Work Without Limits Fifth Annual Raise The Bar HIRE! Conference and Career Fair

Work Without Limits Fifth Annual Raise The Bar HIRE! Conference and Career Fair
Monday, October 9, 2017
Raise The Bar HIRE! Conference and Career Fair Sign at DCU Center

Author: Kathy Petkauskos, Director of Work Without Limits

On Thursday and Friday October 5th and 6th 2017, Work Without Limits wrapped up its fifth annual Raise the Bar HIRE! Conference and Career Fair at the beautiful DCU Center in downtown Worcester, Massachusetts. More than 450 people from 10 states attended the full-day Conference on Thursday and nearly 200 were in attendance at the Career Fair on Friday!

DCU Sign and Work Without Limits LCD Sign

The highlight of the first day was, by far, morning keynote speaker Dr. Temple Grandin, professor of animal science, world renowned Autism spokesperson and author, and 2017 Women’s Hall of Fame inductee. Dr. Grandin was entertaining and inspiring as she spoke of being a woman in the cattle ranching industry in the 1970’s, how she learned to succeed with her unique talents, and how everyone can benefit from the coming together of different minds, experiences and backgrounds.

Temple Grandin speaking behind podium Temple Grandin speaking behind podium with crowd and slide in frame

She also stressed the importance of tangible and early work experiences for young people with Autism, ADHD, and other cognitive disabilities including “paper route substitutions” such as dog walking, snow shoveling, and raking leaves. Many in attendance were thrilled to have the opportunity to meet Dr. Grandin personally as she made herself readily available throughout the entire day graciously signing books, taking selfies, and chatting about the ways we all can make a difference in the employment of people with Autism and other disabilities.

Temple Grandin speaking with attendee Temple Grandin Talking to Michelle Nowers

Other highlights of the day included Exemplary Employee and Exemplary Employer award winners Timothy Vernon and Eversource. Jessica Cain, VP of Customer Operations, spoke of how Eversource had “a gap in technology” and needed to make “a few adaptations” to accommodate their now 8-year tenured employee Timothy Vernon. Tim, recently promoted to Senior Customer Service Representative, spoke proudly of the work he does assisting Eversource customers, and of his employer for “looking beyond my blindness and providing the tools to cultivate and utilize my talents”. 

 Alexis Henry, Tim Vernon, Eversource and Kathy Petkauskos

Other award winners included Joe Buizon from the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind for his “spirit of collaboration” when partnering with employers to place candidates with visual impairments in gainful employment, as well as Jerry Mogul and Dore Penn of Massachusetts Advocates for Children for the behemoth work they are leading under the Boston Special Education Transition for Careers Network, which promotes collaboration and best practices to increase positive post-secondary education and employment outcomes for Boston youth with disabilities.

 Kathy Petkauskos, Richard Curtis, and Joe Buizon

 Kathy Petkauskos, Richard Curtis, Jerry Mogul, Dore Penn

Of course, the day would not have been complete or as entertaining without our gracious co-hosts Laura Stout from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts and Richard Curtis from State Street Corporation, both of whom were recognized for their dedication and commitment to disability inclusion, and who lead a resounding rendition of Happy Birthday to Work Without Limits director Kathy Petkauskos!

Laura and Richard on stage [Laura fist bumping into air]

Kathy Petkauskos, Laura Stout, Richard Curtis

Richard and Laura conducted impromptu Oprah-style interviews with guests Brian Horn, Chief of Staff for the US Business Leadership Network as well as Paul McDonagh-Smith who attended via MIT’s Telepresence Robot!

Laura Stout and Brian Horn of the USBLN on stage

Laura Stout and Paul McDonagh-Smith via MIT's Telepresence Robot

Ms. Stout and Mr. Curtis also recognized Disability Images for providing all photography services for the conference as well as the four organizations that have sponsored the Raise the Bar HIRE! conference all five years including TJX Companies, Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, Circular Blu, and Seven Hills Foundation. Thank you to ALL our sponsors who help to make this event an annual success! 

Pat Hunt with sign at Career FairKathy Petkauskos and four for five recipients

Conference breakout sessions were of the highest quality this year ranging from chronic illnesses and non-apparent disabilities to disability owned businesses and suppliers, employee resource groups, transportation, and hot topics in reasonable accommodations. The conversations through each of these breakout sessions were motivating and showed how committed our community is to disability inclusion and how rich in resources and experts in the field our state is!

Kristianne Widman present at her Breakout SessionBreakout Session attendeeRita DiNunzio presenting at her breakout session

Last but not least, afternoon Keynote Speaker Brad Hopton, a partner and NYC regional leader in the tax division at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), was both motivating and instructive as he shared  his personal story about his son Braden, born with Down’s Syndrome and now 12 ½ years old as well as the PwC ‘Ability Reveals Itself’ journey, describing in detail the steps companies can take to make their workplaces more inclusive and their staff successful all the while reminding audience members that disability can and does touch everyone’s lives.

Brad Hopton speaking on stage

Friday’s Career Fair was an enormous success as over 100 job candidates networked with 38 inclusive companies. Employers had the opportunity to attend a Disability Etiquette and Interviewing educational session and candidates had the choice of three educational sessions on networking, building a personal brand, and resumes. Candidates also took advantage of having their resumes critiqued by volunteer recruiters, and professional photos for LinkedIn taken by Rob Carlin Photography. Many employers exclaimed as they left the hall for the day, “great candidates, great conference, see you next year!”

Attendee smilingNetworking at Career FairFelicia Nurmsen presenting at candidate education sessionAttendee with Conference Bag Attached to Back of Wheelchair

We’re grateful for all those that attended and partner with Work Without Limits all year long to position Massachusetts as the first state in the nation where the employment rate of people with disabilities is equal to people without disabilities.

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