Home > Uncategorized > Questions surround phase-out of sheltered workshops for the developmentally disabled

Questions surround phase-out of sheltered workshops for the developmentally disabled

The Patrick administration’s decision to close group worksites known as sheltered workshops for persons with developmental disabilities as of June 2015 is causing anxiety to many families and confusion apparently even to many service providers.

As we previously reported, these programs, which provide assembly and other jobs in group settings, are considered politically incorrect by the state and federal governments because they allegedly “segregate” disabled from non-disabled people and pay some of them below minimum wages.  But as we’ve noted, many family members of workshop participants maintain that sheltered workshop programs provide their loved ones with important skills and meaningful activities; and they say they are not prevented from regular interaction with non-disabled people.

The Patrick administration, however, is moving ahead quickly with the shutdown of sheltered workshops.  Backed by the Arc of Massachusetts and the Association of Developmental Disabilities Providers, Governor Patrick has proposed an additional $5.6 million in the coming fiscal year under the Department of Developmental Services Day and Work program line item (5920-2025) in the state budget, to transfer people from sheltered workshops to DDS day programs.  The Arc and ADDP are asking for an additional $5.5 million on top of that.

Families of sheltered workshop participants are being told by DDS, the Arc, and the ADDP that their loved ones will remain in community day programs while DDS provides them with job coaching and other employable skills, and looks for opportunities to place them in the mainstream workforce.  The current sheltered workshop programs, they say, will be replaced by  “supported” or “integrated employment” programs in which developmentally disabled people will work alongside non-disabled people in actual businesses and will earn at least the minimum wage.

But there is uncertainty over how many mainstream or “integrated” jobs really exist for most people with developmental disabilities.  And while DDS maintains that current sheltered workshop providers will stay in operation, we and others have many questions for which answers are hard to come by:

  • Will the additional funding being sought by the governor, the Arc, and the ADDP be used to provide meaningful work activities and skills to disabled persons after their sheltered workshop programs have been closed? Or will the transfers of workshop participants to day programs simply result in the warehousing of people who were previously engaged in paid work?
  • Will providers that switch from sheltered workshops to supported employment programs have to dismiss a certain number of developmentally disabled participants from paying jobs and replace them with non-disabled individuals so that the new programs would then be fully “integrated,”  i.e., not have too many disabled people or too few non-disabled people working in them?
  • What is the acceptable number of disabled people in one setting before it is considered a segregated workplace?
  • What is the minimum required number of  non-disabled persons in a given workplace, which employs disabled people?

There seems to be little clear guidance on these issues from DDS or the federal government, which is phasing out sheltered workshops on a national scale.  Thus far, the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is not putting too much specificity into its rules and regulations on the matter.  In an informational bulletin issued in 2011, the CMS stated that supported employment programs “must be provided in a manner that promotes integration into the workplace and interaction between participants and people without disabilities in those workplaces.”

But  what does integration into the workplace really mean?  What constitutes interaction between participants and people without disabilities?  How many people without disabilities must be present in order to satisfy the CMS and DDS?

Similar questions surround the CMS’s requirement that supported employment programs pay disabled individuals “competitive wages,”  which is defined by the CMS informational bulletin as “at or above the minimum wage, but not less than the customary wage and level of benefits paid by the employer for the same or similar work performed by individuals without disabilities.”

Is it fair to require that a disabled individual who lives in a state-supported residential setting be paid the same as a non-disabled person who must pay rent or a mortgage? Related to this is what impact will receiving a minimum or prevailing wage have on a disabled person’s Social Security benefits?

Many of these questions came up at a forum held earlier this week by DDS in Easthampton on its sheltered workshop phase-out plan.  Among those attending was Ed Orzechowski, president of the Advocacy Network, an organization affiliated with COFAR. Orzechowski noted that the forum was well attended by family members, who expressed concern and anxiety about what will happen to the workshops in which their loved ones have participated for many years.

While admitting that the promised effort to place current workshop participants in “integrated” jobs “will not be easy,” DDS representatives insisted to the families in Easthampton that the state has little choice but to move ahead with the workshop closures. They cited federal lawsuits, filed by the Department of Justice in recent years against the states of Rhode Island and Oregon, alleging that sheltered workshops in those states were segregated settings.

Fear of a federal lawsuit may be behind the Patrick administration’s desire to move as quickly as possible to shut sheltered workshops in Massachusetts. But it’s also the case that the Patrick administration has long subscribed to the Obama administration’s untenable position that all congregate forms of care for the disabled are discriminatory. The effect of this position has been to privatize a growing list of state services to the disabled and thereby put ever more money in the pockets of the CEOs of corporate providers represented by the Arc and the ADDP.

