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Feds Take Stand Against Sheltered Workshops


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The Obama administration is looking to become directly involved in a class-action lawsuit that has people with developmental disabilities seeking greater employment opportunities.

The U.S. Department of Justice filed a motion last week to intervene in a federal lawsuit brought on behalf of thousands of people with developmental disabilities against the state of Oregon. The individuals behind the case allege that the state is violating the Americans with Disabilities Act by not providing supported employment services, which help people with disabilities work in the community.

The first-of-its-kind suit is being closely watched by advocates as the disability community remains split on the appropriate role of sheltered workshops and subminimum wage.

Plaintiffs in the case argue that they have requested assistance to be able to obtain competitive employment for years with no luck and are trapped in a system where sheltered employment — typically paying less than minimum wage — is their only option.

Now, in a move that could add weight to the proceedings, the Justice Department wants to become a plaintiff as well. In a filing with the court, government attorneys allege that “the state of Oregon discriminates against individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities by unnecessarily segregating them in sheltered workshops and by placing them at risk of such segregation.”

The action comes nearly a year after the Justice Department filed a statement of interest with the court arguing that limiting people with disabilities to employment in sheltered workshops is no different than restricting them to live in institutions.

Attorneys for the federal government say they tried unsuccessfully to work with the state of Oregon to resolve the complaint before asking to intervene.

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Comments (50 Responses)

  1. Mark L. Olson says:

    “Choice” should be the prevailing standard. If people with disabilities choose supported or independent employment, they should have it, but if they choose a sheltered workshop they should have that too. As important, people with disabilities eligible for government funding should have it regardless of their choices. Innovate better options and let the market decide.

  2. Tacitus says:

    I don’t know how anyone can possibly support sub-minimum wage. Employment is meaningless if you can’t take home a living wage. Using unemployment as a economic indicator is centered on corporate interests and totally ignores individual interests. How much are these people taking home? What is their cost of living? These are the important questions.

  3. Alison Gase says:

    Sheltered workshops should be like schools – the education that leads to a job in the community. If that is not possible, the pay should be at least minimum wage to give the worker the same dignity that all workers are guaranteed by minimum wage laws. Businesses that contract with sheltered workshops should not be allowed to profit from the low wages that they pay for the workers that make their products. That is simply a matter of fairness and justice.

  4. Brian Bishoff says:

    I agree, people should have choices and no business or non-profit should be making extra money based on sub-minimum wages. Sheltered workshops don’t really exist where I live and work but finding real competitive jobs is very difficult. Most of the people I deal with work maybe 3 – 10 hours a week at minimum wage, certainly not enough to live on.

  5. pat m says:

    In Illinois there is an entire industry of vans, van drivers, moving people from home to workshop and vice versa and this involves many many jobs. This will result in a loss of jobs because no one is going to pay even minimum wage for many of the “jobs” done in the workshops. Realistically many of the people in the sheltered workshops cannot compete for jobs. They don’t have the skills. Workshops could be converted to more schooling, till age 25 or so, to improve their skills.

  6. Chaz Nickolaus says:

    Mark I agree that “choice” is important but only when it’s informed “choice” Many people don’t know what their choices are and have no idea what it would be like to work in the community.Community employment has the best chance of helping someone out of poverty and isolation. Often the “choice” of workshop or community employment is not made by the employee, but by others who see workshops as the easy or convenient “choice”

  7. F Dang says:

    In California there is a continuum of job placement services for individuals with developmental disabilities. There are Sheltered Workshops, for individuals who have cognitive difficulties working in a less structured setting and require more assistance. Enclaves, where a group of 3 individuals work with a constant job coach and Individual Placements, where an agency assists in locating a job and provide Job Coaches. These jobs are with retail stores and other setting. These individuals can mostly work on their own with occasional assistance from the Job Coach. I think it’s a good system. If the individual is able to work in the main stream that is also encouraged. I met two men that worked over 15 years at a local hospital doing food service, with minimal assistance.

    I think setting up a system that has a continuum of placements is a good solution. We should avoid one size fits all solutions to the employment of individual with developmental disabilities.

    My 30 year old son, who has Autism, works as a courtesy clerk at the local Albertson’s for the past 12 years. He has a Job Coach that meets with him on a weekly basis. The Job Coach will intervene if he runs into problems due to this disability. She will also teach him additional skills if he needs it in-order to perform his job. He is happy with his employment and the fact that like everyone else, he is working.

