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Steve Eidelman chapter 4


Chapter 1: Early Career
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 (you are here)
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 Four: Accomplishments as Director of Mental Retardation Services in Philadelphia

22:01:10:14 - 22:03:12:09 Lisa: So while you were Director of Mental Retardation Services, do you think you could point to one thing that you felt that you accomplished, that you feel was significant or that you feel particularly proud of?

Steve: I think we turned the tide in Philadelphia to say it can be done. I think the attitude went from these people can't all live in the community to we can do that, we just now have to figure it out. And my sense was, I started to get -- the reason I went to Philadelphia -- I had been the director of a provider agency, and very interested in public policy, and realized to work in public policy, you either pretty much had to be in academia or in government. So I went to Philadelphia for the government part of it, and I wanted to show government can do this -- not perfectly, certainly, and not without drama, but -- so I think when I left, Pennhurst was almost closed, and I think there was no doubt that we would get everyone out from Philadelphia, and the question was, what comes next from there. But I was also lucky. I started to get some national exposure, Richard Surles was the county administration who I worked for, and he was really supportive of me doing stuff statewide and nationally, so I got to start talking about things statewide in Pennsylvania, and then at some national forums with Richard's support, and it allowed me to say, hey, there's a bigger playing field here, and I can compete -- personally, I can compete on that field with ideas, and hopefully with some skills, and I remember being at a meeting of county administrators, and they were all sort of joking, well you're not really one of us, because Richard's the county administrator, and he's not here and you're here, and my response was, yeah but my little program is bigger than any of your other programs, and here's what we've done, what have you done lately? So that was to me personally gratifying, I think professionally satisfying, to sort of say, okay, we can do this, Philadelphia can do this. We're not going to always be seen as that place that's lagging behind.

22:03:13:04 - 22:04:10:05 Lisa: Was there something that you had hoped to accomplish during your time there that you felt that you didn't, or weren't able to?

Steve: I would have liked Pennhurst to be closed before I left Philadelphia. I think I would have felt badly had I not gone to state government. That wouldn't be a part of that, and I would have liked to have figured out a way to deal with something I know they're still struggling with, which all these people in sheltered workshops do, and sort of menial stuff, half of them bored out of their minds, and how do you address that? And there was actually I think more pressure, pushback on that issue, and Philadelphia is a very neighborhood and community place. Most of the provider organizations -- some of them were called base service units, I believe, were run by community members, and they were very proud of those places, and they didn't see that those places were sort of like the institution, only people didn't live there. So we didn't get very far on that. We tried some things, but didn't get very far.

22:04:10:20 - 22:05:55:12 Lisa: There's still plenty of workshops, even despite people with disabilities saying over and over again that employment is a priority for them. So what do you think it will take to get rid of them?

Steve: I'm not sure what it will take. I have been struggling with that for a very long time. Part of it might be a change in the labor laws. Some people are trying to change the Fair Labor Standards Act, so that those programs called 14C, which is a section of the act that allows people to pay people sub-minimum wages, and there were some efforts that were unsuccessful, to get rid of that 14C exemption, or phase it out over a five-year period. And the challenges -- there's then what do you do? Lots of people can get out and get jobs, and we know how to support them. There are lots of other people who somewhere you might find someone like them supported in the community, but how do we, one community, do that? So I think it would take something that radical, and a phase-out period which you, just like in closing the institutions -- what happens to somebody who's making 50 cents a week, who all of a sudden we haven't figured out how to get them a job, or something meaningful in the community. Then what? Do they sit in a day program all day long and do puzzles or coloring books? Is 50 cents a week and doing something that leads to economic production better than doing coloring books and puzzles all day long? Even those people with 50 cent paychecks wave them up and are proud at least they've accomplished something. So there's a big conference in Washington next month, it's almost November. The Alliance for Full Participation wants to double the number in community-based employment in a five-year period, and I think that's another step, but it's going to take sustained leadership at the state and national levels for two decades. I mean, it's a 20 year problem, it's not a five-year problem.

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