While Howard Mandeville was waiting for a meeting to start, he saw a woman he knew come into the lobby to let someone into her condo building.
The significance would be lost on most people, but for Mandeville, a 1986 alum, the act summed up the social changes he has helped to forge throughout his career assisting people with disabilities to live independently in the community.
The woman was admitting her caregiver into her home.
"I knew her from my years working with people with disabilities," says Mandeville, executive director of Movin' Out, a Madison nonprofit organization that partners with people with disabilities and their allies to create and sustain community-integrated, safe, and affordable housing. "As I watched her cross the lobby to where her visitor had buzzed for admittance, I thought how amazing it was."
In the past, Mandeville says, the caregiver would have had the keys and admitted the person with disabilities. "The idea of home is central to everyone," he says. "Home is our center point. Home identifies us as part of a particular household, neighborhood, community. Disability introduces multiple vulnerabilities, one of them being that the services people with disabilities need traditionally have been provided in ways that disconnect them from family, community and home. Part of being home is being in control, feeling safe and comfortable, and able to choose who you welcome and who you do not."
Mandeville has spent his career taking thoughtful approaches to the challenges people with disabilities face, a trait he ascribes in part to his graduate work in public policy and administration at the La Follette Institute of Public Affairs.
Director Dennis Dresang pushed Mandeville to think about his goals and to clarify that he wanted to work in a management capacity to provide services and discover new program models for supporting people with disabilities as they live in their communities. "At the time, there were few models of community-based living for people with disabilities," Mandeville says. "I joined others in Dane County wanting to create new modes of support and ways of relating to people with disabilities."
The flexibility of the La Follette curriculum was a great advantage in helping him devise new approaches, Mandeville says. "I was introduced to practical and interesting disciplines and management tools at the La Follette Institute," he says. "The courses in statistics, basic accounting, program evaluation, organizational theory and program development helped me understand the psychology and mechanics of how organizations work. I never expected that I would take an industrial engineering course, and it was a wonderful class."
Mandeville started working with people with disabilities while completing a bachelor's degree in nursing at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, a more vocational degree than his bachelor's in history from Marquette University. Mandeville worked part time for a pilot program that operated a four-unit apartment building whose tenants all had developmental disabilities. The idea was for them to live in the community at a time when the state of Wisconsin was beginning to move away from reliance on large institutions where most disabled people lived.
"While a small group home was better than a large institution, people wanted to be spread out and choose their own places to live," Mandeville says.
Based on that early experience, he and several others started Options in Community Living in 1981. The nonprofit organization is recognized nationally for its ground-breaking support of people with developmental disabilities. The agency provides residential support so people can live in the community
After finishing his master's degree, Mandeville led a federally funded initiative to mobilize parents of children with serious emotional and behavioral disabilities. These parent pioneers founded Wisconsin Family Ties, a parent advocacy organization now in its 27th year. He joined a creative group at the state office that was implementing the first Medicaid waivers that allowed the development of an infrastructure of community-based services for people with disabilities. He then joined the Wisconsin Council on Developmental Disabilities and led the development of new models of support for parents with disabilities and their children.
"The DD Council was a hive of neat ideas and energy," Mandeville says. "We recognized that integrating people into the community would have all sorts of consequences."
The power balance inherent in the relationship with the person with the disability and the caregiver was one element requiring a thoughtful approach. "In a supported-living setting, the power is not even by default," Mandeville says. "We recognized that any relationship with a power difference creates more vulnerability and risk of harm. We took the 'power and control wheel' that domestic violence experts use to examine power and control in relationships and applied it to the relationship between caregiver and the person supported. We came to realize that the power differential depended a lot on how job duties were defined."
Mandeville shifted his attention to housing when he became Movin' Out's executive director in 2005. The DD Council initially funded that agency by responding to a group of families that wanted to help their disabled adult children become homeowners. "Movin' Out's strategy has been to look at affordable housing and low-income housing programs and advocate for a fair share of those resources for people with disabilities," Mandeville says.
Today, Movin' Out helps low-income people with disabilities purchase homes by providing tailored housing counseling and an individualized housing plan. "Movin' Out has helped 1,300 people own homes in 67 of Wisconsin's 72 counties," Mandeville says. The agency operates a rental program with a portfolio of 60 properties, and it develops real estate, often in partnership with for-profit developers. This work has generated nearly 1,000units of affordable rental housing, of which about 250 are marketed to people with disabilities, Mandeville says.
Now Mandeville is looking for his next project as he starts to plan his retirement from Movin' Out sometime in 2014. He knows he will continue to apply his public affairs training.
"The La Follette Institute gave me the methods of applying principles and injecting them into the work people do and the lives they live," Mandeville says. "A nonprofit organization is complex, often more complex than private sector businesses. Movin' Out is part of the human services labyrinth, with real estate development and finance mixed in. I have always liked my jobs because they have enabled me to be nimble and work at such a high level of function and to meet the goal I had when I came to UW, to have a career with social impact and personal satisfaction."