Raise the Bar HIRE! 2018 Conference Re-Cap

On October 10, 2018 and in recognition of National Disability Employment Awareness Month, Work Without Limits hosted the 6th annual Raise the Bar HIRE! conference, this year in partnership with the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission (MRC). The conference was jam-packed with inspiring speakers, educational breakout sessions, exhibitors, and awards!

WWL team member handing out nametags to attendee

special needs law group mass exhibitor table, 2 women standing behind listening to attendees

UMass Medical School’s Executive Vice Chancellor for Commonwealth Medicine Dr. Lisa Colombo and MRC Commissioner Toni Wolf kicked off the morning plenary session with warm welcoming remarks, emphasizing the importance of the work as demonstrated by the attendance of over 350 people in the room!

Lisa Colombo speaking behind podium

Lisa Colombo, DNP, MHA, RN, Executive Vice Chancellor, Umass Medical School, Commonwealth Medicine

Toni Wolf smiling and talking

Toni Wolf, Commissioner of Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission

Kathleen Petkauskos, director of Work Without Limits, introduced keynote speaker Mandy Harvey, Deaf American singer-songwriter and America’s Got Talent finalist.  Mandy gave a motivational and inspiring speech that touched the hearts of everyone in the room and included her own experiences in the working world. Ms. Harvey shared that she began her job search by going on 150 job interviews – without receiving even one job offer because she could not answer a “hypothetical” phone! Eventually, she proved herself to doubters when she landed a position that started as a temporary job in electronic medical records. She stayed for 10 years and demonstrated her abilities by quickly being promoted to multiple leadership roles. “You have people who are hungry to prove themselves”, stated Ms. Harvey, “People who are going to move the moon to show up and put their game face on every day.  These are the people that you want to employ.”

Mandy Harvey speaking on stage


Mandy Harvey singing with ukelele

After hearing Mandy’s inspiring words and beautiful voice, and meeting her in person for selfies and CDs, everyone went into their choice of breakout sessions that were presented by local experts in the field. Sessions included relevant topics such as addiction and recovery, access to transportation, working and public benefits, the new ABLE savings account, unconscious biases, best employer practices, creating accessible workplaces, and neurodiversity at work.

Interpreter blurry in front with 3 break out presenters, 1 woman in wheelchair

Woman smiling in break out session

A number of awards were presented throughout the day to well-deserving recipients.  The Work Without Limits Partnership Award was presented to staff attorneys Linda Landry and Svetlana Uimenkova of the Disability Law Center for their decades-long and unwavering support of, and selfless sharing of their technical expertise with the network of benefits specialists throughout the state.

DLC group photo, kathy petkauskos, linda landry, svetlana uimenkova and alexis henry

Kathy Petkauskos, Linda Landry, Svetlana Uimenkova and Alexis Henry

The Work Without Limits Leadership Award went to Dr. Brett Mulder & Leslie O’Brien of Massachusetts General Hospital’s Aspire Works program for their innovative program partnering with employers to successfully hire youth and young adults on the Autism spectrum into meaningful jobs and internship positions.

Kathy Petkauskos, Brett Mulder, Leslie O'Brien, Alexis Henry

Kathy Petkauskos, Brett Mulder, Leslie O’Brien, Alexis Henry

Bill Allen, Statewide Director of Job Placement Services for MRC presented the Employer of the Year Award to Massachusetts General Hospital for their long history of commitment to advancing workplace diversity in Massachusetts and hiring, accommodating and promoting individuals with disabilities at all levels of employment.

Mr. Allen also presented the Employee of the Year Award to Hilary Ellis, a former consumer of MRC and current employee of Massachusetts General Hospital who was recognized for being an exceptional member of the team, and for her dedication and excellent customer service skills.

Hilary Ellis, Toni Wolf, Bill Allen

Hilary Elis, Toni Wolf, Bill Allen

Several check presentations also happened throughout the day:

Check presentation ($2000) to Circular Blu. Pictured holding check: Alexis Henry, Kathy Petkauskos, Chris Bodkin, Gavin Bodkin and Jonathan Flanders

Thank you Circular Blu for your generous donation to WWL! We are grateful for your support of our mission.

Check presentation. MSA to WWL. Pictured holding check, Alexis Henry, Kathy Petkauskos, and MSA staffing team members

We are so grateful to the Mass Staffing Association for their generous donation raised during their annual Golf Tournament!

The afternoon plenary session featured three “DiverseAbility” TED-like Talks.  The audience had the opportunity to hear from three gentlemen, Abe Walters, Robert Turner and Josh Bossineau, each of whom shared their personal and professional stories including the obstacles they faced due to their disability and how they turned those obstacles into success.

Abe Walters on stage and smiling

Abe Walters

Robert Turner sitting on stage and smiling

Robert Turner

Josh Bossineau talking on stage

Josh Bossineau

Throughout the day, participants visited the Exhibitor Hall, which provided attendees with an abundance of information and resources for accessing and supporting individuals with disabilities throughout their careers. We were excited to have United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley as part of the conference this year in support of their 19th annual Thanksgiving Project that helps feed over 6,500 Massachusetts families over the holiday season. Attendees came to the conference armed with their donations of stuffing, cranberry sauce and green beans as a way for all us to give back to the community. Over 100 items were collected and we look forward to surpassing that number next year when we once again partner with United Way on this important project!

Kathy P at Thanksgiving project table with food and Thanksgiving project team members

Attendee in wheelchair checking out MassMatch exhibitor table

Rounding out the day was Joan Philips, MRC Assistant Commissioner who re-emphasized the theme of Mandy Harvey’s keynote address that we all need to take action. Stated Ms. Phillips, “We all have the ability to help individuals with disabilities break the cycle of poverty and become contributing members of society.”

Joan Philips onstage speaking

Last but certainly not least; this conference would not be possible without the support of our Conference Sponsors, who continually support the mission of equal employment for people with disabilities. Special thanks to Boston Children’s HospitalHarvard Pilgrim HealthCareNational GridTJX CompaniesSeven Hills Foundation, and State Street Corporation.