Starting a Crusade:
From Advocate to Entrepreneur

People in image (from left to right): Mary Brougher: President, Joyce Bender: Founder and CEO, Paula Ballog: CTO
From left: Mary Brougher, Joyce Bender, and Paula Ballog

One Seizure Changed Everything​. Bender Consulting Services, Inc. was founded in 1995, but its story began in a movie theater near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 1985. ​The movie was Amadeus, a biographical drama that told the story of famous composer, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. ​During the intermission of the nearly three-hour movie, Joyce experienced a life-threatening accident as a result of a seizure. The incident caused a cerebral hemorrhage that required subsequent brain surgery. ​This one seizure changed everything. Joyce, an executive search professional, would be drawn into the world of disability and become a passionate advocate for disability rights.​

With nearly a decade of experience placing technology professionals throughout the Pittsburgh region, Joyce knew what employers looked for when selecting talent to fill their open jobs. Joyce was asked to share her expertise with a group of people with disabilities studying for careers in technology through a specialized program at a local community college. ​

Impressed with the skills and energy of this group, Joyce began to mentor and provide career guidance to the students. In 1988, Joyce placed Jim Homme with a local employer pro bono. Her first placement of a person with a disability. ​

Her volunteer experience in this area led to growing awareness of the employment barriers for people with disabilities throughout the country, leading to a passion for helping people with disabilities and the founding of Bender Consulting Services. ​

By Joyce’s side, were founding leaders of Bender Consulting Services, Mary Brougher and Paula Ballog.​

Mary Brougher: A Life Lived with Purpose

Mary Brougher joined the Bender Family in 1994. ​

Throughout the years, Mary has been instrumental in applying project, data, and operations management principles to the organization, as well as shaping the social mission and culture of the organization. In her role as President, Mary oversaw Bender’s product lines, corporate operations and customer and community engagement. ​

Some of the brands that Mary sculpted within the organization include HighTest, iDisability and iMindCafe. Mary also worked with many prestigious organizations to build disability diversity, equity and inclusion strategy.​

A person living with a mental health disability, Mary became a disability leader in her own right, working tirelessly alongside Joyce to break down barriers to inclusion for people with disabilities. ​

Among Mary’s achievements include: ​

  • Traveling the world with Joyce on behalf of the U.S. State Department. Mary participated in information exchanges on the employment and inclusion of people with disabilities with countries including South Korea, Japan, Panama, Kazakhstan, and Argentina.​
  • Mary was a past-chair of the Pennsylvania Rehabilitation Council which focused on informing and advising the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation, the Legislature, and the Governor on the diverse issues affecting employment of people with disabilities. ​
  • She served as the project director of the Collaborative on Accessible Workplace Technologies, a Department of Labor initiative focused on developing and communicating effective practices for employing people with disabilities, as well as creating accessible workplace technology policies and practices. ​
  • Mary served as a member of the Disability Equality Index (DEI) Advisory Committee with Disability:IN and American Association of People with Disabilities. The DEI is a forward-thinking tool that allows companies to assess their disability diversity inclusion and engagement practices. This approach has been heralded as an opportunity for businesses to become known as best in class for disability employment.
Joyce Bender, Yoshiko Dart, Mary Brougher

A Legacy of Hope

Mary mentored hundreds of people, with and without disabilities, throughout her career. ​

She served as a founding board member of Bender Leadership Academy. Mary was a strong believer in empowering and mentoring young people with disabilities. She served as a mentor for the Disability:IN Next Gen Leadership Program and is a 2016 Susan Daniels Disability Mentoring Hall of Fame inductee. ​Bender Leadership Academy formed the Mary Brougher Mental Health Initiative to honor and continue Mary’s work in advocating for young people living with mental health disabilities.

In addition, she provided guidance and expertise in the areas of disability employment and inclusion for a variety of organizations that service the disability community.

Her passion for making a difference and educating others is interwoven into the foundation of all of Bender’s programs, partnerships and products.