Chapter 1: Early Career
23:59:22:04 - 23:59:46:20
L. My name is Lisa Sonneborn and I'm interviewing Earl Duff in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania on June 25th, I think?
L. Thank you, on June 26th. Where's June going?
G. They all go by so fast.
L. They do, they do. And also present is our videographer Ginger Jolly and Earl, do we have your permission to begin the interview?
23:59:47:03 - 23:59:58:21
L. Would you mind telling me when and where you were born?
E. I was born in Abington [PA], in 1945.
00:00:33:25 - 00:01:01:07
L. When you were growing up in Abington do you recall having interactions with anyone in the community who had disabilities?
E. Not really. We had a Down Syndrome student at my elementary school. This is when 1st through 6th grade that was in a special class. It wasn't integrated in with the other people. That I can recall that was the only instance.
00:01:02:00 - 00:01:07:20
L. Did you have any members of your family or any opportunity to interact with folks?
E. No, not really.
00:01:08:00 - 00:02:17:11
L. So what kind of work did you plan to pursue when you were a young man?
E. Well, I started out going for a degree in history. My specialty was ancient history, thinking that I would wind up teaching and um I got the bachelor's degree in ancient history and then I went on to get a Master's degree in education. Um, and this was always during the time of the Vietnam war and everything so it was a time of big turmoil and uh, I wanted to pursue my education before I got drafted because that was in everybody's mind at the time; that you'd be drafted. So I wanted to do that until I finished.
L. And were you drafted or did you wind up teaching?
E. No, no, no. I got a job after I got my Master's Degree then the war ended.
00:02:18:00 - 00:03:42:16
L. And what was the job you got after you earned your degree?
E. I got a teaching job in Philadelphia school district teaching 8th grade World History and I only lasted a year. I found it very, um, very much different than teaching the subject I loved and was interested in and it was more a disciplinary job I had in the school I was in. I was in Olney High School and it was very difficult. It was not what I wanted to do and so I was unemployed for a while. And then I responded to an ad at the Philadelphia association for retarded children, which is what they called it then, PARC at their work training center in Westmoreland Street. And this was more in line with my Master's degree training which was basically in learning theory. And I was fascinated with learning theory during the training at Temple. Uh and uh got the job as a vocational evaluator at PARC and that's when I first was introduced to the learning disabled.
00:04:12:00 - 00:04:26:10
E. I got the job as the vocational evaluator at PARC and um that's when I met my colleagues that I'm still associated with today and this would have been back in 1969 I think.
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L. You said that you were doing vocational rehabilitation. Is that something that you were trained to do? Did you receive special training?
E. I received special training to be a vocational evaluator. The way the system worked at PARC, at the workshop, is the BVR, the Bureau of Vocational Rehabilitation funded each client or trainee as we called the people. As they came in to be evaluated for work or work placement or work training or work skills, wherever they fell in the spectrum. So they went through the department of evaluation first where they had a psychological test. A social history was done and a vocational evaluation and um PARC sent me to New York to the Tower Training Program that had developed a system of evaluating people and job skills and job strengths and that's where I received my training to become an evaluator. And I was up there about a month and in fact they asked to hire me… I may have moved to Manhattan but I didn't. I came back.
00:06:03:13 - 00:06:37:10
L. So I'm curious about the types of vocational training you were doing for folks. Having people working in the community, was that a new idea at the time?
E. Um, I don't know. It was uh I know that JVS, the Jewish Vocational Service was doing training too. I mean evaluation and PARC had been doing it. I replaced someone who left so I just fell into the role. I don't know the history of how long it had been done.
00:06:37:25 - 00:08:41:00
L. What kind of community placements were you able to find for folks?
E. We um… there was a placement counselor in the training center and after we would have a meeting after the evaluation phase we would send people into the workshop and recommend people for job placement if they were that ready already or recommend certain training skills be strengthened while in the workshop. In the workshop, of course, you were limited to sort of production line work but of course there was janitorial work and kitchen work. There was a full cafeteria there so you could give people who had strengths in certain areas experience and evaluate them even further to see what their skills were and Shirley Scott was the placement counselor and she was very good at developing jobs in industry for people and between her and I we came up with the idea of sending, I guess we called it job coach. I would go out on the job with the person who was placed and stay a week or two, whatever the employer was comfortable with for me to be on the job with the person to help them and they really appreciated having the extra help of training the person the job without having to do it themselves. And that worked out a number of times. Um, and then I would phase myself out and be there less frequently. And hopefully the person would then succeed on the job. We had some really good success with some things come into my mind. We placed one person at the Philadelphia Navy Yard who was deaf and had to measure propeller blades with a micrometer and we had to teach him how to use the micrometer and he did a really good job and went on for further training that they offered on the job training and really was quite a success.
00:08:41:20 - 00:08:49:05
L. Did you enjoy the work?
E. Oh yeah. Yeah this was, this was a very enjoyable; much better than teaching history.
About Earl Duff
Founder, Co-Director, M5, Inc.
Community, Communication, Deaf, Employment, Group Homes, PARC, Pennhurst, Providers