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AFB  ®
Technology News for People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired
From the American Foundation for the Blind
 November 2011 Issue  Volume 12  Number 11

Interviews

Recruiting Workers with Disabilities: A Profile of Joyce Bender, Owner of Bender Consulting Services

In 1985, while walking to the concessions stand at a Pittsburgh movie theater, Joyce Bender had another in a series of fainting spells that had yet to be properly diagnosed by her physicians. This time she fractured her skull, damaged her ear, and wound up in intensive care after brain surgery. Bender came out of the hospital with a diagnosis of epilepsy and a permanent loss of 60 percent of her hearing in her damaged ear.

Some time after recovering from her injuries and returning to her job as an executive search professional, Bender got a call that led her to think more about the connection between her job and the population of disabled Americans of which she had recently become a member.

After doing some research, Bender found that the Institute of Advanced Technology in Pittsburgh had a number of qualified alumni with disabilities who were unable to find jobs. At that point, Bender shifted her professional focus to trolling the enormous pool of talented job seekers with disabilities and matching them to employers. In 1995, after many successful placements, she formed Bender Consulting Services, Inc., a for-profit company committed solely to matching employers with job seekers who happen to have disabilities. Bender has never looked back.

How Bender Consulting Works

I caught up with Joyce Bender when she was in Montreal, developing opportunities for the company's Canadian division. She is passionately committed to promoting the abilities of workers with disabilities, but she is also an extremely savvy businesswoman. Before forming Bender Consulting she had 16 years of recruiting work under her belt, so she knows what works: properly screen résumés, thoroughly interview candidates, and match applicants appropriately with work to be done, and you will have satisfied customers. Those customers, of course, are employers—and Bender has steadily worked her way to an impressive track record for customer satisfaction.

The primary obstacle to employment for people with disabilities is often simply finding an employer willing to take the risk. Bender Consulting eliminates some of that risk by becoming the new hire's employer for a six-month period, during which the employer can see how the employee performs. During those six months, the employee is on Bender Consulting's payroll and can take advantage of Bender's excellent benefits package. If the partnering company is satisfied with the worker's performance after this trial period, they then formally hire them into the position. To date, 90 percent of Bender's placements have made that transition.

Business was painfully slow in the early years, Bender told me, but really began to take off in 2002. Early companies to partner with Bender Consulting were Blue Cross of Western Pennsylvania and Bayer Corp.

While Bender is passionate about her work, she stresses the company philosophy of "no pity." She uses the same methods that work for recruiting and placement among nondisabled workers to successfully place talented workers with disabilities in the fields of technology, engineering, finance, human resources, and communications. "I have staff who are making calls 24/7 to universities, agencies—anywhere where talented workers with disabilities might be found," she explained, and has consequently established a database of some 15,000 applicants. The company now has a presence in 19 states and two Canadian provinces.

Bender Consulting: Recruiting for the Federal Government

On the heels of President Obama's 2010 commitment to make the Federal government a model employer with regard to people with disabilities, Bender Consulting landed a contract with the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. Unlike the partnerships with private sector companies—where Bender is paid in relation to work produced by the matched employee—the Office of Personnel Management pays Bender up front. Under the contract, Bender Consulting receives a quarterly stipend and, in turn, presents 50 qualified workers with disabilities each month as viable candidates for government hire. This means that the vacancies in every governmental department and agency offer possibilities for Bender's growing pool of talent, and that Bender Consulting brought 600 qualified workers with disabilities before the Federal government for consideration last year.

The Bender Employees

I first heard of Bender Consulting Services Inc. in 1998, when I met Michael Gravitt, a blind software developer who had been hired by Bender to work for the Bayer Corporation in Pittsburgh. In a tale all too rare among blind college students, Gravitt had attended a Washington DC area job fair shortly before graduation. The first table he visited was Bender Consulting and the upshot was a job offer before he received his diploma. Thirteen years later, Gravitt is still working in information technology at Bayer and still loves his job. In Gravitt's case, he remains an employee of Bender Consulting, so that he can serve as a Bender account manager, interviewing new applicants and mentoring new hires, in addition to his duties at Bayer. "The benefits are outstanding," Gravitt says, "and I love being part of both Bayer and Bender Consulting."

When Joyce Bender was asked about the range of disabilities in the Bender employee pool, she said: "We've worked with people representing every type of disability—people who use wheelchairs, deaf, blind, a few with intellectual disabilities." She estimates that five to eight percent of the placements she's made are people who are blind or have low vision.

Beyond the Recruitment Process

Joyce Bender has done a great deal to establish a niche for herself and her company in the disability field. A frequent speaker on disability and employment issues, she has been the host of an Internet radio program, "Disability Matters," for eight years now. Featuring interviews with people from all sectors of the disability arena, the program can be heard Tuesday afternoons at 2 pm Eastern on VoiceAmerica. Bender has also served as Chair of the National Epilepsy Foundation and was recently elected Chair of the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD). In the latter role, she has prioritized two major issues for the Association to tackle: employment and bullying.

Bender Consulting Services is for-profit for two reasons, Bender told me. The first reason, she said, is to provide excellent healthcare benefits to her employees. The second is to support the "no pity" position. "Pity is the ruination of people with disabilities gaining employment," Bender said. "When you pity someone, you're saying, 'I feel sorry for you …but I'm not going to hire you.'"

One major obstacle encountered by job seekers with disabilities, Bender said, is that of unemployment itself. Employers often say that they won't hire someone who is not currently employed. Bayer, a major champion of Bender Consulting and the hiring of workers with disabilities, has approached Bender with, as she puts it, "a brilliant idea": Bayer will employ qualified applicants with disabilities for one year, thus providing that holy grail of current employment that is so often the missing piece. Bender believes it will result in the successful launch of many more careers.

Joyce Bender has demonstrated without doubt that hiring qualified people with disabilities is undeniably good business—good for Bender Consulting, good for the partnering companies, and good for the job seekers who are finding careers through this niche recruiting firm.

For information regarding job opportunities and résumé submissions, visit Bender Consulting Services Inc., or call (412) 787-8567.

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