  8. Mark M says:

    While there are probably some trapped in a sheltered workshop when they shouldn’t, there are also folks like my son who can’t be productive enough even at minimum wage. 4-5 hrs a day won’t provide enough income to live on. The workshop allows him to be productive on some level, it also provides social interaction with his peer level and with other adults. To shut down the workshop is to sentence him to minimal visits outside the house with people who he can’t relate to and don’t relate to him. His home becomes his institution. Lets fix a flawed system not tear it down less we find in 5 yrs we created an even worse system.

  9. Tom says:

    Choice is an important part of the standard. Choice goes multiple ways. If you feel workshops are not acceptable, please start a company, hire the people who attend a local sheltered workshop, hire from all ability levels in that workshop, integrate as you see fit, pay everyone at $10, add $2 to cover benefits and tell me how long you intend to remain in business. What you will quickly find is if a typical person can complete 100 pieces of widgets in an hour, it will often take 2-3 people from that workshop to complete that same 100 widgets. So your widgets will cost you $12 for the first person or $24-$36 for the second group. What price do you set to make a margin and have customers buy from you so you can pay your employees? Can people in workshops do well in other settings? Yes, many do, while others do not for many reasons. I see many people where I live who are not employed simply because they are not fast enough or do not have the skills local employers want/need regardless if they have a disability or not.

  10. Mark L. Olson says:

    There is a place for sheltered workshops and sub-minimum wage if the alternative is no employment and no wages. It is aspirational to wish that everyone with a disability, no matter the severity, can compete for and obtain an integrated job and make minimum wage or better…but it’s not realistic.

    @Tacitus…your argument reduces the choices to full-time employment at minimum wage or better…or nothing. You are taking away options and resources in favor of a one-state solution that is not achievable, even for typical individuals. That view is part of the problem, not the solution.

    An individual with a disability who chooses and expects to living on state and federal benefits may be perfectly happy with a sheltered workshop and $4/hr for, as Brian B. says below, 3-10 hours a week. That individual is not expecting to live off the wages earned, but rather to earn discretionary income, have interaction with peers, and perform meaningful work.

    @Alison G…it is inaccurate to assume that every contract awarded to a sheltered workshop for a meaningful work product provides the contracting business “profit from the low wages.” Some of these contracts are awarded on competitive bid and could not be won otherwise.

    @Chaz…if an individual doesn’t have, can’t obtain, or is denied, the information needed to make an informed choice, or is otherwise denied the right to choose, then it is not “choice.” Period.

    The comments here, in general, also make a certain assumption about what the “minimum wage” concept means. There is an expectation of a certain level of job performance and worker output associated with guaranteed minimum pay. For those people who advocate for only competitive, integrated employment in existing real-world businesses and/or only minimum wage or better, then you must work within those expectations. Of course the ideal, aspirational goal is full employment that produces a living wage that reduces or eliminates the need for government financial supports. But eliminating all other options cannot and will not achieve that.

  11. AppleJ says:

    For some, like my son, it is not about making a decent wage for petes sake. He wouldnt know what to do with a check or a dollar for that matter. He might as well color on it as spend it. He is too low functioning to even be aware of that. His home and care is provided for but he does need a SHELTERED WORKSHOP. He needs to be sheltered. He gets aggressive if he feels threatened or gets agitated. It would not make good sense to have him in a public setting but I want more of an educational setting as well as a workshop. He is still learning at 21 years old and I know alot of older disabled adults that would still greatly benefit from a quality sheltered workshop. I just hate this throwing everything into one basket that seems to happen when someone protests one thing about a program. Like others have said it should be a choice. Our young people that graduate from high school and are not able to go to college should have something meaningful to do with their time, their lives. I hope this ruling doesnt shut down all the sheltered workshops in Oregan because alot of people who are not ready or will never be ready to work at a real job will be sitting home with NOTHING to do all because someone was worried about minimum wage.

  12. Stella McLeod says:

    I agree with having a range of options. In my country the sheltered workshops were closed and while it no doubt opened up greater opportunities for some people, others spend their time in “activity centres” or doing voluntary “work experience”. I have a 23 year old who would live a job. She has had some “job experience” placements and hopes to get a paid job, but in the meantime the day centre she attends has set up a bank account in the service users’ names and money from any contract work they manage to get is paid into their and later shared among the workers. What they get in would amount to far less than the minimum wage but as someone else has already pointed out, this is not what they are living on, it’s extra. My daughter looks forward to doing contract work. Not everyone wants to be in a school environment till they’re 25, though I do agree with providing ongoing learning as well as meaningful work and social activities, preferably as integrated as possible. Before closing places down, have alternatives in place. When our work shops were closed down, smaller industries were set up, e.g. garden centre, lawn mowing business etc, but even these came to an end because of rules and regulations.

