Joyce Bender speaking at the Disability:IN conference

Disability Pride Month in Review

This July, as the nation celebrated the 33rd anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act, I celebrated the entire month beginning with my first ever Disability Pride tree in the Bender office.  The topper was a replica of Justin Dart’s hat with photos of disability rights leaders as ornaments!

Every July, I dedicate my radio show, Disability Matters with Joyce Bender, to celebrating Disability Pride by having disability rights leaders as guests. I kicked off the month by replaying one of Judy Heumann’s episodes discussing her book, Being Heumann. What a phenomenal show and a phenomenal woman. Judy wasn’t just the mother of the disability rights movement to me; she was a friend and confidant in the fight for disability inclusion and equity around the world. I will always honor Judy and remember her contributions and her tireless efforts to make a difference in the lives of others with disabilities and to advance disability rights.

I also had live broadcasts with leaders of the disability community and inclusive employers including  Theo Braddy and Mick Malec. Check out all of my July Disability Matters shows including the weekly news updates with Peri Jude Radecic from Disability Rights PA. After broadcasting for 20 years, on Voice America, it is amazing to reflect on all of the past guests who have joined me to celebrate Disability Pride. I am proud to be one of the longest running shows on Tacy Trump, my executive producer, has been with me from the beginning of the show and is a fantastic person who is dedicated to my work. Also, the shows are all open captioned for all of my brothers and sisters in the Deaf community. The captioning has been provided by a Disability-Owned Business Enterprise (DOBE), Caption First, for the past 20 years. Pat Graves, the CEO and founder, is wonderful.

Then it was a trip to Florida for the Disability:IN conference where I was a guest speaker on a panel to discuss the importance of sharing your story as a DOBE. The panel shared perspectives on how to better sell your business and get the contract signed! We spoke to over one hundred people.

As I told my close friend, Jill Houghton, the CEO of Disability:IN, the conference was one of the best I have attended since the beginning of Disability:IN. As the first registered DOBE, I have attended almost every Disability:IN conference and was still amazed by how much the conference has grown from only a few hundred people to 2,500 people at the conference and another 2,000 online! For me, personally, the greatest moment is when I honored Darlene Fuller, executive from Sodexo, with the Mary Brougher Supplier Diversity Advocate of the Year award. This is always an emotional moment for me, but so rewarding.

I had so many conversations with companies who want to invest in talent from the disability community and am excited to see the impact throughout the rest of 2023. Remember, every hire matters and every hire makes a difference in the lives of people with disabilities! And as I tell all the procurement and HR executives at the conference, remember to “Sign Contract.”

Then it was a rush back to Pittsburgh where we had a week of meetings ending in one of my favorite events of the year, the Epilepsy Association of Western and Central Pennsylvania (EAWCP) Family Fun Run/Walk. As a woman living with epilepsy, I am so proud to serve as the Chair of the Board of EAWCP.   Team Bender and 1,000 other walkers joined me at PNC Park, home of my favorite team, the Pittsburgh Pirates, to raise funds and create awareness for people living with epilepsy. The CEO of EAWCP, Peggy Beem Jelley, is a great disability rights leader for all of us living with epilepsy. In addition, we had Mike Clark, co-anchor from WTAE, and Jimmy Krenn, legendary radio host, with me to present scholarship awards to young people living with epilepsy and then kick off the walk.

After that, I was off to DC for ADA week to celebrate the signing of the ADA. I participated in the Leadership Roundtable luncheon and attended the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) ADA Gala. This was a great night as we celebrated the 33rd anniversary of the ADA and saw many of our friends and colleagues in person for the first-time post COVID. Spending time with friends like Karen Tamley, President and CEO of Access Living, Kelly Buckland, Disability Policy Advisor, Department of Transportation, and AAPD’s great CEO, Maria Town was a gift. It was amazing to hear Congressman Steny Hoyer, Senator Tammy Duckworth, and Secretary Pete Buttigieg speak to the crowd. What it made it even more special was having Vice President Kamala Harris kick off the night.

We have made progress since the ADA was signed in 1990, but we still have a long way to go to see the needle move in the employment of people with disabilities and realize true equity in this country. I will never stop fighting for freedom through competitive employment for all Americans with disabilities.  As I always say, “We need paychecks, not pity.”