On the other hand, I know people whose sons and daughters can and want to work. Their children are in the heartbreaking position of having the hardest time proving themselves worthy of employment when times are good and the first to be layed off when times are tough.
In Washington state, as in Michigan, the idea of paying jobs for everyone is part of the move toward inclusion that has exceeded the bounds of common sense. An article in the Seattle Weekly, Developmentally Disabled, Unable to Speak...Ready to Work?, reports on the state's 3-year-old policy that encourages all developmentally disabled people to find paid employment.
The article begins and ends with the often frustrating task of an employment consultant for a non-profit organization that provides training and support for integrated employment of people with disabilities. He has a case-load of 12 people with severe disabilities for whom he attempts to match their skills to paid employment. His first successful job placement was in January 2009 but it only lasted three months. Another job lasted for an hour and other job possibilities evaporated with hiring freezes.
The article recounts some interesting personal stories about the push for integrated employment and reveals a healthy skepticism by parents. As one parent says, "It's their agenda. It's not my daughter's agenda."
Washington state has decided that all activities it funds for developmentally disabled adults under age 62 will be related to finding and keeping jobs. Sheltered workshops, that have worked well for some and not for others, are being phased out. Recreation programs are no longer being offered as an alternative to job programs except for a limited number of people (35) who have been granted an exemption by the state.
Ray Jensen, the director of King County's Developmental Disabilities Division sees employment as a civil right and further claims that any program that congregates developmentally disabled people is no longer desirable or allowable: "I can show you law after law that says we can't segregate people."
I do not have the foggiest idea which "law" he is referring to, but it must be the same imaginary law that advocacy groups in Michigan cite when they claim that the existence of residential facilities, group homes, center-based school programs, and other programs designed specifically for people with developmental disabilities violate the civil rights of the people they serve.
Phasing out and eliminating costly but necessary programs for people with severe disabilities will save the state money, but the article points out some of the added costs of the state's approach. The cost of a full-time job coach for one man is $2,250 per month (that's around $33,000 per year). A sheltered workshop where one supervisor looks after a group of seven people costs about $7 per hour compared with $25 per hour for one-on-one support. One family referred to in the article decided to have their daughter live in a full-time, live-in institution paid for by the state, because there was no other way to get services appropriate to their child's needs.
A full array of programs is obviously necessary to meet the needs of this diverse population. As one parent puts it, keeping in mind the civil rights of her daughter,
"If she is too disabled to work, then she doesn't get [state assistance]. If you think about discrimination against people with disabilities, you expect that from the outside world-- not from people in the disability community."