  13. Jon K. Evans says:

    Somebody gets it! You can’t strike down Apartheid in South Africa when you have it in your own backyard, and restricting the disabled to sheltered, low wage workshops is another form of Apartheid!

  14. Cheryl Felak says:

    Everyone is not created with the same and equal abilities. Sorry, but that is a fact. Everyone should be able to chose and have equal access to meaningful activities for them. For some, that would be a job that pays well, a career, higher education, arts programs, sheltered workshop, day program or a variety of other opportunities. For those who need supported opportunities sheltered workshops provide much more than a “job.” For many this may be the only social outlet or outing that they have – when these opportunities are lost many of these people will be isolated.

    Yes, there are many who benefit from supported employment and do well but there are many for whom that is not the safe or best choice for them. My son is one of those. His attention span is at best 5 seconds and he’s much more interested in engaging others in a “conversation” than actually doing anything which others may see as productive. The efforts to keep him on track and to try to do tasks is a job that no one would want to try to do – it would also be torture for my son. Why do this for the sake of pretending he has a job – he doesn’t care, doesn’t understand the concept of money, can’t even write his name or hold a pencil to make more than a mark before his attention is on to something else.

    Choice is important but only for those who do not have developmental disabilities – if one has a developmental disability, the person and their family are not allowed to make choices which work for them – they must abide but the social control of so called “disability advocates.” Who are they really advocating for? Certainly not my son and many other folks who I know, love and work with.

  15. Jennie says:

    Stop the disability rights crusaders for God’s sake! They will not be done until everyone with more significant disabilities are sitting at home staring at the wall in total isolation. These group settings enable people to share supports and do something for more than just a few hours/week. A few hours/week of minimun wage employment with a job vendor that costs more than the amount earned will not fly!

  16. Tacitus says:

    “@Tacitus…your argument reduces the choices to full-time employment at minimum wage or better…or nothing. You are taking away options and resources in favor of a one-state solution that is not achievable, even for typical individuals. That view is part of the problem, not the solution.”

    What a bizarre Orwellian response! And where does “one state” come into it? People don’t choose to work for substandard wages. They do it because that is their only option. Oh sure, there might be a handful of people who only have a job because they want someone to blow sunshine up their rectum, but most of us have to eat, find shelter, receive preventive medicine. Where do you think the money is going to come from? The only “choices” sheltered workshops offer is the choice of corporations to exploit people. Real choice is focussed on the freedoms of individuals, not bureaucracies.

  17. J Cooper says:

    First off I need to state that I work in the disability community and that my comments are my own and not that of my employer. With that said, I would encourage the people here that are against sub-minimum wages to visit a non-profit agency with a Department of Labor 14c certificate that allows them to pay sub-minimum wages and see what the reality actually is.

    While people with disabilities can successfully complete a wide variety of tasks, in my experience, people that are employed in “sheltered workshops” are frequently doing packaging work where they take items from a manufacturer and re-package them for re-sale. Now, from the business side of things the non-profit agency has to bid on the re-packaging contract so that they get the work and can employee their people with disabilities. They have to estimate the amount of time it would take a “standard” worker to accomplish the task and then factor in the productivity rates of the people they are serving.

    For example, if a “standard” person can complete 100 packages in an hour and they are paid $8.00 per hour, you would be able to complete the work with two people at 50 percent productivity and still pay the same $8.00 for the same 100 packages. But if you were forced to pay minimum wage for the workers that are only capable of performing at 50 percent productivity what you end up doing is eliminating any chance that the non-profit agency can get that packaging contract and you also eliminate the low functioning people from ever having a job. And don’t forget that these people are often (although not always) given housing and are collecting disability payments from the government. The, admittedly, small wages that they earn is for spending money and, most importantly, allows them to feel “normal” as they work like everyone else and they earn a sense of pride in their job.

    My point is sheltered workshops and sub-minimum wages CAN sound so wrong but please go visit one yourself and see what they actually are and how they allow people with disabilities to achieve so much more than they otherwise could have. And one final note, the unemployment rate for people with disabilities is roughly 80 percent. Without sheltered workshops and without the ability to pay based on productivity this number would be much higher. To eliminate them without a serious discussion of how they can benefit a large number of people with disabilities is not wise, IMO.

