Suellen Jackson-Boner Interview
"The initiative on livable communities is one that I was super excited about, because I think to me that's where the disability community should be." Suellen Jackson-Boner discusses the direction that the Indiana Governor's Council for People with Disabilities was taking when she retired in 2015. Interviewed in that year, Suellen had been the Council's executive director for 35 years. She recalls the early days of the agency, which is mandated by the 1975 Developmental Disabilities Assistance and Bill of Rights Act, but was strictly an advisory body at that point. After effecting a funding transition that allowed the agency to become independent in its activities, community employment was an early focus. "At that time, supported employment was just beginning across this country" and the goal was "to show that this was very viable, that people with severe disabilities could actually work." The cooperation of four state agencies to create this initiative in the early 1980s was remarkable, Suellen points out. Early group homes, another Council emphasis, were an important vehicle for getting people out of institutions. The Council went on to serve as a catalyst for supported living and home ownership by people with disabilities.
Suellen talks about how the Council has promoted leadership among people with disabilities, building their capacities to make change, through support of early self-advocacy groups and such programs as Partners in Policymaking. Prior to passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990, "the staff was heavily involved in working toward organizing people" to effect its passage. Then it sponsored trainings to educate people, particularly people with disabilities, about what the legislation entails and how to use it as an advocate. Count Us IN was a 2002 Council project surveying the accessibility of polling places. Employing people with disabilities as surveyors, thousands of polling places were assessed on election day, with support and follow-up from the Secretary of State's office. The Council's annual statewide conference on disability "has grown year after year and brought in a lot of people from all over the state and sometimes even neighboring states," Suellen recounts.
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