We fear that the effort to shut down sheltered workshops is really largely about more money for corporate providers of day programs.  It is also about forcing people into a theoretical model of care, which, as usual, denies them and their families any say in that model.  As one commenter to a previous post of ours said, the CMS and DDS-supported workshop model is akin to forcing her to spend her days with either a group of astrophysicists or teen skateboarders even though she happens to have nothing  in common with those two groups.

We hope that at the very least, DDS will agree to keep sheltered workshops open in the state as long as it takes to place all of the current participants in them in promised jobs in the mainstream workforce.  DDS has an obligation to provide continuity of service to these individuals and their families.  Their lives should not be placed in upheaval based on a plan fraught with so many unanswered questions.

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  1. Orzechowski Ed
    March 21, 2014 at 4:01 pm

    Lots of parents and guardians are rightly anxious about what will happen to their loved ones who have enjoyed and benefitted from their participation in sheltered workshops for years, many for decades. Closing these programs would cause unnecessary stress in their lives. They need and deserve the security of the routines to which they’ve long been accustomed.

  2. Anonymous
    March 21, 2014 at 7:39 pm

    Consumers, parents, families and guardians concerned with the closing of workshops need to take action. They need to write to their local Senators and State Representatives as well as to Brian Dempsey (Chairman of the House Ways & Means Committee) and Steve Brewer (Charimain of the Senate Ways & Means Committee) asking them to specifically:

    1. take out the $5.6 million dollars in the Governor’s House Two Budget to transition people from sheltered work into Community Based Day programs

    2. To not fully fund the DDS Employment First Initiative with the additional $5.6 million dollars

    3. Ask the administration to prohibit the closing of sheltered workshops.

    The only way to stop or hault this nonsense is for everyone to take action. Call, email, write and even invite the legislators to take a tour of workshops and have them talk to the individuals currently receiving this service. Several agencies in the Western part of the state are already doing this. This needs to be done across the state in large numbers. The budget is almost ready to go to print – I hope enough people are concerned enough to do something about it, not just talk about how unjust it is.

  3. March 22, 2014 at 1:18 pm

    What ever happened to people’s rights to work where they want to? Connecticut has started to do the same thing with our sons/daughters who work in a workshop. My daughter has worked in VARCA, a sheltered workshop in Derby, CT for many years and has enjoyed it all the time. She looks forward to going and is not a happy camper when it snows and she can’t go. Parents have to stand up and fight. If they close all workshops we all know that there will be many people who have developmental disabilites that will be home doing nothing but watching TV. We as parents/guardians have to stand up and fight this. The bottom line is the state stands to save a great deal of money by doing this. The notion that my daughter and all the other people will be able to work in the community is an idea that the states are trying to make us swallow. Parents call/write your legislators/congressmen and tell them about your son/daughter and ask them for their help, That”s what we voted them in to office to do.

    • Anonymous
      March 22, 2014 at 3:58 pm

      This is clearly an uneducated move from the Patrick Administration. I’ll call my congressman on Monday… This Admin has done nothing but negatively impact those with disabilities; in some ways I’m glad my brother passed to avoid all of this.

  4. Anonymous
    March 22, 2014 at 11:33 pm

    I agree with the writer who said we need to do something, not just talk about it. People can take it even a step further by asking Brian Dempsey to take the money allocated by Governor Patrick out of the budget before it goes to print (in approximately 3 weeks).

  5. Janet Ryan
    March 23, 2014 at 7:04 pm

    i have started a petition to bring to the state house that has been signed by many parents, guardians, and others who are concerned about closing the sheltered workshops. Opportunity Works in Newburyport since it started has been placing as many as these citizens in the community as possible and if these individuals fail in the community and choose to work in their workshop they should be able to. We, as parents and guardians, have known these adult citizens since they were born, know what their wishes are and know when they feel good about the work they do in the workshops. We do not think the governing bodies should have that type of power to dictate where these citizens should work. Don’t they know we have worked all our lives to do the best for our children and when we see these individuals as adults able to work where they work every day of the work week, enjoy the work they do, meeting deadlines and getting paid, even though it may be minimal. They have a right to work in sheltered workshops if that is where they chose to work. Our daughter has tried to work in the community , was not able to handle the pressures, and feels comfortable in the workshop where she does not have the fear of failure in her life.

    • Robert Wood
      March 24, 2014 at 12:24 pm

      The one size fits all concept does not work. What would happen if the Goverment told all of us where to work and live, who we can and can not talk to. People need to stop trying to decide what is best for our children. What they want are not what is best for our children but what they want for them. If my daughter is happy where she is working why cann’t she work there? People need to go visit workshops like the one my daughter works at and see what is going on, they have no clue.

  6. maryalice frain
    March 24, 2014 at 2:06 pm

    Once again the governor chooses not to involve parents,guardians & consumers when making changes to the lives of people they know best.And what & where are the alternative community placements?