  18. Bob Lawhead says:

    The DOJ is involved because this is a civil rights issue, folks. The system is broken and needs to be fixed. People with disabilities, no matter what their ability to function independently, have a right to be in their community with other community members. Recent research has revealed that segregation in sheltered workshops harms people. The same issues related to choice about what you do during the day applies to people with disabilities. The states and the Nation have decided to fund programs for people with disabilities. These programs must shift away from segregation to integration as a matter of law. I will not allow my son, who is now 17 and experiences a significant cognitive disability, to be illegally segregated from the rest of society. Free our people!

  19. Adaptagirl says:

    I am a highly intelligent woman with multiple disabilities. In the late 1980’s Voc. Rehab in Indianapolis, IN, placed me in a sheltered workshop due to my having “failed” attempts at traditional employment due to not being able to keep up with the expected workflow in the expected timeframe for improvement. At the time I was dealing with coordination issues leftover from a mystery childhood illness in addition to being mildly autistic (Asperger’s Syndrome), Crohn’s Disease, and a nice dose of chronic depression on top of that.

    My experience was not a good one, but there were those of lesser intelligence who thrived in it. For those who wonder how they manage to pay less than minimum wage, the secret is that the pay rate is based on piecework. If you are fast, you can do well, but if you are average to slow in dexterity, then not so much. Faster you are, the more likely you are to be able to move on to regular employment. So, for me, there seemed no hope. No matter how fast I screwed lids on bottles or stuffed envelopes (Yes, those packets of advertisements and coupons you get in the mail are often collated and stuffed by people in a sheltered workshop, not by machine), I could not make the grade. If I got a paper cut, I was told not to bleed on the work. Based on my experience, it’s not one I would wish on anyone. However, the choice should be up to the individual.

  20. Kathy G says:

    I work in a non profit Community Rehabilitation Center. My job is to help people find employment in the community, but I firmly believe that the individuals who have been given the opportunity to work in our prevocational services program are better more well rounded employees. They have learned good work skills that make them a competitive employee. The ones who have not been part of our prevocational skills program are harder to place in community jobs because they haven’t learned the basic skills necessary to hold a job. Relying on a job coach doesn’t work either because funding sources do not want to fund a job coach for enough time or enough money for us to hire well qualified job coaches. The people on my caseload who only work in the community are the most isolated. The term “sheltered work shop” is outdated and misleading. We are not sheltered in anyway and encourage people to work in the community if they want to, we do not ever “shelter” people.

  21. trappercreek says:

    For Oregonians, this is more a question of whether public policy, bureaucratic bias and related funding streams favor placements in a sheltered setting to the exclusion of resources to better address supported employment. It will hopefully also address the State’s plan to limit funding to only 5 hours/day. To the extend jobs are one, if not the best way, to address the abject poverty the majority of persons with disabilities face in this country, then barriers to competitive wages, full-time employment with benefits, etc., are important issues.

    That said, choice (among providers or services) is a separate and equally difficult issue from the question of whether the State engages in prohibited bias towards supporting providers that have built an industry that relies on the cheap labor of people with disabilities and State service payments to support them in large, segregated facilities.

    To be sure, it is unfortunate that the lawsuit needed to be filed in the first place. So many of the rest of our services are person-centered, integrated and not clinging to a past that we should all move forward from.

    For one, I applaud this and any effort to end sub-minimum wages and segregated settings.

  22. Clark Schroeder says:

    In my 30 years of working with people with disabilities I have never witnessed anyone being held back, we all strive to support people to their fullest. Those who say that people are not here by choice are not seeing the whole picture. We have to lock the doors to keep people from coming to work early they love it so much, show me any other business which has to do that.

  23. Dr. Scott Harrington says:

    We live in a diverse world: a rainbow of colors, shapes, sizes, abilities, incomes, preferences, orientations, etc. We would agree that segregation does not promote diversity, but rather impedes it. Communities and businesses that embrace a diverse workforce and pay a competitive wage for citizens with disabilities recognize the contributions that this population can make. Washington state, and a few others (i.e., OK, NH, GA, CT) understand this untapped resource and have developed policy to assure steps are being taken to include everyone. I applaud the citizens in Oregon for their courage and leadership, we will be watching very closely and supporting you where we can. We must proceed with caution, however. If we learned our lessons from deinstitutionalization of persons with mental illness, we will not just close the workshops. Spending the day, in isolation, sitting on the couch, watching TV, isn’t the answer, and will do more harm than good.

