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.