After diving into shallow water as a young girl, Tada was rendered paralyzed (as a quadriplegic; unable to use her hands or legs). After two years of rehabilitation and in a wheelchair, Tada began working to help others in similar situations.
Tada wrote of her experiences in her international best-selling autobiography, Joni, which has been distributed in many languages, and which was made into a feature film of the same name.
Tada founded Joni and Friends (JAF) in 1979, an organization for Christian ministry in the disability community throughout the world. The organization grew into the establishment in 2006 of the Joni and Friends International Disability Center (IDC).
Led by Tada and President and COO Doug Mazza, the Joni and Friends International Disability Center has four flagship programs. Joni and Friends, a daily five minute radio program, is heard over 1,000 broadcast outlets. In 2002 it received the “Radio Program of the Year” award from National Religious Broadcasters. The organization offers family retreats. Wheels for the World collects wheelchairs, which are refurbished by prison inmates and donated to developing nations where, whenever possible, physical therapists fit each chair to a needy disabled child or adult.
In 2005, Tada was appointed to the Disability Advisory Committee of the U.S. State Department.
Tada is a conference speaker. Her articles have been published in Christianity Today, Today’s Christian Woman, The War Cry (Salvation Army), and newspapers around the world. Tada has appeared four times on Larry King Live.
During her two years of rehabilitation, Tada learned how to paint with a brush between her teeth, and now sells her artwork.
In November 2009, Tada signed an ecumenical statement known as the Manhattan Declaration calling on evangelicals, Catholics and Orthodox Christians not to comply with rules and laws permitting abortion, same-sex marriage, and other matters that go against their religious consciences.
On June 23, 2010 Joni announced that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer. She also announced she was scheduled to have a major surgery on Monday, June 28, 2010.
Tada has received The American Academy of Achievement's Golden Plate Award; The Courage Award from the Courage Rehabilitation Center; The Award of Excellence from the Patricia Neal Rehabilitation Center; The Victory Award from the National Rehabilitation Hospital; The Golden Word Award from the International Bible Society. She is inducted into the Christian Booksellers’ Association’s Hall of Honor. In 2002, Tada received the William Ward Ayer Award for excellence from the National Religious Broadcasters’ Association. In 2003 she was given the Gold Medallion Award for her book When God Weeps. In 2004 she was awarded the Gold Medallion Award for co-authoring Hymns for a Kid’s Heart, Volume 1.
Tada was given the Gold Medallion Lifetime Achievement Award in 2003 by the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association. She was also named "Churchwoman of the Year" in 1993 by the Religious Heritage Foundation and was the first woman to be honored by the National Association of Evangelicals as their "Layperson of the Year." In 2009, Tada was inducted into Indiana Wesleyan University's Society of World Changers. She also holds:
Bachelor of Letters from Western Maryland College.
An honorary Doctor of Humanities from Gordon College.
An honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from Columbia International University, the first honorary doctorate bestowed in its 75-year history.
An honorary Doctor of Divinity from Westminster Theological Seminary.
An honorary Doctor of Divinity from Lancaster Bible College.
An honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from Indiana Wesleyan University.
Tada is the author of over 35 books on the subjects of disability and Christianity.
Tada has also written several children's books, including Tell Me The Promises, which received the Evangelical Publishers’ Association’s Gold Medallion and Silver Medal in the 1997 C.S. Lewis Awards, and Tell Me The Truth which received the EPCA Gold Medallion in 1998.
The life story of Tada was used by Czech composer Ivan Kurz in his opera Ve?erní shromá?d?ní (Evening Divine service).
Tada and her husband Ken have been married since 1982. Mr. Tada retired from 32 years of teaching in 2004 to work with his wife. Ken Tada, along with Joni, are permanent members of the International Board of Directors of Joni and Friends. In 2001, Mr. Tada received Family Life Ministries’ Robertson McQuilken Award honoring “The Courageous Love of a Marriage Covenant Keeper.”
On April 1, 2009, Tada was inducted into the Indiana Wesleyan University Society of World Changers and was presented with an honorary doctorate while speaking at the university.
Her books include:
A Step Further
Heaven ...Your Real Home
Life and Death Dilemma
The God I Love
Tell Me the Promises
Tell 'Me the Truth
A Victory through suffering
When God Weeps
Pearls of Great Price
When Is It Right To Die? Suicide, Euthanasia, Suffering, Mercy