    We should systematically design supports to help job seekers transition from segregated to inclusive work settings where they can make a meaningful contribution. We should identify and use best practices to provide “informed choice” so that the best fit between a job seeker’s skills and business needs (e.g., “Customized Employment”) are made. We should educate businesses that persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities can make meaningful contributions and be the most dedicated employee in the building. We should collect data on our successes and failures, be transparent, and systematically improve the process (see Butterworth et al, 2012). With training and support, sheltered workshops can be the conduit for citizens to be included in their communities, where diversity is embraced.

  24. JR says:

    I have two adult sons with profound physical and intellectual disabilities. Since they were small, we have been fighting government-funded advocacy groups that wanted to close every school and community program that my sons and others like them needed and benefited from – their specialized center-based school program; specialized day care that accommodated children with trachs, feeding tubes, and severe behavioral and medical problems; specialized adult activity programs; and the group home where they live and receive 24 hour/day care. To add insult to injury these same advocates have wasted our time and taxpayers money in trying to convince parents that they are violating their children’s rights by obtaining guardianship, the only way in many instances to protect the rights of people who are not able to exercise rights on their own behalf. It’s true that if every sheltered workshop is closed, then no one will have to go to a sheltered workshop, but what a cruel way to force everyone into doing only the things that some advocates arrogantly believe is best.

  25. Tom Ewbank says:

    Know it all Federal Government! There is a huge difference between LIMITING people with disabilities to employment in sheltered workshops and PROVIDING sheltered workshops as one alternative for P w/D.

    Many People w/Disabilities (P w/d) cannot function in a typical work environment and a sheltered workshop with much support is their best alternative. If some P w/d can function well in a work environment, then that is a better environment for them. I doubt if Oregon is giving the latter category only sheltered workshops as their opportunity to work

  26. Barb Huyser says:

    Once upon a time, they sold what were called “One size fits all” pantyhose. You know what? Those pantyhose didn’t fit me. I’m sure that there’s other people they didn’t fit either.

    There is no such thing as a one size fits all solution. There is a need for an array of services, tailored to individual needs. Community based employment is great and I helped pioneer supported employment in my home state. It isn’t for everyone, though. There are people without disabilities who can’t keep a job. Why would we expect people with disabilities to be superior to that? Why would we expect that work is even a meaningful concept to some of the people we serve?

    Never put people in a position where there is only one choice of service. It’s rather like requiring them to wear one size fits all pantyhose.

  27. Harris C says:

    Let me get this straight… The Feds want to close all Intermediate Care Facilities (ICFs) so residents can immerse themselves into the community… But the Feds want to close down the part of the community that is most important?
    Just another reason why the Feds and the States should continue to allow for CHOICE, as supported by the Olmstead Supreme Court Decision… not politics. ICFs must continue.

  28. Becky says:

    What about the people who aren’t capable of working in a “normal” setting. They need the workshop environment in order to feel they are a productive part of society.

  29. Solasa says:

    @ Bob Lawhead: this is a choice issue, not a civil rights issue. People should have the choice of working in the community or working in a sheltered environment. Just like “typical” people can choose to leave the house and drive or walk to a job each day, other “typical” people can choose to stay at home and work (or not work) via computer or telephone. Isn’t that a sheltered choice, to work from home, only communicating via computer or phone? Yes, of course it’s sheltered…and maybe that’s the way they like and want it.

    Why can’t you see that this is about choice…not about an injustice?

  30. all4wageny says:

    Relax folks, most are good!
    With any business, you have honest groups and DISHonest groups. Unfortunately, we only hear the bad. Shelteredworkshops ABSOLUTELY have a place w/in our society! There are a significant number of folk who can’t perform at industry standards. Fortunately for the disabled portion, they can work and earn a living on top of their public assistance…..THANKS to WORKSHOPS!!!!!!!!!!

  31. Whitney says:

    The problem with Shelter Work programs it is not equal employment to those in traditional jobs. I mean I know a Shelter Work Program who went under FBI for labor abuse. It means without a national level of regulation or even fair and equality this is another form of Child Labor, Indentured Servitude or even Slavery which discriminates on a sect of people. If the Choice is an equal on where the wages were that of minimum wage and above and allow for advancement. I would support Shelter Workshop but as of now it is more like a form of cheap labor and taking advantage of segment of workers. Which United States is notorious doing this practice only which the players change.

