Indiana Association on Higher Education and Disability: An Historic Hoosier Perspective

Indiana AHEAD can boast that some of the same pioneers who founded or built the national AHEAD, or AHSSPPE as it was then called, were also instrumental in organizing our state group.

Sometime in the mid 1970's, Betty Nelson (Dean of Students) of Purdue University, Don Wakefield of Indiana University/Purdue University, and Richard Harris (Director of DSS) of Ball State University got together informally to talk shop and share professional expertise. They began to invite others to join them and after a time began to call themselves a state group and hold regular meetings. Most meetings were at IUPUI, but one state meeting that included SWDs was held at Ball State. Sam Goodin, then of Indiana University Bloomington, brought the group to the site of Bradford Woods, a facility owned by Indiana University in 1985.

"The Woods" (, located near Martinsville, Indiana, provided recreational, educational, and leadership development opportunities to youth and adults for over 50 years. Situated within a large acreage of wooded, green hills in south-central Indiana, the Manor House of The Woods was our meeting home for over 20 years. In the early years, the Manor was used largely as it had originally been built and was a bit primitive by today's standards. Attendees of state meetings had to bring their own bath towels and bedding. Each of the two lodging floors contained only one bath facility so women were consigned to one floor and men to another. It wasn't very accessible either and at the first meeting to be attended by someone who used a chair, a makeshift accessible sleeping room had to be created near the vending machines.  We now meet at various state locations and institutions.

Like early DSS work, to be fully appreciated and enjoyed, the Manor required an open and pioneering spirit. We like to think it contributed to the development of the best sort of DSS professionals: hearty, versatile, creative, sharing, full of character, and focused clearly on important things - like what's for dinner. For years, we did our own cooking for the Thursday evening meal. In good weather we hiked to the lake and built a roaring bonfire on the beach while distinguished members like Richard Harris and Sam Goodin grilled fabulous steaks and told great stories. Cooking techniques, like the field of DSS, evolved over the years. The inaugural effort was a Buffalo Trough, an open pit of coals onto which steaks were tossed. Time and experience brought more sophisticated efforts utilizing Dale’s steak marinade and a serviceable, if primitive, grill of glowing charcoal.

To make it accessible, the Manor underwent a several years' long renovation in the mid 1990's and was unavailable for meetings so Indiana AHEAD went down the road apiece to an Episcopalian retreat named Waycross located near the towns of Trevlac and Bean Blossom. Fully accessible, comfortable, and user friendly, it is a lovely facility but we were nevertheless happy to return to Bradford Woods. We continued meeting there until a vote from the group moved meetings to other state parks and college campuses around Indiana.

Our typical meetings, now held once, were twice a year beginning at 1:00 on a Thursday afternoon concluding at noon on the following day. This still continues with the time honored tradition of Richard Harris’s closing remarks and suggestion to use Friday afternoon as a meditative, reflective time to renew our spirits and incorporate our new learning. We offer a wide variety of programming to promote professional development to attendees who come from Indiana, of course, but also from neighboring states Kentucky, Ohio, and Illinois. Often, a representative from Indiana Vocational Rehabilitation Services attends to provide updates on relevant VR business and collaborates with us on providing better services to our students. We always have ample opportunity to develop networks and friendships among our many colleagues, and enjoy some down time in the midst of our sometimes hectic work life.

Opportunities for learning new things and for sharing what we know are our legacy from those folks who organized Indiana AHEAD. Seeing the tradition continue is both a privilege and a responsibility.

We hope you can come and join us sometime.

Written by Martha Jax, former Director of Indiana University Disability Student Services
Updated by Courtney Jarrett of Ball State University and Keri Turrell of Purdue University