    • Anonymous
      March 24, 2014 at 4:30 pm

      Can you say ‘dictatorship’?

  7. Anonymous
    March 25, 2014 at 8:12 pm

    What a joke. The state of Massachusets, Conneticut, and other states who are going this direction are the laughing stock of the US. This makes no sense. Remove choices and add more money to non-employment programs. Parents, families, and consumers must fight back and not let this happen.

  8. Laura Bradley
    March 25, 2014 at 10:41 pm

    Some years ago I worked as an assistant supervisor in a well run sheltered workshop. The “clients” was the politically correct term of the time for the developmentally disabled adults who worked there. This was very meaningful employment for the physically and cognitively impaired adults who attended daily, and earned money, They earned less than minimum wage, but were paid for the amount of work they produced. They came happily to work each day to see their friends and co-workers. The workshop had some wonderful employees, many of them working mothers or other family members who had children with disabilities. There was a wonderful feeling of community. It felt somewhat like a school, with a nurturing environment. I have not been in a sheltered workshop for many years, but as a teacher I work with a population of kids who one day would greatly benefit from an environment like this. Parents of these children or adult developmentally disabled want their loved ones to be someone challenged, but very loved and accepted. The work out in the “real world” can not offer this to everyone. Sometimes I feel sad when I leave Stop and Shop and see one of my bagger friends feeling stressed about his job, or having to go out into the cold to collect carts. This “meaningful work” in my opinion is best for the high school student trying to gain a work ethic , not for the mentally or physically challenged adult who is doing it because his/her poor elderly parents didn’t have another opportunity or option to pursue. I wonder if Deval Patrick has visited a good sheltered workshop. The ARC of Massachusetts, as usual acts as if they know better than parents and families who DO greatly benefit from these sheltered workshops. It is unrealistic to think there will be jobs aplenty for this population. More than likely it will be the occasional dishwasher, bagger, or other unskilled work, with a supervisor who does not love his work overseeing this detail. Most places of employment demand highly skilled workers. Why is it a crime for developmentally disabled people to be in a protected environment like a sheltered workshop? It was a wonderful and innovative idea over 50 years ago , and it still is today. We have come a long way with acceptance, but the foes of the sheltered workshop are mistaken if they think employers will be welcoming this population with open arms. It is a challenging population to teach, motivate, nurture, and supervise. The rewards are great for those of us who know and love them, but real employment opportunities are not out there yet.
    KEEP Sheltered Workshops OPEN, THIS is meaningful work!

  9. Lavanda England
    July 30, 2014 at 9:22 pm

    I feel as though the people who paa these law should take a realistic look at the clients at workshops some are quite capable of working out side the sheltered environment other it is. Not feasible for… Maybe we should take them all to government office for employment. After all they do have rights This is crazy how many of these folks will be sitting at homes think we are going back not forward.

  10. August 26, 2014 at 2:07 am

    as a former goodwill industries worker i worked 34 days industrial services and goodwill industries are the same thing sheltered they don’t teach job skills at all it’s like doing life without parole same boring stuff every day it’s a shame they still allow these sweatshops to operate i’m opposed to keeping sheltered workshops open boring hate them it’s wrong close sheltered workshops for good end slavery now

  11. Ittai
    April 17, 2015 at 1:24 am

    My name is Ittai Orr, I am an American Studies Ph.D. student at Yale and I would like to hear from as many people as possible on this issue. I am writing a book and hoping to get much more public attention for this debate. Please write me an email at ittai.orr@yale.edu if you are interested in sharing your perspective with me. Your voices are important and need to be heard!

  12. June 21, 2015 at 3:05 pm

    sheltered workshops are not meaningful they are a joke goodwill industries is one example of a sheltered workshop they pay you based on productivity piece rate pay i assembled spindle adapters for 8 measly pennies i was put in the subminimum wage department $1.00/hour i quit because a word of warning to any one don’t waste your time going to vocational rehabilitation they will put you to work in a sheltered workshop i mean sweatshop they pay the disabled/ non disabled pennies per hour the ceo’s deserve nothing it’s for section 501c3 to end they are a for profit charity greedwill industries

  13. June 23, 2015 at 1:52 pm

    to laura bradley i think you’re wrong you say keep sheltered workshops open they’re meaningful yeah right they don’t teach job skills at all i know i worked at goodwill industries 34 days fro $1.00/hour i even put spindle adapters for 0.08 measly pennies i was told by my vocational rehabilitation counselor what i make is based on productivity piece rate pay i was not intellectual or developmentally disabled sheltered workshops are out dated and need to be closed for good it’s a dead end job leading nowhere but to boredom you’re wrong goodwill industries they get donations for free and charge 2 to 5 times higher for the items they get the salvation army is the same they get donations for free and charge 2 to 5 times higher for the items i can go to any store buy it new like clothing not used at high prices

