Here at The DD News Blog, we have covered the movement to close sheltered workshops for people with developmental disabilities. These closures have been supported by disability rights advocates who claim that it is a civil rights issue and that services for people with disabilities provided in congregate settings (settings that serve more than 3 or 4 people with disabilities together) are necessarily discriminatory. That the individuals involved in sheltered workshop programs voluntarily choose to work in these settings and need the services they provide, does not seem to matter. As far as these advocates are concerned, they know better and have determined without necessarily knowing the individuals involved that congregate programs are illegally segregating and isolating. More often than not, the legal justification for this is based on a misinterpretation of the 1999 U.S. Supreme Court Olmstead decision interpreting the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Disability rights advocates have also pushed to eliminate sub-minimum wage certificates for people with disabilities who work at a slower pace than their non-disabled peers or are otherwise unable to cope with integrated, competitive work settings. These certificates issued by the U.S. Department of Labor are often used by sheltered workshops to employ people with developmental disabilities. While abusive employment policies that exploit people with disabilities should not be tolerated, sub-minimum wages allow sheltered workshop programs to continue operating and pay for the services they provide. The people employed usually are eligible for social security and Medicaid benefits that subsidize their living expenses and pay for needed services. For people with DD who want to work in competitive, integrated work settings, supported employment services should be available along with a variety of work options that fit the needs of the individuals involved.
With the elimination of sub-minimum wages and the movement to close sheltered workshops, both reinforce the other and mainly result in reducing employment for people with DD and eliminating options that often work better for people with severe disabilities.
Here is yet another example of this from the Massachusetts COFAR Blog:
David Kassel at COFAR has been covering a 2013 plan by Massachusetts to close sheltered workshops and to place people with developmental disabilities into the mainstream workforce. The promise made by disability advocates, the Massachusetts Department of Developmental Services (DDS), and corporate service providers was that integrated, competitive employment would be available for people with even the most severe disabilities, eliminating the need for sheltered workshops. As often happens, the promise has yet to materialize, leaving people with disabilities with fewer options for employment.
In “Few people moving from sheltered workshops to ‘integrated’ jobs”, 1/30/16, David Kassel describes the lack of progress toward a policy to move people with DD into integrated employment.
“While the Baker administration appears to be moving ahead with a policy of closing all remaining sheltered workshops for developmentally disabled persons in Massachusetts, records show that relatively few people so far have been transferred from the workshops to the 'integrated employment settings' that are supposed to replace them.
"Confirming our concerns, the data from the Department of Developmental Services show that most of those people have been transferred to community-based day programs funded by DDS or MassHealth.”
According to Kassel, DDS records show that the number of people in sheltered workshops decreased by 61 percent, while the number of people with DD in corporate-run, community-based day programs increased by 27 percent. The number of sheltered workshop providers dropped from 39 to 14.
“In contrast to the increase in day program use, the number of developmentally disabled people in 'integrated employment' settings increased from August 2014 to 2015 by only 337, or about 6 percent…”
Kassel goes on to explain what happened:
“‘Integrated individual employment' is defined by DDS in a 2010 policy directive as 'taking place in a workplace in the community where the majority of individuals do not have disabilities.' In addition, the policy directive states that the 'optimal employment status is earning the prevailing wage.'
"Many families of the sheltered workshop participants have countered that those [sheltered workshop] programs are fully integrated into the surrounding communities and provide the participants with meaningful activities and valuable skills. Those families have also raised concerns that there are relatively few integrated or mainstream workforce jobs available for people with developmental disabilities; and that absent a sufficient number of such jobs, former sheltered workshop participants are likely to be transferred permanently to community-based day programs that do not offer the same activities or skills as the workshops did.”
Funding to transition people into competitive employment was less than requested and it appears that much of it went to providers of community-based day programs.
Kassel concludes that, “The disappearance of sheltered workshops appears to be yet another example of the erosion of cost-effective care for the developmentally disabled due to the influence of corporate interests that stand to benefit financially from it. At the very least, this case shows that a public agency should not develop policies jointly with the corporate contractors that it funds.”
In “House and Senate not following their own funding plan for employment of the developmentally disabled”, 5/31/16, by David Kassel at COFAR Blog, the story continues: All sheltered workshops in Massachusetts are scheduled to close by June 30, 2016.
“But the problem is that the Legislature, and to some extent the administration itself, aren’t following through on the policy, which calls for beefing up funding for DDS day programs and job development staffing. Last week, the Senate joined the House in rejecting higher funding levels considered by the policy planners to be needed by both day programs and employment programs for Fiscal Year 2017.
“…A likely result of this apparent under-funding is that relatively few people will be placed in mainstream jobs, but rather will be sent to potentially overcrowded day programs with inadequate staffing.”
In comments to the state,
“…the ADDP [the Masssachusettts advocacy group for corporate service providers] maintained that funding for both the community day and work line item and sheltered workshops transfer line items needed to be boosted significantly in order to fulfill the plans to close the workshops and transfer clients to mainstream jobs…
“The ADDP comments also noted that as of October 2015, the number of individuals receiving community based day services more than doubled from 2,656 individuals as of June 2013, to 5,422. While noting that this increase was directly related to the closures of the sheltered workshops, the ADDP stated that the majority of those persons were not receiving any other DDS-funded employment services.
“The ADDP comments also pointed out that DDS day programs require significantly higher levels of staffing than the sheltered workshops did.”
Kassel concludes that,
“It appears that the only policy the Legislature and the administration have pursued with a real level of commitment has been closing the sheltered workshops. But that’s only half the plan. The problem with the Legislature, in particular, is that while it bought into the first half of the plan, it now has seemingly abandoned the critically important second half.
“Thousands of people have or will be removed from their sheltered workshops, and the Legislature appears to be leaving an unknown number of them in the lurch.”