Paul Rendine
Connellsville Daily Courier
December 24, 2004

I love a good Christmas story and, since this is still the Christmas season, here's another one to add to the collection. It's even a true story, as well.

In 1985, Joyce Bender survived a life-threatening accident caused by a misdiagnosis of epilepsy. Due to her own personal experience of living with epilepsy and a hearing disability, Bender decided to do something about both, while doing her best to help other

individuals with disabilities in the process, by working to create as many competitive employment opportunities as possible for people with disabilities.

What developed from this desire was the founding of Bender Consulting Services, Inc. in 1995, followed by the formation of Bender Consulting Services of Canada, Inc. in 2001. Both work from Bender's personal philosophy that "people with disabilities will not have freedom and independence until they have employment." She also believes passionately that this should be the most important issue among all of today's disability advocates, as well.

According to Bender, people with disabilities are not only the largest minority group in America numbering well above 50 million, they also want to, are ready to, and are usually qualified to go to work. She also adds that many people with disabilities are well educated, in many cases because they couldn't find a job and, therefore, remained at colleges and universities and continued to get advanced degrees.

Bender then poses the rhetorical question: "If this is the case, then why is there such a high unemployment rate among people with disabilities?"

Her answer is quite simple: "Ignorance and misconceptions on the part of the business community and its leaders is the main problem."

In an article in the Fall 2004 issue of "AAPD News", Bender adds that, "All too often, the business community views hiring people with disabilities as a 'charitable decision,' and not a smart business decision, or they see people with disabilities as a group of 'sick people.' "Too few businesses," she continues, "include people with disabilities in their diversity planning even though we are the largest group out there and we cross all boundaries. People with disabilities are the largest diverse group in America themselves.

Now, here comes the Christmas story part. Despite being a person with a disability herself, Bender has still begun two very successful businesses, both of which exclusively devote their efforts to creating employment opportunities for people with disabilities. Because of her work, she is now the most recent recipient of the Bush Administration's "New Freedom Initiative Award" for her efforts in furthering the employment and empowerment of people with disabilities.

Her award is even more significant when one recalls that Bender is, herself, disabled with epilepsy. As such, she also volunteers her time by serving on the board of the national Epilepsy Foundation, the Epilepsy Foundation of Western and Central Pennsylvania, the Central Blood Bank, and the Pittsburgh Disability Employment Project for Freedom.

She has also been featured in various periodicals including the "Reader's Digest", "Investors Business Daily", the "Pittsburgh Post-Gazette", and the "Chicago Tribune". Bender also holds her BS degree in Psychology from Geneva College, and, notwithstanding all of her other projects, still finds time to host a talk-radio show, "Disability Matters with Joyce Bender."

Bender is almost the ideal "stereotype" for someone who has overcome her own disability, while using her talents to make life better for other people with disabilities who are not quite as single-minded, perseverant, and driven as she is. All of these things, together, have gone to make quite a Christmas story, and a story with two parts, as well.

In the first story, Bender overcomes her own disability, while, in the second story, she goes a "country mile further" by developing two businesses that have helped to dramatically increase job opportunities and the actual hiring of people with disabilities, too. What more can you ask for? We hope that you continue to have a wonderful holiday season and a happy and prosperous New Year!