How Bender Celebrated National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM)

As NDEAM concludes, I want to take a moment to reflect on all of the awesome activities we participated in this month to promote the inclusion of people with disabilities.

We kicked off the month at the White House where President Biden took a selfie with me. It was awesome to be with so many disability community giants as we celebrated the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act. It is so critical to reflect on how far we have come, without losing sight of the work ahead of us. We must remain vigilant of our civil rights and continue the work of those like Justin Dart, Jr., Judy Heumann, Ed Roberts, Marca Bristo, Tom Harkin, and Tony Coelho. Read the President’s NDEAM Speech.

This first week of October also marked the annual Job Fair at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf (NTID). Our Manager of Talent Acquisition, Gerald Homme, represented Bender Consulting Services in Rochester where he met so many talented students and provided input as a member of the advisory committee for NTID. NTID is one of the colleges within the Rochester Institute of Technology and serves over 1,000 deaf and hard of hearing students. It is considered one of the most accessible colleges for students who are deaf and hard of hearing. Bender’s work with NTID has spanned over two decades, and we continue to look forward to receiving applicants from NTID alumni.

The following week, I was back in DC, where I met for dinner with our Bender Advisory Board, chaired by Tony Coelho, author of the ADA and attended the Bazelon Center Awards Gala. I am so proud to be a member of the Bazelon Center’s board of directors. At the event we welcomed the new legal director for Bazelon, Megan Schuller, and celebrated the contributions and mentorship of Ira Burnim, senior counsel, who has served as the legal director for 30+ years. Some of the special guests at the gala included 2x Grammy Nominee and jazz singer/songwriter Raul Midón, Al Hunt, the co-host of Politics War Room and a former columnist for The Wall Street Journal, Kristen Welker, American television journalist with NBC News and Host of Meet the Press, and of course I cannot forget, Judy Woodruff, senior correspondent and former anchor and managing editor of PBS NewsHour.

Then it was a dash back to Pittsburgh to attend the Variety, The Children’s Charity gala on Friday night. It was bittersweet as Charlie LaValle, who recently retired as CEO (Chief Excitement Officer), was presented with an award commemorating his years of experience. Under Charlie’s leadership, Variety started the My Bike, My Stroller, and My Voice programs which have presented children with disabilities with adaptive equipment to create inclusive play and communication. The event also honored Deb Rice-Johnson, CEO of Diversified Businesses for Highmark Inc., and Chief Growth Officer, with the 2023 Catherine Variety Sheridan Humanitarian award.

Then on Monday we presented the first ever Bender Consulting Services Technology Champion Award to Michael “Mick” Malec, Enterprise Technology and Operations Officer at Highmark Health and CEO of enGen. Our new award honors leaders who demonstrate an outstanding commitment to advancing competitive employment for people with disabilities within science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) career fields. I can’t imagine anyone more deserving of this award than Mick, who has done so much to help me break down barriers to employment for people with disabilities. It is no wonder that he was honored with a proclamation from Lt. Governor, Austin Davis, and Allegheny County Executive, Rich Fitzgerald. Additionally, Michelle Walker and Zeke Rediker presented from the Mayor’s Office on Disability a proclamation naming it Mick Malec Day in Pittsburgh. Remember October 16th as Mick Malec Day, and help me to celebrate his contribution in years to come.

Later that night we continued to celebrate at the annual Disability Mentoring Day Reception at Heinz History Center with the Bender Leadership Academy. This reception honors the commitment of the Pittsburgh community in continuing to deliver mentoring programming in partnership with the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) in celebration of Disability Mentoring Day (DMD). Among our guest speakers were Maria Town, CEO of AAPD, Rich Fitzgerald, Executive Director of Allegheny County, keynote speaker, I. King Jordan, the first Deaf President at Gallaudet University, and others who supported Disability Mentoring Day. As usual one of the highlights was hearing the stories of young people with disabilities who have been impacted through programming at the Bender Leadership Academy. On Wednesday, we celebrated Disability Mentoring Day at Bender Consulting Services by hosting students with disabilities virtually to explore the world of work. Learn more about Pittsburgh’s Disability Mentoring Day.

Bender Consulting and Bender Leadership Academy also participated in the Homeless Children’s Education Fund (HCEF) sponsor reception in preparation for the HCEF 2024 Silver Jubilee scheduled for June 1st, 2024. At the Jubilee, HCEF honors champions local to the Pittsburgh region who work to improve the lives of children in our community. HCEF works to educate children and youth who are homeless through a variety of programs designed to provide a foundation for their futures. In addition to October being NDEAM, it is also Homeless Children’s Awareness Month.

Over the course of the month, I conducted multiple trainings and participated in conversations about the inclusion of people with disabilities in the workforce, including Disability Equity and Inclusion Training with SCI and Rise and Thrive: Disability Employment Awareness Training with Sodexo. Later in the month I participated in Changemakers: Conversation with Disability Champions with Forte as a part of a panel discussing disability employment equity, intersectionality, advocacy, and empowerment.

After that, we held a Bender Leadership Academy Board of Directors Meeting where we discussed delivery of programming to high school students with disabilities to support career success. It is critical that we provide resources to our youth with disabilities so that they can become business leaders, advocates, and champions of the future. After years of volunteering to teach high school students with disabilities about the world of work, hearing their stories of discrimination and bullying in their schools, and watching them grow under the guidance and investment of our team, I founded Bender Leadership Academy in 2018. Since then, our programming has continued to grow, and we are so thankful to all of our partners helping to make a difference for high school students with disabilities. These foundational opportunities prepare these students to be competitive in the job market. I am so proud of our staff and, of course, our amazing students and alumni.

In conclusion, I want to remind my audience that while we celebrate awareness in October, disability employment matters all year round. People with disabilities have the skills and the qualifications to fill your mission critical roles. Don’t miss out on the talent to be found in our community. Contact us today to find out how we can connect you to people with disabilities.