REPLY ALL | Mike Bullis
Executive Director, The IMAGE Center
Chairman, Maryland Works
Tell us a little about yourself and your background.
I grew up in Portland, Oregon. In my early 20s and 30s I worked in the Oregon legislature as a lobbyist and loved the idea of being able to make laws and help organizations get the budgets they needed through the legislative process. After my time in the legislature, I was a farmer for 15 years and then, in 2002, I moved to Maryland. I have worked for the State of Maryland as both an employee and a contractor since my move.
Currently, through The IMAGE Center, we work for Baltimore City, Baltimore County, and Harford County and also work on private foundation grants, so it’s a nice mix. The IMAGE Center is a center for independent living. It is unique in that it is mostly staffed by people with disabilities—the first time I have worked somewhere that I am not a minority.
You are chairman for Maryland Works and the executive director for The Image Center, what led you to where you are today?
I have done a lot of work over the years helping people with disabilities gain employment, and that’s what Maryland Works does. A unique component of Maryland Works is their business development opportunities. If someone with a disability wants to develop his or her own business and then contract with the state, they can go to Maryland Works and get that opportunity.
When it comes to The Image Center, this area of Maryland did not have a center for independent living in 2009. And when the federal government said we’ll give you some startup seed money, I constructed a five year plan to apply for the grant.
To you, what are the advantages of diversity in the workplace?
The advantage is gaining different thoughts and cultures.
Young people don’t think like I do. I have mostly staff employees who are under 30, and I am 65. That means they are a generation and a half away from me. They think differently and look for different solutions. They’re more sensitive to the modern culture. Diversity creates that thinking environment.
When it comes to working with employees with disabilities, what is some advice you would give Maryland businesses on hiring someone with a disability?
Disabilities are about solutions and expectations, meaning there is a solution to almost any problem you can name. For me, being blind, I use braille and computers that talk. There are tons of solutions out there but they won’t come to you unless you decide that there are there. If you think of your disability as a problem, then it will remain a problem.
Employers need to look for solutions in order to create a more diverse workforce. Creating an environment of diversity, whether that’s with people with disabilities, age or of different races, it keeps businesses vital and growing.
What is an accomplishment you are most proud of?
I’ve done a lot of things and I have enjoyed most of them. I worked in Oregon and basically revised or reorganized the way they delivered human services in the mid ’80s. That was a huge thrill for me to get nine bills through the legislature and make a difference in how people receive services.
I have also had some successes in Maryland with parental rights legislation for people with disabilities. That’s been exciting for me, to get funding for a project that will help people get out of nursing homes and back home again. The cost to the state is around $80,000 a year for somebody to be in a nursing home. To keep them in their own home is around $55,000 or $60,000. We save the state money by moving people out of nursing homes and moving them back home so that they can live in the community again. It’s very exciting to do those kinds of things and make a difference.
What motivates you in you in career?
I love to work. I don’t know what I’ll do if I ever have to retire. I just love to get up in the morning with a purpose and get something accomplished—to make a difference, to feed my family, and to know that what I do every day has a purpose and a focus.
What motivates you in your life?
To see change and recognize that change is slow. Change doesn’t happen in big gulps it happens in little sips and you have to be able to understand that what you do now will make a difference for generations to come.
What advice would you have for other professionals looking to succeed?
Make connections with a lot of people. I don’t think people with disabilities get jobs by going and complaining to human resources. They far too often tend to see obstacles as opposed to opportunities, and the same with management.
Personally, I don’t apply for jobs. I talk to people about their organizations and if I see a niche for myself, I’ll talk about my experience in the field. One job tends to lead to another job. It’s those connections that will lead you to the next step in your career.
Learn how you can open doors to diversify your workforce. Join the Maryland Chamber of Commerce for our Human Resource Advisory Group meeting on April 11 to learn more about how you can address a range of topics in the Human Resources field, including overtime pay and jurisdiction, sexual harassment policies and legislation, labor relations regulations, and risk management.