Awareness Month

Work Without Limits team reflects on two years of accomplishment

New course trains people with disabilities to care for others