In 1982, LDI program efforts began by working with a multitude of state and local agencies to provide services for clients with Learning Disabilities (LD) and related emotional and/or behavioral disorders. Creative community relationships enhanced our effective partnerships with a variety of state agencies, adult literacy programs, vocational/technical programs, and local colleges.
The condition of learning disabilities (LD) was not fully understood until the early 1980’s. It was thought that this condition occurred only in childhood, and few people recognized that this could be a life-long debilitating condition that affected millions of people. By 1982, research had clearly established LD as a neurological condition that persists throughout the lifespan of an individual. It took many years to reach the level of public awareness that it, and other related conditions, such as ADHD, Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome, and other related conditions receive today.
In the late 1970s, the co-founders of LDI, Dorothy and Rob Crawford, were determined to develop a national employment agency for adults with learning disabilities. With the assistance of the Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA), an agency of the U.S. Department of Education, seed money was made available to state agencies for local entities to field test pilot programs. In 1982, an establishment grant (seed money funds) was awarded to LDI by the RSA/AZ Department of Economic Security Department to develop a model employment program for adults with LD.
Operating from the home of Rob Crawford, the small grant for a “survival skills” program became a reality — special strategies developed by Rob Crawford for job development and independent living skills made this possible. The premise of the programmatic approach sought to treat those in the program as “whole” human beings, not human beings with “holes” in them. The philosophy of the model he developed was to acknowledge that personal victories were as big a reward as winning any award from competitions. Redefining the concept of winning to include that winning could be something like making your first true friend, earning a paycheck, or speaking up for yourself. Winning is whatever makes you feel like you’ve accomplished something that makes you feel like a winner.
Within one year, the program was firmly established and began to expand to include residential services, vocational training and job opportunities for young men and women in the Phoenix area, which previously did not exist for them. As a result of the rapid growth of the program, a daring and risky undertaking began to take shape — the purchase of an apartment complex that would allow LDI to fully develop a comprehensive campus and program. This would not have been possible without the sacrifice and personal financial commitment made by Dorothy Crawford. Ultimately, with the help of several other committed people, she convinced a group of outside investors to form a general partnership. A small local bank agreed to finance the balance of the apartment complex project.
That same program expanded over the years from day programs limited to Arizona Vocational Rehabilitation clients to a variety of multi-faceted programs with both public and private funding. A great deal of LDI’s early successes relied on developing collaborative partnerships with other public agencies and the post-secondary education system. This allowed the organization to draw upon the best practices in the field and put them immediately into operation to help where it could make the greatest impact. With the expansion of programs and services, LDI was able to reach out to students around the U.S., and the world, and has served thousands of students to date.
Since its inception in 1982, LDI program efforts first centered on working with a multitude of state and local agencies to provide short-term, rapid turnover services for clients with LD and related emotional/behavioral disorders. At one point, there were over 300 individuals served per year representing nine different program partnerships served by a full time staff of 55. The partnership between Dorothy and Rob Crawford was successful in competing for and winning two major federally funded grants to develop school-to-work model demonstration programs.
The program and its founders were the recipients of numerous local and national awards recognizing contributions to individuals with LD and promoting literacy in the community. These included a Presidential Points of Light award in 1992 from President Bush (41st President) and a special citation from Fife Symington, the Governor of Arizona.
In 2009, LDI became a privately-held corporation. Now in its 37th year, and under the leadership of Rob and Veronica Crawford, LDI has solidified the current program model.
On a personal level, Rob and Veronica Crawford have three adult children with the same conditions as many of the individuals LDI serves. They are able to see themselves sitting across the desk with other parents who are desperate for a place where their child can thrive and succeed. Parents look to LDI for hope and support, because they have found so few resources for their adult children. Rob and Veronica understand their frustrations from first-hand experience and can empathize with them, trying hard to ease the difficult transition from being their adult-child’s advocate to being a parent who can allow their offspring to become more independent.
LDI is an organization of high moral purpose. Its services and focus on the future are driven by students and their needs, recognition of global market changes and its impact on the LDI students, and ultimately making a positive difference in the lives of each student and their families.