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Senator Calls For Emphasis On Integrated Employment

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A key senator is looking to shift the expectation for people with intellectual disabilities toward integrated employment rather than sheltered workshops.

During a hearing of the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Thursday morning, Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, said he wants policy to move toward what he called “a new cutting edge.”

“In the past the default position for people with intellectual disabilities has been sheltered employment. I want to change that default to integrated, supported employment,” Harkin said at the hearing, which is one in a series he’s conducting this year to address disability employment issues.

The senator, who chairs the committee, was clear that he’s not looking to eliminate sheltered workshops. Rather, Harkin wants to encourage a new mindset, especially as it pertains to young people moving into the workforce for the first time.

“The assumption should be that everyone should be able to be in integrated employment,” Harkin said. “We’re trying to move in that direction.”

Harkin’s comments come less than two months after backlash from some disability advocacy groups led senators to indefinitely postpone consideration of a proposal to alter the rules governing sheltered employment.

Critics of the draft bill said that by attempting to limit who could work in sheltered employment, the proposal in fact gave providers a checklist for placing people in such environments, potentially leading to unintended growth in such programs.

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  1. disabilitiesrightsadvocate says:

    Sheltered workshops are a thing of the past and ideally perpetuate the great divide between those individuals with and without disabilities. The fact of the matter is that people deserve the opportunity to work in an integrated setting or anywhere that person sees fit. These facilities are unfortunate examples of an american workforce gone wrong. People with disabilities ought to be afforded the opportunity to be trained in and work at the same places as any other person, which would lead to decreased unemployment and increased productivity. Many of us benefit from the monotonous, unrewarding and impractical work done within the confines of these sheltered workshops and sadly most people do not know or refuse to admit that many of the products used regularly come from the slave-like labor of underpaid individuals with disabilities. There is NO place for sheltered workshops in society and if so, than the wages MUST become comprable to the minimum wages that are law and any deviation from the standards ought to be highly punishable to the fullest extent allowed.

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