Connie Ferrell Interview
“To be part of that and to watch the leadership and those agencies catch fire…" Connie Ferrell recalls the excitement of introducing supported employment to Indiana in the early 1990s. "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.”
When interviewed in 2015, Connie was an Indiana resident working for Virginia Commonwealth University and a consultant on topics such as supported employment and benefits counseling. She recalls her early involvement in supported employment as it took hold in other states, with federal monies becoming available to implement change at the state level. These systems change grants encouraged movement away from segregated, congregated employment to integrated, community employment, "the concept of providing individual supports on the job site, not requiring people to be job ready before going to work."
She moved to Indiana in 1992 when she was hired as a field coordinator for the new Indiana Employment Initiative implementing Indiana's systems change grant. She describes providing technical assistance to agencies in the southern part of the state that were moving clients out of sheltered workshops, supporting them to be competitively employed.
From the vantage point of 2015, Connie sees stagnation in employment in Indiana as well as other states. "I haven't really seen progression in supported employment since the 90s." "I think one of the things that's so disappointing to me about Indiana's plateau or stagnation is that the 90s was an incredible decade for Indiana. We were way ahead. We got into the game late and surpassed many other states and agencies in terms of movement in the direction of community inclusion and supported employment." She discusses the move from hourly billing to "results-based funding" in Indiana, and the growth in day activity programs instead of employment.
Connie talks about the importance of work incentives and getting information to people receiving public benefits. They need to know it's an "urban myth that if you go to work and earn over about $700 or $1,000 you're going to lose your Social Security, or you have stay under $85 if you're on SSI, or if you go to work you're going to lose your Medicaid and Medicare." She sees Indiana as a leader in the previous decade because the state vocational rehabilitation agency funded a network of benefits information specialists.
Other topics include person centered practices, fostered here with the help of trainings by Beth Mount and John O'Brien. Connie also reminisces about her former colleague Steve Savage and his contributions. Steve was executive director of the Arc of Greater Boone County and died a few months before this interview.
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