By Contributing Editor Pamela Miller
“It’s the secondary losses that are the most painful, maybe because I didn’t see them coming,” explained James Murtha, Ware·ologie’s Chief Innovation Officer. Like when he graduated with a masters in social work and spent a year looking for employment, only to be turned away again and again. “That’s part of why I’m so excited to be a part of Ware·ologie and Buttons 2 Button. We do and will continue to employ people who are disabled because they are still smart, creative, hard-working people. In some cases, working harder to work against prejudice.
In October 2014, James had a mountain bike accident in Snowmass Village Colorado, leaving him paralyzed, with minimal use of his hands. He began working with Gina just a couple of years ago, offering his perspective to her magnetic buttons idea and sharing the hacks he has created for life since 2014, retrofitting his surroundings with self-made accommodations.
Just recently, James was able to move into his own apartment and live independently. Prior to that he went through a lot of roommate turnover, as some were more willing to assist him with daily living activities. But, now he’s happy to be on his own, with a regularly scheduled caregiver who comes in for regular daily care.
Today his plate is more than full. James, an MSW Therapist, is a RAISE Advisory Council member who focuses on the needs of caregivers, and holds a seat on a policy advocacy board for those dealing with disabilities.
James is a member of the policy advocacy regional champions group for the Christopher and Dana Reeves’ Foundation. He attends regular meetings and acts as a liaison to state representatives and senators to raise awareness of the issues relating to spinal cord disabilities on Capitol Hill.
Most recently, James has accepted a seat as an advisory council member to the Secretary of Health and Human Services administration on community living. In 2018, the RAISE family caregiver act was passed to create initiatives to support family members in taking care of people with disabilities and/or the elderly. the RAISE Act also directed the establishment of the Family Caregiving Advisory Council. The council is charged with providing recommendations to the Secretary of Health and Human Services on effective models of both family caregiving and support to family caregivers, as well as improving coordination across federal government programs.
Since those days when he gave feedback to Gina on her first mock-up product, James has had passion for Ware·ologie and the promise it holds to not only help patients and caregivers get time back and assist in the process of dressing and undressing, but in regards to raising awareness of spinal cord injuries, Parkinson’s Disease, and other obstacles and struggles that the disabled and elderly face on a daily basis. James is an officer within the organization and also an equity partner. Not a bad vantage point, at all.
“It’s been an incredible experience to be a part of a social entrepreneurship venture to restore independence to people living with disabilities. Disability impacts me directly and bettering the situation for myself and others is something that I have a passion for. Going into this experience, I had zero former business training aside from a business 101 class I took in undergrad and a Ross business school MBA class about leadership I took as an elective while I was getting my MSW at the University of Michigan school of social work. Hence, my time working with Gina has been my own case study/trial by fire MBA education.
Aside from the business and life lessons I am learning and aside from the prototypes I received, the connections I’ve made, and several free meals from Gina, I have not earned a salary or any monetary compensation for my work in the business up to this point. I do it, though, because I believe wholeheartedly in what we are doing and want to see the magnetic button adapters brought to the masses because I believe it will make a difference.
One of my additional hopes, in fact it is a united goal of all of us working for Ware·ologie, is that we will be able to bring in more workers who have disabilities. I feel they will bring the same innovation, passion, and drive that I have given. It’s not to say that able-bodied people won’t give the same blood, sweat, and tears that people with disabilities would but I feel that such people with disabilities have a lot to offer and are more likely to go all in, as I have.”