1985 - 2000

Supported Employment Takes Off in Indiana

For people with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities, the transformation of employment services mirrored the larger paradigm shift in Indiana and nationally. It was a movement from congregate to individualized services, from facility-based to community-based supports. Supported employment did not require people to be job ready before going to work. On-site supports allowed the employee to learn on the job, a job matched with their interests and skills.

In 1984, the Indiana Governor’s Planning Council for People with Disabilities launched its supported employment initiative, “one of the first initiatives that we, the council did in terms of some real systems change,” says retired Council Executive Director Suellen Jackson-Boner. “At that time supported employment was just beginning across this country.” The federal government had gotten behind the idea, “particularly for people with developmental disabilities, where jobs just were not plentiful or were not even considered for people with severe disabilities.” “Well, Indiana got heavily involved in that.” The Council held statewide and regional conferences, produced concept papers to influence policy makers, and provided funding for demonstration programs. In 1986, the Indianapolis agency Noble, Inc. started the state’s first supported employment services for their clients.

Karen Scherer

As part of her 25 years in the rehabilitation industry, Karen Scherer was a supported employment professional from 1986 to 1998. She described the process as starting with the individual and their preferences, helping them discover what they liked to do. Then “the job developer would go out and talk to employers and look at what was available.” Next, they would do “what we call a job analysis and look at, how many employees did the company hire? What kinds of job tasks? What kind of positions? How many people worked at the company? And we looked at the culture to see, would this be a good place for a person to work? After the employment professional did the job developing, “then the job coach would go in and would train the person on the job.”

To be part of that and to watch the leadership and those agencies catch fire… They couldn't not do it at that point.”

Connie Ferrell

Connie Ferrell came to Indiana in 1992, hired as a Field Coordinator with the Indiana Employment Initiative (IEI). Her previous experience had been as a job coach, “literally the best job I ever had.” “Because when you saw the changes in a person you didn't need data to tell you that this was the way to go.” The IEI was a collaboration of the Indiana Institute for the Study of Developmental Disabilities, Indiana’s Division on Disability, Aging, and Rehabilitative Services, and the U.S. Department of Education. Connie provided technical assistance to Indiana agencies that were moving from segregated to community employment services. She recalls the excitement of seeing the agencies that “got it.” “To be part of that and to watch the leadership and those agencies catch fire… At the time they were doing it, it was like heresy. And they had parents up against them and everybody else up against them. And yet they were on fire. They couldn't not do it at that point.”