Sheltered Workshops or Supported Employment – Different Roads for Different Folks

Today there was an article published in Disability Scoop regarding Sheltered Workshops.   This information in this is hardly new yet I do find some interesting concepts that have come out of this.  I have also finally realized what one of the issues may be – is a sheltered workshop considered a route to supported employment with a competitive wage or is the sheltered workshop looked at as a day program which has benefits of it’s own?

If a sheltered workshop is only seen as a learning ground for other employment, of course it is a failure in that light.  On the other hand, a sheltered workshop does serve a critical role in the care of some of our more complex and high needs citizens.

When looking at supported employment, many people are needing to choose between a few hours of supported employment a week with no other resources for the remaining hours or a sheltered workshop – a program that has structure for 30+ hours a week.  This is a horrilbe choice for many to have to make.  Why can’t there be supported employment for the hours that one is able to do that and also a day program – why does it have to be one or the other?

When a sheltered workshop is looked at as a day program it serves many purposes – engagement with others, time management, skill development, activity, community involvement – all critical issues. My son is one of those who greatly benefits from a sheltered employment.  I’m not saying these things to limit his growth – I’m speaking from the perspective of reality.  When a person requires constant 1:1 interaction to maintain focus and stay on task, has the emotional maturity of a two year old and does not have a desire to work, understand the concept of money or how to manage any life skills on their own – what type of supported employment would there be?  It is much more beneficial for him to be in a program that is consistent and has several hours every day in which he can participate.  He also does get paid for the work that he is able to accomplish but he is not even aware of that – he just loves being with people.

When people have to choose between a sheltered workshop or supported employment which really may not lead to a job at all, we are just adding to the ranks of the unemployed case load.

Getting back to the study though, the authors are making assumptions about why the outcomes are less than desirable thinking people need to “unlearn” what they learned in the sheltered workshop.  These studies are missing huge areas  – what about the support needs of the individuals?  Yes, they all have autism but we all know that there is a huge variation in how people are affected by autism.  The authors do state that the severity of a person’s behavior may play a role though.  That should have been at the very top of the study – without that information everything else is a moot point.


“Participating in sheltered workshops diminished the future outcomes achieved once individuals became competitively employed, perhaps because the skills and behaviors individuals learned in sheltered workshops had to be ‘unlearned’ in order for the workers to be successful in the community,” according to the research team that assessed the group with autism.

Other factors like the severity of an individual’s behavior challenges might also play a role, they said.

3 comments on “Sheltered Workshops or Supported Employment – Different Roads for Different Folks

  1. Jan Aho says:

    Thank you for articulating so well the message we are trying to give to Oregon DHS officials who are moving away from sheltered workshops in favor of supported employment. We keep being told parents want supported employment and we are holding back their adult children. Just before I read your statement I was thinking about the importance of a continuum of service choices, as I see the value of the sheltered workshop for our clients. Then I went to the internet and found this. Thank you!


  2. Thank you. I’m glad you found this helpful. We are loosing services right and left and it is only hurting everyone.

    Many are forgetting the population of people with dual diagnoses of intellectual disabilities and mental illness. This population is one which may never be able to find a job in a supported employment and need the structure of a sheltered workshop.or day program.

    You may be interested in the essay “My Son Cannot Be Cured”, – for our son, we’d much rather spend money and time on activities that he can do and that matter to him rather than spend it uselessly on finding him a job that he has no interest in and will only frustrate him and the support person.

    Our son has a degenerative neurological condition and we want him to be happy and enjoy life as much as possible. These so-called advocates who think they know best are trying to take that away from him and others like him. That’s inhumane.


  3. sub minimum wage needs to be repealed it’s wrong and immoral to pay such a wage you can afford to pay mininmum wage not pennies per hour because of some legal loop hole section 14c it needs to be swept into the dustbin of history section 501c3 needs to be done away with it’s a shame for tax purposes because you don’t pay the i.r.s. taxes you don’t need the tax break


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