Best practices for people with significant disabilities had shifted to supporting individuals to succeed in the general labor market. Instead of a facility-based program to get them ready for a job, they would receive ongoing supports at the job site, in the community. In 1989, 21 people were counted as successful supported employment “closures” by Indiana’s department of Vocational Rehabilitation. Connie Ferrell began assisting agencies to convert their workshops to supported employment programs in 1992. She brought to Indiana the experience she had gained at Virginia Commonwealth University during the early 1980s, where “we were kind of inventing it at that particular point in time.”
Many Hoosiers did not welcome the demise of workshops. For rehabilitation agencies, it required the dismantling of entrenched beliefs and systems. Parents were hesitant to lose the perceived safety of a sheltered work environment. But by 1997, there were 987 successful closures and over 100 supported employment providers in the state.
Vocational Rehabilitation counselor Roberta Stafford’s initial reaction to the changing paradigm was “this population has too many barriers and they're not going to be able to work in the community." "We were very skeptical.” She implemented supported employment for over 20 years. Roberta Stafford clip >
When they started talking about doing away with the workshop Mary Lou Melloy’s daughter attended, “Don and I personally sent all of the parents a letter objecting.” She describes her change of thinking and telling other mothers, “You don't have the right to deny them the opportunity to try [a job in the community].” Mary Lou Melloy clip >
Patrick Sandy recalled that when he was trying to get individuals out of workshops and into community employment, families were saying, “I want to believe you, but I'm not sure because I don't know that I want my child to be a guinea pig.” He shares a story about an elderly parent who was won over to supported employment because of its excellent outcome for her son. Patrick Sandy clip >