  32. Rick Moulton says:

    The idea that non-profits are making money because they pay sub-minimum wage way is ridiculous. My program will lose close to a quarter million dollars this year. Productivity of the workers in our program ranges in the 50% range and if minimum wage was paid, not only would the packaging work stop but the landscaping, cleaning and farm crew would go out of business. Our workers take extreme pride in earning a paycheck. They aren’t coming to “A Program” they are coming to their job. The work we all do is a big part of our self esteem. Unless government requires that a certain percentage company’s workers be people with disabilities, only a handful of the disabled population will be able to earn paychecks. Closing sheltered workcenters may sound good but the reality is that the result of that will be more expensive programs such as day habs. OR workers sitting at home because there are no alternatives.

  33. trappercreek says:

    Yesterday, Oregon’s Governor issued an Executive Order that stops future referrals to Sheltered Workshops and, in a little over two years from now, stops Medicaid payments for Sheltered Workshop services as well as day programs that offer alternatives to employment. Sheltered Workshops are defined as any facility in which 8 or more individuals with I/DD gather for do work.

    It does appear that Olmstead will likely be applied to all settings and supports that receive federal funds. Danger and Opportunity ahead.

  34. Whitney says:

    I am not dissing shelter work programs. I am saying there need be some national oversight to how to run a shelter work program. Some states are far more progressive than others in regards to disability workers. I mean Arizona is rated highest in employment rights for the disabled and the state of Texas is rated 2nd worst in the same criteria. I think the states regulations for the rights of the disabled are to varied and there is need to have some sort of national regulations. Right now in my state a person who is disabled can sell newspapers on the interstate and major intersections. Yes a shelter program took advantage of the loop hole which allowed that and a good many disabled people got hurt. Thankfully the City decided that should not be allowed anymore. The Shelter Work Programs may have great programs but there been bad and rotten apples in the work programs. There are just as well meaning people who really want to help people with disabilities and there are some who wish to marginalize people with disabilities as well. So without National regulation and enforcement there is room for abuse.

  35. Keenan Wellar says:

    “Choice” is one of the most dangerous words that gets applied to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. I have seen it used as a reason for maintaining every type of segregated practice in history. Whenever we see a marginalized population being offered a “choice” that is not offered to others (and would be illegal or simply considered outrageous for other citizens) then there’s a problem. In addition to real employment (which has been proven time and time again a viable option for individuals previously declared as “unemployable”) the community has abundant opportunities including volunteerism, sports, hobbies, friends, and family, all of which are human choices, unlike sheltered workshops which are a 40 year old dehumanizing response to institutional situations that were even more dehumanizing, and thus they were at the time a form of progress. It is 2013. It is well past the time for clustering people with intellectual disabilities in segregated facilities to do work-like activity for 1/10 the pay that would be the acceptable minimum for other citizens.

  36. Michele says:

    You have no idea what you are talking about. Many of them, CANNOT work in he general public. Throwing things, biting? Theres a lw suit against the employer. My son cant work a regular job. He cant focus and all he wants is to talk and socialize. He doesnt care about workplace rules, nor would he follow them. He swears when he is upset, throws things etc. There is stress in a (normal) job. They expect work and production. He cant sit long enough to package the straws and cups in the workshop he is in. He is MR and Autistic, cleft palate and lip and blind in one eye. I work with kids who have melt downs for virtually no reason, like noise, exterior and interior factors and throw things and use self abuse. Kids who have seizures, some many per minute. Get real, if they can work away, they do with a job coach. Spend time in several sites and classes before you run your mouth,

  37. Barb says:

    I have visited 3 sheltered workshops. My daughter has Down Syndrome. The individuals working in these sheltered workshops enjoy feeling productive and are very happy to earn a small paycheck as extra money for discretionary spending. For the most part, these individuals really can’t work in industry or the community at large. These individuals need the assistance of professional support staff trained to interact with persons who have communication limitations, OCD, minor physical impairments, and a litany of other circumstances. The support staff assess and place individuals in appropriate work stations and provide any needed accomodations/guidance. The alternative for these individuals would be a day hab where they could SIT and COLOR, watch MOVIES, do some dittos and crafts. The workshops are providing an affordable service and I am very grateful to the companies that send work pieces to the shops and provide this opportunity for our kids. The sheltered workshop is a NECESSARY OPTION. It serves a totally different population. For the most part, our kids cannot work independently full time in the community at large. There is a separate program for those who are able to be trained and then left alone in a community work environment with only once a month support contact. The legislators need to visit some workshops and day habs.

