Joyce Bender is on a crusade, championing companies across the country to join her by putting the disabled to work.
"It's a civil rights issue to me," says Bender, the founder and CEO of Bender Consulting Services
, a Robinson-based firm that recruits and hires people with disabilities for jobs in the public and private sector.
Bender began her career in 1979 as a search consultant only to have her life changed forever by a life-threatening accident. She was stricken suddenly by a seizure, due to epilepsy, that required subsequent brain surgery. The accident left her with a 60 percent hearing loss and epilepsy.
It was a profound experience that inspired within her a passionate understanding of the challenges faced by those with disabilities who want to work to provide for themselves and their families.
Shortly after she returned to work, Bender learned of a technical program that trains people with disabilities to be software developers, an idea that resonated with her. "I didn't realize there was such a strong attitude and barrier in America in hiring people with disabilities," she says.
She founded Bender Consulting Services in 1995 and began working to train and place the disabled in good jobs. It was an uphill battle until she connected with two supportive corporate clients in Pittsburgh, Bayer and Highmark. Today Bender's firm places the disabled in both private and public sector jobs.
Two former presidents (Clinton and Bush) have recognized Bender's work and she works closely with the Obama administration today, placing the disabled in jobs in 19 states and Canada. Bender is the chair of the American Board of People with Disabilities, has received many awards and has served on numerous boards and civic organizations including the Epilepsy Foundation of Western and Central Pa., the Center for Victims of Violence and Crime and the Homeless Children's Education Fund.
"I am the lone ranger when it comes to people who are doing this across the country who are for-profit and only hire people with disabilities," she says. "In all these years, only 2% of the people that I have hired for companies have left. When you give a person with a disability a chance, someone who has been excluded, the loyalty and gratitude is incalculable."
Bender has a "real-time captioned" radio talk show, "Disability Matters
," every Tuesday.
-- by Debra Smit