  14. Janet Ryan
    June 24, 2015 at 1:53 pm

    Laura Bradley made comments on March 25, 2014. I and many of the parents at the sheltered workshop where our family members work agree with her comments 100%. If an individual wants to and is able to work in the community they live in, they should be given that opportunity. However, if they CHOOSE to work in a sheltered workshop where they feel safe and secure, they should be given that opportunity. We have been informed that if a sheltered workshop client works in the community setting part-time, losses that job, or is never able to get a job, they will continue to go the said workshop but will not work for a paycheck, regardless of the amount. That is like saying if you can not work in the community, you are not worth working at all! These special needs citizens should have a say where they want to work, be it the community or the sheltered workshop. Receiving a paycheck is important to them even though it may be a small amount. They have a civil right to choose. Even though the work at the workshops is repetitive at times, those industries need the work to be done. Isn’t it better to employ our special needs citizens versus sending these jobs elsewhere. Security, self-esteem, choice and being with friends and staff who understand and work beside you is of utmost importance to many of these citizens who have enjoyed and contributed to the work force at sheltered workshops. Thank you for your comments, Laura. Hopefully, our governing bodies will finally see and understand our concerns as parents and guardians. Thank you Ittia Orr for your studies and interest in this ongoing issue.

  15. June 24, 2015 at 10:18 pm

    disabledsheltered workshops are wrong and illegal they pay penny wages you’re in favor of these sheltered workshops correction sheltered sweatsholps i don’t think keeping these so called sheltered workshops open it’s slavery it was outlawed 150 years ago i don’t agree with laura bradley you think it’s okay to segregate the intellectualy and developmentally disabled in a warehouse setting it’s not the answer it’s like life without parole i’m opposed to these prisons they call sheltered workshops it’s time to get rid of them

  16. June 25, 2015 at 1:33 am

    to janet ryan i say it’s wrong to pay those with intelectuall and developmental disabilties penny they should get paid $7.25/hour or more these sheltered workshops the managers of the sheltered workshops deserve no big salary only 0.01/hour for 40 hours/week only $20.80/year they should be working as a slave for pittance this is 2015 not 1865 this is a violation of their civil rights and you know it warehousing them from the public is morally wrong and illegal they lead to boring dead end work

  17. June 25, 2015 at 4:20 am

    i’m not intellectual or developmentally disabled when i was in elementary school i was held back a grade kindergarten twice i was in the 6th grade at 13 mental health is to blame for making me repeat the same grade over i don’t trust the mental doctors at all they’re social control freaks they should not tell anyone where to work at they’re nothing but quacks two faced ignorant uneducated morons vocational rehabilitation is a joke the guardianship system is a for profit business greedy corrupt the judges and court appointed guardians are nothing but dishonest self centered and crooked the guardian who is appointed to the ward of the state i’ve read horror stories of a guardianship gone wrong it’s a violation of that person’s civil right it’s time for guardianship abuse to end now the system is wrong

  18. June 27, 2015 at 3:53 pm

    goodwill industries is one example of a sheltered workshop paying sub minimum wage 29 years ago i worked at goodwill industries 34 days i did not have a intellectual or developmental disability i made$1.00/hour vocational rehabilitation referred me to goodwill industries they wanted me to work at the sheltered workshop december 1984 industrial services of guilford i said i’m not working there my counselor judy lochart wanted me to work 30 more days at goodwill i said i’m not interested they wanted me to take work adjustment classes about the counselor called me and asked me if i’m going back to goodwill july 2nd 1986 3 months later october 23rd 1986 the conselor called me again and asked me if i would reconsider returning to goodwill i said no i was told i get paid based on productivity piece rate pay i assembled spindle adapters for 0.08 measly pennies each to laura bradley and janet ryan you think sheltered workshops are meaningful they serve no purpose at all it leads to boredom what’s great about sub minimum wage nothing pennies per hour the shetlered workshops are dead end leading to nothing but dull boring work day after day i don’t agree paying sub minimum wage to a disabled worker is right they’re not happy working in a segregated facility warehousing them is wrong sheltered workshops are today’s institutions according to disability scoop read it for your selves it’s true that’s what they are read the article staring at the four walls while working in a ware house setting is wrong that’s why i quit working at goodwill after 34 days

  19. June 9, 2016 at 10:06 pm

    sheltered workshops are not a good choice they don’t job skills at all they pay you based on productivity i found that out when i was having to assemble spindle adapters for 0.08 measly cents each they required me to assemble 500 spindle adapters in one hour i was told they paid me piece rate pay based on my productivity my former vocational rehabilitation counselor judy lockhart with held information from me about how much i would get paid don’t go to vocational rehabilitation because they will refer you to a sheltered workshop like goodwill industries i quit after 34 days after working for theml

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