  38. Linda Dougeneck says:

    Please reverse this. Everyone working should get at the very least minimum wage. I am so saddened that people that make hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars verses pennies can truly sleep nights. Please someone has to care about these people.

  39. Alison M. says:

    In a sheltered workshop the jobs are paid by piece rate based on the prevailing rate in industry. Therefore, if an individual is working at 100% of the prevailing rate they can (and some do) earn more than minimum wage/hr. The problem with closing workshops is that there are not enough jobs to go around period, much less for folks with disabilities. At a sheltered worksite individuals are learning more than how to package or assemble goods. They learn communication skills, how to advocate for themselves, how to get along with peers, problem solving, independent and community skills, etc. I think most of all they come to work and have a peer group. This is most often NOT the case in community job setting. In an idyllic world this would be the case but it honestly is not.
    Not everyone in a sheltered workshop can work in the community and certainly many kids aging out of school are not ready for that leap. A tiered approach to employment works best but, for some community employment is just not a viable alternative for a variety of reasons. For those individuals, in NYS where I live, I worry about their well-being. Sitting home doing nothing will not be a good thing for anyone!!! We have always been leaders in providing innovative services for the developmentally disabled, in NYS, I am appalled at the current push to do away with all that without any ‘tried and true’ alternatives in place.

  40. Albert L Thomas says:

    I am retired after 17 years working with developmentally disabled adults in this field. Sheltered work shops are to some an advantage. However this trap after observing all those years sometimes require the support person to do the work. Many persons longed to move out of the workshop. Most of these adults I knew as children and teenagers with the best of hope and aspirations for their future back in the seventies.

    I was in college back then . I see these same young men and women today in 2013 defeated and giving up even though they tried hard to prove they were ready and never given the opportunity.

    I can be heart wrenching when you talk with them these days and they express their frustration of being to work everyday and having no way out. Some of them looked at me as a Big Brother because I was there all that time. They feel comfortable to confide in you, when they feel threatened to express their feelings and thoughts to people who look at the behavior not not person. This is one mans observation on workshops.

  41. tim bennett says:

    the depratment of justice of the u.s. is right to make the state of oregon shut down their sheltered workshops they are not non profit they are for profit sweatshops end slavery

  42. joe p. says:

    Well it’s a nice thought. But correct me if i am wrong, it is going to be up to employers to hire persons with intellectual disabilities, so unless the govt. plans on creating some type of incentive for employers to hire men and women of this population, what is going to give them priority over other individuals competing for the same job. Sounds great in theory, but practical, most likely not. Probably should have thought this one through a little more, or better yet, even thought about it at all!

  43. Tom McClure says:

    The law requires payment of commensurate wages. I think that is where the misunderstanding occurs. Commensurate wages are that percentage of normally produced quantity of work at rate of pay for an experienced worker. So, if the regular worker earns $10/hr. and normally produces 100 widgets/hour, the disabled worker would earn $0.10 for each widget, exactly the same rate of pay as the regular worker. In addition the sheltered workshop/work activity center is to charge a suggested 100% mark up to cover the mandated benefits such as workman’s comp, plus overhead (heat, light, rent, bookkeeping, etc). Industrial normal is 3-6 times worker’s pay. This is part of the law to protect the regular worker from unfair competition from disabled workers. DOL also requires all rounding on piece rates to be in the worker’s favor, CARF (Commission on Accrediting Rehabilitation Facilities) also requires at least 5 paid vacation days per year, in addition to the National Holidays paid. These are paid at the average earnings of either the last two weeks or last month before the vacation.

  44. Thomas says:

    What about people who disabled can’t handle keeping regular job. Then what?

    The feds taking away my disabled rights worked at the sheltered workshop.

  45. Thomas says:

    Ok Feds! Show me who will hire me!

    I’m in my 50’s.

    I have: Mixed Developmental, passive aggressive personality disorder, dysthymic disorder.

    That’s why I get SSDI.

