An Interview with Dr. Lou Brown
Training and career development: Raising the expectations to support community services
Produced in 1987
Ed Skarnulis: Okay, you have me convinced. Let's look at the opposite side of the coin. In the community, we have a large number of people, many of them 18 years old, high school graduates, with minimum wage. They're the backbone of our community, residential, and vocational service systems. There are a lot of people in Minnesota who believe we have a serious need for training of those people, that they're not qualified, they're not able to provide the kinds of services we need. What do you think of that?
Dr. Lou Brown: It's better now than it was. The reason it's better now, it's easier now, it's different now because we have kids coming to the University of Wisconsin who have gone to school with kids with disabilities. And that's because there are only eleven schools left, eleven too many, but nevertheless only eleven schools left with segregated schools in Wisconsin. And now kids are coming to University who have grown up with kids with disabilities. So that's very important. For that you can train a teacher. You don't have to get a college student at age 18 or 19 or 20 and start teaching about people with disabilities for the first time in their lives. That's very nice.
So we think we're putting out now an ideologically more sound, someone with important expectations in developmental experiences that can do a better job in teaching people with disabilities. So schools, I think, are going to be better. Now, I understand we always have to be better training teachers, putting out new people, attracting and training people in the education field. And I think the same phenomena is going into residential settings.
Vocational, see I think this Madeleine Will and Justin Dart and those people have done a fantastic job in the area of what they call supported employment, what we would we call integrated work. Now the only... In any substantive way now, the only people who have had any experience with work and people with severe disabilities have been the folks running the activity centers and the workshops. And, really, for these people it's never been... it's been pre-work for the most part. And so now we want to get these people to do real work in the real world of work next to non-disabled people. Well, you need folks that know how to do that. So I think every state in the union is going to have a supported employment project. Minnesota has one. Wisconsin has one. Michigan has one. I think there are 25 or 26 in operation now and there will be 50 soon. And the idea now is to convert, to give people an option of doing pre-work, segregated pre-work to doing real work in the real world. And part of each one of these projects is training people to do it.
And I think that's a new field, it's a new business in our area, and it's remarkable. Because if we do it right, it could really, it could really, really go well because we have so much information now. It's not like when Public Law 94-142 was passed. God, it was a crash course in how to serve 100,000 new severely handicapped kids in the school. We didn't have the people to do it. Or the information. Now we have a lot of information, and we have good mechanisms to finding the people.
The residential problem, I think that's the bigger problem. I think that's the bigger problem. I mean, if you take the amount of money a person makes at an institution, to work at an institution to watch 30 people. And if you get the person out of the institution, you put them in a community and you have to hire someone to be with them, the differential in pay is just ridiculous. I don't know what it is in your state, but it might be five or six dollars an hour. And that is just... So that's a problem paying people to work with people with severe disabilities a minimum wage to do it. I mean, it just can't be done. You don't do it at the institution, and you can't expect people to develop a cadre of talented people with careers in this field to do it in the community. So we're going to have to do careers.
Now I think career development is solid in education because we have a cultural tradition. I think it's going to be really good in work because of the same things. But I think we're going to have to work a lot harder to get people to run domestic environments. And this is one of the... Again, I think that's part of it, getting the money, the resources to go in domestic environments. The other part is, what kind of environments are you talking about? I think you're going to get better people and more economically viable options if you put no more than two people with disabilities in a domestic environment. I think a lot of this high turnover, minimum wage stuff in residential settings comes from group homes where you need three shifts, and it's eight people in a house and you're overwhelmed by the cleaning and the feeding and the toileting. It's just not a family environment. And so I think that if you went, as we go to supported apartments, adult family homes, in-home family supports for people, you're not going to have that...we're not going to have that problem nationally.