As October, which was national Disability Employment Awareness Month, drew to a close, members of the Massachusetts Work Without Limits team at UMass Medical School reflected proudly on the initiative’s progress toward enhancing employment opportunities for people with disabilities. Alexis Henry, ScD, associate professor of psychiatry and associate director of Work Without Limits and Kathy Petkauskos, Work Without Limits senior program director, gave an overview of the initiative at a brown bag lunch held at UMass Medical School on Oct. 25.
Since its inception in 2008, Work Without Limits has spanned a trajectory of inclusion and cooperation, empowering individuals with disabilities, engaging businesses and employers, bringing together local employment service agencies, encouraging coordination among state agencies, and getting the word out to everyone in the disability employment community. The initiative disseminates information, helps create and build community networks, provides training and technical assistance to local service agencies and providers, and conducts research, evaluation and policy analysis to achieve systems change.
“We are a booster engine to the large engine of state infrastructure that helps people with disabilities fully participate in the community,” said Dr. Henry, also co-principal investigator for the Medicaid Infrastructure-Comprehensive Employment Opportunities (MI-CEO) grant from the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services that funds Work Without Limits. “We deploy our resources to give many different kinds of activities a lift. Sometimes we’re very behind the scenes, sometimes we’re more out in front.”
Work Without Limits was created through a statewide strategic plan to improve employment outcomes for people with disabilities, undertaken as part of the MI-CEO grant that UMass Medical School has received in partnership with the Massachusetts Executive Office of Health and Human Services since 2003. The MI-CEO grant is managed by the Center for Health Policy and Research at Commonwealth Medicine, the public sector health consulting division of UMMS.
While Work Without Limits does not provide direct services to individuals, it reaches across constituencies to create and strengthen the infrastructure that supports people with disabilities by improving their access to health care and service coordination; engaging with employers to create disability employment programs that meet their business needs as well as the needs of employees with disabilities; and by analyzing and addressing policy issues such as inadequate transportation and economic disincentives to work. “We are ‘networking the networks’ to get people together,” explained Petkauskos. “Everything we do is about long-term, sustainable systems change.”