Pittsburg resident Joyce Bender established her career as an executive search professional. Eventually, following a health scare and disability diagnosis, she found her niche within the field: disability employee recruitment.
Bender tells AmeriDisabiliy Services that, in her 20s, her family physician misdiagnosed, or rather dismissed, her fainting spells. On a life-changing evening in 1985, while at a movie theatre with her husband, she had a seizure. “I hit the floor so hard that I fractured my skull and had an intracranial brain hemorrhage, dislodged bones in right inner ear (which is why I also have 70 percent hearing loss on right side) and was rushed to the hospital for life-saving brain surgery,” Bender recalls. She was diagnosed with epilepsy, the fourth most common neurological disorder which causes unpredictable seizures, and she began an appropriate medication regime.
According to the Epilepsy Foundation, 65 million people around the world have epilepsy, including 3.4 million in the United States alone. That means more people live with epilepsy than with autism spectrum disorders, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis and cerebral palsy combined. “1-in-26 people in the U.S. will develop epilepsy in their lifetime,” Bender states, adding, “The problem is that it’s frequently misdiagnosed by general practitioners.” Perhaps that’s because epilepsy includes a wide range of seizure types, some of which have milder characters ─ as with absence seizures where a person displays rapid blinking or stares off for a few seconds, versus tonic-clonic seizures (also called grand mal seizures) which can result in loss of consciousness and muscle spasms. Consequently, Bender encourages people to seek second opinions when needed and, ideally with a neurologist who specializes in epilepsy.
Following her self-described miraculous recovery, Bender returned to work and also started volunteering with various disability-focused programs. She says she quickly recognized that “stigma is the reason people with disabilities are not getting hired” and, so, she shifted her skills toward the disability community. In 1995, she founded Bender Consulting Services, Inc., a for-profit company specializing in the “recruitment, hiring and workplace mentoring of individuals with disabilities, disability employment strategy and training and accessible technology solutions.” Bender says the business took off thanks to one of her existing clients, Highmark, a health insurance company, that agreed to partner by working with talented individuals with disabilities. Today, many other public and private sector employers across the country align with Bender Consulting ─ such as Bayer Corporation, Cigna, PNC Financial Services and even federal agencies ─to place qualified individuals with disabilities in fields like information technology, finance/accounting, engineering, human resources, mathematics, biology and so on.
Bender Consulting works on behalf of corporations/agencies rather than directly for the job seeker. Yet, that equates to two very important things: (1) Bender Consulting is able to connect qualified employees with companies that specifically want to improve disability recruitment initiatives and hire individuals with disabilities; and (2) service fees are absorbed by the hiring companies and, therefore, of no cost to job seekers. Bender’s efforts have been highly regarded worldwide. In 1999, President Bill Clinton awarded Bender with the President’s Award, America’s highest honor for achievement in furthering the employment and empowerment of people with disabilities.
“You cannot live the ‘American Dream’ until you have employment. I get frustrated when I hear people questioning where to find talent. People with disabilities are an untapped labor pool. I want to remind employers that,” Bender declares. Aside from striving to increase employment opportunities, Bender Consulting, in partnership with No Barriers Media, launched iDisability, training software that “educates organizations and ensures employees have the foundations required to: effectively communicate with, interview, hire, accommodate and engage people with disabilities in the workforce; build and implement an effective and measurable strategic approach to disability inclusion across the enterprise; and remain abreast of emerging and evolving strategies for disability inclusion and engagement.”
Bender Consulting Services has created employment opportunities for over 1,000 individuals, of which about 20 percent are disabled veterans. To explore job openings, submit a resume or connect with a Bender Consulting team member, visit BenderConsult.com. You can also connect with Ms. Bender on her weekly radio program, Disability Matters, available online on the VoiceAmericaChannel every Tuesday from 2-3 pm EST.