Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl helps cut the ribbon for the grand opening of No Boundaries, a program of JJ’s List and Search, Inc.                                                  RoundTable photo

From its modest offices on Dempster Street, “No Boundaries,” a program of JJ’s List and Search, Inc., plans to connect worlds that often meet but rarely interact – the world of business and the world of persons with disabilities. Offering sensitivity training to businesses and experiential learning to clients, No Boundaries hopes to expand the horizons of each.

Businesses should see persons with disabilities both as potential employees and potential customers, said JJ Hanley, the founder and the “JJ” of JJ’s List and director of No Boundaries.

At No Boundaries, persons with disabilities can find help with job skills, such as learning basic computer skills, negotiating public transportation or even learning appropriate eye contact with others, said Jenny Higgins, a volunteer and mentor with No Boundaries. “Each program is individualized,” she added.

“We offer training in communication skills, technology, soft skills and workplace training,” said Nicole Heimdal, the train-for-work manager at No Boundaries.

Matthew, a client of No Boundaries, showed a visitor around the offices at the Dec. 11 grand opening. Clients use the computer for “self-organizing – checking emails and getting rid of emails we don’t want,” he said. He comes to No Boundaries every day but Friday, works at Lou Malnati’s on Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday. Monday and Friday he works at a youth center in Winnetka.

“Then we do lessons and talk about different topics,” said Alex, another No Boundaries client and an employee of AMC Theatres. He and Matthew each have a blog, they said.

A table and chairs in the small break room offer clients and staff a chance to read or chat during down-time.

For the business community, No Boundaries offers disability-awareness training, said Ms. Hanley. Businesses can ask themselves how welcoming they are to persons with disabilities, starting with the door. “As an example, ‘Is there an accessible entrance?’” she said.

After completing two of four options – such as hosting a disability-awareness training session, working with JJ’s List.com to promote disability awareness, sponsoring a training session for another business or making a donation to JJ’s List or Search – a business can receive a seal of approval through JJ’s List.com. “It’s good for business and also good to show consumers that this business cares,” Ms. Hanley said.

“We ask businesses to contribute $5,000 annually for the seal of approval,” said Ms. Hanley. In return, she said, “businesses get a really big reach on our social media campaigns. It’s an economical way to contribute,” she said. 

About 50 members of the Skokie Library staff participated in a recent disability-awareness training session, said Ms. Hanley. “We trained them in soft skills: ‘How do you interact with persons with disabilities?’ and ‘What is the language of the 21st century when it comes to disabilities?’” she added.

In the “lunch and learn” program, business owners and employees learn how to interact with persons with disabilities “from the experts, persons with disabilities themselves,” said Ms. Hanley. “Topics might include how to work with a person with disabilities,” she said. Increasingly popular is the session coming again in January: “What is the right way to communicate with persons with disabilities?” she added.

“This door is always open to businesses and service providers who want to know more,” Ms. Hanley said at the grand opening. “We all have a lot to learn. We’re like a sponge – we’ll take it, we’ll learn from it and we’ll get back to you.”

With only four clients, the program is just beginning, but Ms. Higgins said she expects that number to double in the next few weeks.

Representatives of Whole Foods said they plan to come to No Boundaries to discuss food retail and what it takes to work at Whole Foods, said Ms. Hanley.

Ms. Higgins said she thought the location at 824 Dempster St. just west of the CTA tracks, “is so great. This is a vibrant business community. We can go out to the business and learn what is required [for employment].”

This new program is already drawing back the curtain of invisibility. “Coming here has changed my life,” said Matthew. “I never worked with a place that had disability awareness. Now I know where I belong in the world.”