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Top Woman in Business Dedicates Her Career to Disability Inclusion


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In late 2023, Melmark Inc. President and CEO Rita M. Gardner was named among The Women’s Edge’s list of the Top 100 Women-Led Businesses in Massachusetts for the sixth consecutive year. The list includes 100 female power players from across the state of Massachusetts who generated more than $84 billion in total revenue in 2022, demonstrating that women are key drivers of the state’s economy.

But this business owner is more than just a powerful woman in the business sphere; she is using her authority to make a difference for those on the autism spectrum and those with intellectual disabilities.

Gardner leads Melmark’s almost $110-million multi-state operations across all its divisions. Melmark’s programs include premier private special education schools, adult programs, professional development, training and research centers. The organization’s clinically sophisticated, evidence-based programs serve individuals with the diagnosis of autism spectrum disorders, acquired brain injuries, medical fragility and severe challenging behaviors. Melmark is implementing 100% enrollment expansion in their day schools across their three state divisions.

Gardner, the co-founder of Melmark New England and Melmark Carolinas, is an accomplished legislative advocate, and her work has helped hundreds access their rights to free and appropriate public education (FAPE) and increase access to sophisticated services for individuals diagnosed with autism throughout the United States.

One of her most notable accomplishments as an advocate is her work analyzing pay equity in human services, and she is actively working to reduce the wage gap direct support professionals face in direct services.

In addition, Gardner serves on advisory committees with the Massachusetts Advocates for Children (MAC) and Advocates for Autism of Massachusetts (AFAM). She is a founding board member of the National Council of Autism Providers (CASP) and serves as vice chair. Gardner also serves on the Advisory Board of the Virginia Institute of Autism and is a Pennsylvania Advocacy and Resources for Autism and Intellectual Disability (PAR) board member. She has served as an appointed member of the Governor’s Autism Commission in Massachusetts and recently received an honorable mention from the Association of Developmental Disabilities Providers for her work focused on diversity, equity and inclusion.

“At Melmark, we serve a vulnerable population and believe that our work and our advocacy is not just a job, but a responsibility to make a positive social impact on the lives of those we serve,” Gardner stated in a press release. “We believe that everyone deserves access to quality education, care and support, regardless of their abilities or challenges. I am proud to lead this work alongside my highly skilled colleagues across all of Melmark’s state divisions.”

Explore more articles for the DIVERSEability Community here.

The post Top Woman in Business Dedicates Her Career to Disability Inclusion appeared first on DiversityComm.



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