Compassion and Advocacy, All in a Day’s Work for Alumna Barbara Haney

Although she has a laid-back demeanor, Barbara Haney is a fierce advocate for those with developmental disabilities. As director of community development for Social Vocational Services Inc. (SVS), a California non-profit organization headquartered in Torrance that provides job placement for individuals with developmental disabilities, the California State University, Dominguez Hills alumna (Class of ’89, M.S., special education: severely handicapped) oversees a staff of five people, with whom she works to provide services for more than 300 employers in Southern California, including Toyota, Disneyland, Broadcom, and Chili’s.

Cover-Barbara Haney“We’re really the eyes and the face of SVS out in the community, getting jobs for the clients we serve and educating [employers],” Haney said. “This is a selling job, what we do. We’re out there selling the concept.”

People with developmental disabilities are generally well-suited for the tasks they are assigned to carry out. In fact, Haney asserted, they often outperform non-disabled people in comparable positions.

“Usually it’s an entry-level position, such as a dishwasher, but by golly they can wash dishes,” Haney said of developmentally disabled employees. “In these entry-level utility positions they’ll stay on the job for ten years, where somebody else might stay on the job for six months and say, ‘I’m out of here.’”

Haney and her staff not only place the portion of SVS’s 2,500 clients who reside in Southern California in new jobs, but they also maintain ongoing relationships with the workers once employment has been secured, coordinating continued job training and advising on new opportunities and other job-related issues.

Haney’s efforts to better the lives of those with developmental disabilities do not end when her workday does. Volunteering her time, she serves as Corporate Chair for the SVS business advisory committee, which she founded in 1992. Additionally, in 1993 she founded the South Bay chapter of People First, an international self-advocacy group, by and for people with developmental disabilities. Representing that population, Haney served for five years on the California Department of Rehabilitation’s Advisory Council and on the foundation board of the Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center.

And Haney credits a good education for getting her to this point.

Upon receiving her bachelor’s degree in home economics and dietetics from Ohio Wesleyan University in 1963, Haney worked as a hospital dietician to help support her husband as he pursued a doctoral degree. By the late 60s, Haney was a full-time mother raising two young children and was volunteering in the community.

With her daughter and son becoming more independent as they grew up, the Palos Verdes resident returned to substitute teaching in 1983 at schools from elementary to high school in the Torrance and Palos Verdes school districts. She taught in special education classes, which she preferred over other subjects that were available to her at the time. Teachers’ aides who worked alongside her would report back that Haney “seemed to know what she was doing,” and before long, she became a highly-requested substitute.

To broaden her teaching career options, Haney decided to pursue a master’s in special education from CSU Dominguez Hills.

“I realized what a great program Cal State Dominguez Hills had. I was extremely grateful to every one of my professors,” she recalled.

Mirroring her own compassionate ethos, she went on to say about the university’s mission to provide an accessible education to its diverse community, “Serving an underserved population [as it does], but in a very dignified way, I think is important.”

Although the execution of her master’s thesis received high marks, Haney said her professors were skeptical of her supposition that people with developmental disabilities could be successfully placed in jobs within the community; specifically in integrated work sites and not just in sheltered workshops. Although she may not have known at the time that this very topic would ultimately become her life’s work, she believed in the concept and would stand by her conviction throughout the years.

“By being integrated, workers learn from non-disabled people,” she noted, adding that non-disabled workers also learn from the experience of working with disabled co-workers, who offer a different viewpoint on life and serve to inspire by how they meet challenges posed by their disabilities.

It was perhaps during her student teaching requirement that Haney’s mission of advocacy truly began.

While at the Ernest P. Willenberg Special Education Center, a Los Angeles Unified School District site in San Pedro, Haney often led community-based instructional activities for groups of five students at a time—some confined to wheelchairs or dependent on walkers. They would travel to the various community sites by public transportation, but too many times, the drivers, not wanting to stop to lower the hydraulic lift, would drive right past, leaving their potential fares stranded curbside.

“I got to the point, where I would call the [bus] yard. [The transit company representatives] kind of modified their behavior because I was an advocate for this population. They started sending buses out just for us,” Haney recalled. “I was going to be darned if we were going to be treated like second-class citizens.”

Haney went on to teach special education for several years at Rolling Hills High School in Rolling Hills Estates before a friend, who happened to be the associate and wife of the executive director of SVS, took notice of her accomplishments and asked her to work for them.

“Who knows when you start down a pathway… where things are going to lead you,” Haney said of her career. “It all came, though, as a result of Cal State Dominguez Hills.”

Honoring her advocacy and her 23 years of work at SVS, Haney was recognized by the Daily Breeze newspaper with its 2012 People of Distinction award in the business and innovation category.

“I challenged the business community in the audience to hire people with developmental disabilities,” Haney said, in reference to speaking at the event when the award was presented.

Throughout, Haney has made sure to nurture herself as well. She has completed nine marathons and continues to play tennis, golf with her husband, and participate in a book club. Approaching the prospect of retiring, however, she has mixed feelings about making that transition. Nevertheless, over the next few years, she is planning to groom potential successors for the position she now holds. And, it may come as no surprise, she sees herself continuing to help others.

“I’ll probably do a lot of volunteer work, maybe something with pet therapy. I might even raise puppies to be canine companions or guide dogs for the blind,” she said.

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