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Steve Eidelman chapter 1


Chapter 1: Early Career (you are here)
Chapter 2: Tenure as Director of Mental Retardation Services in Philadelphia
Chapter 3: Growing Self-Advocacy Movement and Roland Johnson
Chapter 4: Accomplishments as Director of Mental Retardation Services in Philadelphia
Chapter 5: Tenure as Deputy Secretary of Mental Retardation for PA
Chapter 6: Accomplishments as Deputy Secretary for Mental Retardation for PA
Chapter 7: Kennedy Foundation, National ARC and International Work

transcript - entire interview

Steve Eidelman Interview (Word)

transcript - current chapter

Chapter 1: Early Career

Lindsey: We're recording.

21:36:58:08 - 21:37:19:10 Lisa: Okay, thanks. Just a little introduction before we start. My name is Lisa Sonneborn. I'm conducting a video interview with Steve Eidelman, at his home in Newark, Delaware on October 26, 2011. Also present is our videographer, Lindsey Martin. And Steve, do we have your permission to begin recording the interview?

Steve: You do.

21:37:19:20 - 21:37:43:28 Lisa: Thank you. The first question I wanted to ask, Steve, was if you knew anyone with a disability when you were growing up.

Steve: Yeah, I grew up in suburban Washington and there was in my elementary school class of kids, all of whom had Down Syndrome, interestingly enough, in my elementary school, and then I have a first cousin with an intellectual disability. So he was obviously part of our lives.

21:37:45:23 - 21:38:56:04 Lisa: Was your cousin's disability viewed as a natural part of your family's experience, would you say?

Steve: I'm not so sure it was natural. He -- my aunt and uncle lived in Plymouth Meeting, Pennsylvania, and they were told, interestingly enough, to put him in Pennhurst when he was a little boy, and my uncle, who was a Holocaust survivor, said no way, that's not happening to my son, and there's a place outside of Philadelphia called the Institute for Advancement of Human Potential, that does something called patterning, and so they had a whole community of people coming in, doing exercises with him, things like that.

So he was just part of the family at that point, and I had an uncle who probably had an intellectual disability, but mostly he had a very significant speech impediment and so, again, he was always part of our family.

You knew there was something different, but it wasn't bad different, it was just different, and again, my grandparents were first generation American, so of the generation where my uncle had a job, rode a bicycle, lived with my grandparents until they died.So again, part of the fabric, but I'm not sure I was cognizant of disability issues, per se.

21:38:57:05 - 21:39:22:19 Lisa: So having exposure to kids with disabilities in school, and having a cousin and an uncle with a disability, did that affect your decision to earn your MSW to become a social worker?

Steve: I don't think so, no. That was -- it was the late '60s, early '70s, and how do you rally against the man, how do you rebel, and for me, that was rebellion.

21:39:22:24 - 21:41:44:06 Lisa: So what did you imagine your career would be?

Steve: Well, not what it's been, that's for sure. I was -- in graduate school, had to do a year's internship, field placement, 30 hours a week, and I was really headed towards doing something in -- I was interested in transportation and housing, those two things, and the dean of the graduate school, who was this big guy, he was about 6'10, a guy named Dan Thurz, stopped me in the hallway one day, and he had this bosso profundo voice.

He said Eidelman, come here, and I said, oh my, what have I done now, and he said, do you have a field placement yet, and I said no, I'm sort of looking around. He said, well there's this place over at Hopkins called the John F. Kennedy Institute, and they want somebody interested in policy and administration, and that's what you're interested in, right? I said, well, I'm not really sure. They do stuff with handicapped kids, that was the name of the place.I said, I don't think so, and he said, and they'll pay you $7,500 a year, and they'll pay your tuition.

Damn, I'm interested.

So I went over and interviewed, and it sounded like the guy I interviewed with, two men and a woman, were fascinating, and one was a social work director, one was an assistant director, one was the administrator of the institute, and they had agreed if I came I could split my time, so I'd learn, and they said, and you have to make a five year moral commitment because this was a maternal and child health grant that paid for those fellowships. It was the UAPs before they were the UCEDDs. They were actually called UAFs at that point, facilities, because the original facilities were built under the Hill Bunton Act. Literally, they built the buildings under the hospital portion of hospital construction.

So they said, and you have to make a five year moral commitment to the field. And I said, well what does that mean? Well you agree to work in the field for five years. You don't have to sign anything. So I went there for a year, stayed for six, and then decided I really needed to run something, and so started applying for jobs where I could be the executive director of something, and sort of things went on from there. It just becomes -- at some point, it becomes part of you. It's not just a job, it's not just a career, it's part of who you are. And I got very interested in this whole deinstitutionalization idea, and after seeing some institutions, said we shouldn't really treat people like this. I don't think it was any more elegant or complex than that, it just offended me the way people lived.

21:41:44:09 - 21:42:13:09 Lisa: And how were people living? Was there a tipping point, one moment, one experience --

Steve: No, I went to a place called Forest Iaven, which was the District of Columbia's institution. Physically it was in Laurel, Maryland, and walked in on a hot day, no air conditioning, holes in the screens, people living in a small room with four beds. It stunk, and the smell was horrible. People sort of -- it was just horrible, just isn't right. And that place is now closed.

21:42:14:07 - 21:42:48:15 Lisa: So in this early part of your career, what did services and supports look like for families of kids with intellectual or developmental disabilities?

Steve: There wasn't much. There was a little bit of respite care. This was in Maryland, so there was a little bit of respite care. There were some group homes, but they were big, ten, 12, 20 people. And then there were the state institutions. Maryland was not, I think, at the leading edge of what was going on there. So when I left Maryland, I went to Ohio, which was one of the states that was doing a lot of leading edge work at the time, and it was close enough to the east coast that we could get back.

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