  46. Tre says:

    Its ignorant to say a job is meaningless because you can’t earn a liveable paycheck… sheltered workshops are far from slavery… the fact that word was used makes me sad. I work in a shop as a supervisor and I do not slave anyone. Most of the individuals I support could not gain employment in the community because their disabilities are too severe and their jobs in the shop and earning that paycheck means the world to them! Why would you deny persons the right to chose to work and be productive to their ability? Furthermore my company has an employment services department in the same building as the shop so those individuals that want to work in the community have the choice to hire a job coach and start the vocational training process. This ensures that no one will just get “stuck”. The people that stay do it by choice and enjoy being able to use their work skills on a daily basis. Now… shut down all the workshops… the people that are able to get jobs through employment do.. but what about all those people that arent able to work in the community? And all those people that felt self worth and accomplishment from working in a sheltered shop? I honestly feel the solution is not to tear down all workshops but to increase access employment services for those who want it. Its not fair for people who want a community job to be stuck in a shop… but its just as unfair to force someone to be unemployed because they can’t work in the community.

  47. Rick Wilson says:

    The only people who should be commenting on here are family members or those who are caring for a significantly developmentally disabled individual. The rest of you have no clue. “Sheltered Workshops” are one of the most successful and valued programs ever conceived for helping the significantly developmentally disabled.

  48. Clancy says:

    The problem with transforming sheltered employees to integrated settings has I think been pointed out by many on this board. What has happened over the last few years is that many well intended people have broadly painted a picture of workshops as antiquated, greedy and self serving all at the expense of the disabled working in these places. I will not say with any authority that there are misdeeds in some of these places but overall they have provided many persons who cannot work in competitive employment a place to go to everyday and earn money. There are reasons these places pay subminimum wages and that’s because many of the people in theses shops cannot produce a widget at a ‘normal level’ of productivity. And yes, many have established a social network and friends that they ordinarily would not have the ability to do if they were at home. It also allows parents to work and know that their son or daughter is somewhere other than at home watching reruns of I Love Lucy. Yes, they will not earn a living wage and grow up and have a home of their own; that’s not the point. Yes we can do more to open up jobs to those that can work competitively but remove the rose colored glasses and understand that some in our society cannot be integrated into the workforce. How would you like your disabled son or daughter ‘out there’ with some predator lurking in the shadows waiting to take advantage of them. So please all you knights in shining armor that want to come to the rescue get off your high horse and mind your own business!

  49. CLA says:

    I work in a sheltered workshop as a floor supervisor. I enjoy the work that I do with the participants of our program and they will never know how much they have blessed my life. While I encourage each of them to do the best work they can, and give positive praise many times throughout the day, the fact is, many of them will never be able to function successfully in the mainstream workforce. Some of them do possess the skills to move on to bigger and better things, but they choose to stay within the sheltered workshop because this is where they feel secure and accepted. The biggest problem I have with the sheltered workshop environment is the pay that the participants receive for their work, or should I say, the lack of pay. It isn’t that I believe that they should necessarily be earning minimum wage or enough to support themselves, because frankly, most all of the participants are cared for by another means. According to the website for the Department of Labor, even waitresses (tipped employees) have a standard minimum wage of $2.13 per hour that is earned. Albeit far less than the federal minimum wage, at least it is a set wage. Don’t the members of our disabled population deserve that much for their work? I do not exaggerate when I say that participants in our program work for meager wages on piece rate. A simple job of running paper through an industrial shredder pays a mere penny per pound by our standards! Sorting through filthy, garbage filled scrap resin from factories with injection molding departments pays eight cents a pound. How is this justified in today’s society? It is a modern day sweatshop that takes advantage of the disabled. They deserve more than they are being given as a wage. I have no other experience than with the establishment for which I currently work, but there has to be a better way.

  50. Dr.C. says:

    Commensurate pay is important, BUT we have a minimum wage so that, in part, employers set up the jobs they want done, in a way that is competitive, in order to prevent working conditions from devolving into slave labor. A person with disabilities is a person with disabilities, not a person to whom we can deny the right of a minimum wage for any reason.
    If a company wants to help the disabled, but can’t pay the minimum wage, one possibility may be for the company to pay the individual at the “piece-work rate”, but that company must also make up the difference (“minimum wage” minus “piece-work rate”) by applying any received grant money so that the wage is at least the legal minimum. If grant money exceeds that which is necessary to make up the difference then that extra money should be paid out to the employees, since it is specifically for them, not the company, that the company received those funds.
    The issue of choice is different. Just because an individual is not AWARE that he is in slavery, and so doesn’t complain, does not mean that he is exercising “choice”. Otherwise we must rethink the adages of “informed consent”, and “if one can’t say “No.” then one can’t say “Yes.”
    The solutions may be complex, BUT what kind of human beings find slavery to be any solution to any problem?

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