On July 22, 2003, IBM was honored with awards for "Accessibility", "Employment" and "Organization in a Supporting Role" at the inaugural New Freedom Awards ceremony held in the Chicago Navy Pier's sold-out grand ballroom. More than 40 organizations collaborated to acknowledge the individuals and organizations for their work and commitment in creating new freedoms for the over 54 million Americans with disabilities.
On February 1, 2001, President Bush announced the New Freedom Initiative as part of a nationwide effort to remove barriers to community living for people with disabilities.
The idea for the New Freedom Awards came from Jim Mullen after he was invited to the White House for the announcement of the New Freedom Initiative. After a tragic accident left him a quadriplegic, Jim knew that his life would be significantly impacted by this initiative. In 2002, the Jim Mullen Foundation launched the New Freedom Awards project to recognize and inspire the people and organizations that make new freedoms for people with disabilities possible.
The New Freedom Awards initiative generated over 250 nominations for the 19 standard award categories. Athletes like Chicago Bulls star Bob Love and NFL legends Mike Ditka and Jim McMahon showed up to support the event. Actress Marlee Matlin presented the last award.
IBM led the pack with the most awards won:
- Best New Freedom Accessibility Award - Salutes the organization whose efforts have had the most profound effect on creating breakthroughs in accessibility for people with disabilities
- Best New Freedom Employment Award - Recognizes the organization with the most extraordinary efforts towards providing employment for people who have a disability
- Best New Freedom Organization In A Supporting Role Award - Acknowledges the organization that provides the most outstanding support to another organization engaged in generating new freedoms for people with disabilities
All three awards were accepted by IBM Vice President of Governmental Programs, Chris Caine. The New Freedom Awards far exceeded its founder's expectations with over 700 people in attendance and an all-star cast of presenters. With their first successful year behind them, the Jim Mullen Foundation is looking forward to making this event recognized nationally by next year, and is considering the White House as the next venue.