People with intellectual or developmental disabilities (I/DD), which includes mental retardation, Down syndrome, and cerebral palsy, have the right to choose where they work and where they live. We believe that sheltered workshops are the only places where some individuals can work and function as productive members of the community.
Legislators in some states are already attempting to eliminate funding to sheltered workshops and force people with disabilities into supported/competitive employment. A vast number of individuals with I/DD who are capable of supported employment have already transitioned into the community. There are countless horror stories about individuals who have tried supported employment, and they fell in with the wrong group of individuals, were taken advantage of, sent to prison, or ended up walking the streets alone.
Sheltered workshops throughout the U. S. provide a safe environment for adults with I/DD to work, interact with their peers, and gain a sense of accomplishment. Other popular names for sheltered workshops include “community rehabilitation programs,” work activity centers,” "center-based employment," or “vocational facilities.” Many workshops also provide transportation, off-site day habilitation programs, and opportunities to experience new things such as taking a vacation or going on a camping trip. Individuals who choose to work in sheltered workshops are happy, safe, fulfilled, and are among their friends and peers.
The ARC of the United States claims that people with disabilities “have had no choice but to work in sheltered, segregated programs that separate people from their communities.” Our response is that supported/competitive employment has been a choice for more than 20 years, through the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, Department of Mental Health, and the Medicaid system. Statistics show many individuals with I/DD have not shown an interest in supported/competitive employment, and the majority who have tried it, ultimately return to sheltered employment.
Legislators claim that supported/competitive employment enables people with disabilities to live and work independently in the community. Our response is that it can potentially promote independence. In many cases, the individual ends up leaving a 29-hour a week job in a sheltered workshop for one where the individual only works one or two days a week for four hours a day. Working eight hours a week washing dishes alone in a restaurant kitchen is hardly integration into the community; however, current government standards accept this as a successful placement.
An alternative option, which is currently gaining ground, is to remove individuals with I/DD from sheltered workshops and place them in Day Habilitation programs – segregated programs where they receive no monetary wages! Each individual has an innate right to have the opportunity to work, earn money, and gain a sense of accomplishment and dignity, while contributing toward their own standard of living. Eliminating sheltered workshops as an employment choice, denies individuals with I/DD the human inalienable right to be a productive member of our society.
Community employment is not the answer for everyone. We need sheltered workshops! We should be creating more employment opportunities for people with disabilities – not eliminating options. Let your voice be heard and speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves. ADA and Section 504 in no way meant to take choice or any other kind of employment option away from persons with I/DD. It is our responsibility to provide opportunities and support for individuals with developmental disabilities. Do not deprive them of their choices and force them into settings which will diminish their quality of life. Help us protect sheltered workshops across the nation!
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