When companies or federal or state agencies ask me what to do to celebrate National Disability Employment Awareness Month, I tell them one thing – hire someone.  Nothing, and I mean nothing, means more than employing a person with a disability to make the celebration “real.” The competitive employment of people with disabilities changes lives; employment provides freedom and dignity.

For the month of October, I am celebrating disability employment by having some of our Bender ambassadors, the talented people with disabilities we have aligned with career opportunities, talk about how competitive employment changed their lives and how important it is to them. People with disabilities are grateful for competitive employment and value work. I hope their own testimony will help you realize why you need to make employing people with disabilities an ongoing part of your commitment to including diverse employees in your workforce.

Remember, when you hire a person with a disability it is not about charity—it is a good business decision.

The first of my guest bloggers is Mike Stafford. We worked with Mike to align him with a job opportunity with a great partner of mine, Cigna. We have worked with Cigna to provide support to their talent pipeline of people with disabilities in technology careers under the leadership of Mark Boxer. We have met with many wonderful people at Cigna who are committed to the inclusion of people with disabilities.

I have known Mike for close to a decade now and have watched him grow over the years, both professionally and personally. Mike is one of the nicest, most genuine people I have worked with over the years. It is employees like Mike who make a difference, every day, in the workforce. I am so proud of him and look forward to continuing to celebrate Mike’s successes in the years to come!

A Leap of Faith

By Mike Stafford

After I graduated from college I did not know what to expect.  My father had me send out hand signed letters to employers and staffing agencies in the hopes that I would stand out.  After sending out the letters I received numerous responses, but I was having trouble getting hired.  One afternoon a company called saying that they hired programmers with disabilities and they asked if I had a disability.  I said no right away and I thanked them for the phone call.  I was sure that disclosing that information would lead to a bad outcome. 

The truth was I did have a disability that I managed each day.  It began in college and was so overpowering some days that I could not imagine my life ever being a success.  I was eating lunch with my father later that week and I told him that I had received this call from a consulting firm that recruited people with disabilities.  I told him that I had hung up, and he said that I should have reached out to the company.  He said that it sounded like the people may be able to help. 

Like any good recruitment agency, I got another call from a different recruiter at Bender.  They again asked me if I had a disability and I told them about what had happened to me.  I took a leap of faith.  From that moment onward my life changed in a way that I would never have expected.  I was hired on as a contractor to a large company.  I had my dream job as a developer.  I have been working in IT ever since and I cannot begin to tell you how great my life has become.  Bender is much more than a company.  Bender is in a way a movement for people with disabilities.  The people that I have met and the friends that I have made at Bender go with me in spirit, every day when I walk into the office.  My disability is a psychiatric disability and if you met me you would have no idea that I live with a disability.  Just because you can’t see my disability, it doesn’t mean it isn’t there or that it has less impact on my life - the truth is that it impacts every part of my life. 

Bender has given me a chance to face life and has opened up doors all along the way.  The company I work for is aware of my disability.  In fact, that is one reason why they hired me through Bender Consulting Services.  My disability is not an issue at work.  Cigna, believes in inclusion and as a result, my working environment is positive and supportive.  It is everything that I thought would not result, when I disclosed that I had a disability all those years ago when Bender first called. 

I have been working in IT for nine years.  The people from Bender are still a part of my life.  I see them as much as I can even though I have a new job in a different state.  I have met some of the most amazing people along the way.  On a daily basis I remind myself how lucky I am.  Being a person with a disability and working in an environment that believes in inclusion has made me a very happy person.  I no longer feel the need to hide my disability; instead I have become an advocate for others living with the stigma of having a mental health disability.

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