“Sheltered Workshops” or “Community Employment”

I have some major concerns regarding the push for community employment for those with intellectual disabilities.  While I fully support employment and finding the right job for the person with IDD, I wonder how this is really feasible  – both from an economic standpoint and looking at productivity.

I would love to have some people explain to me how this system really works and how it can be sustainable if the so-called “sheltered workshops” are closed and cease to exist.  With regards to the issues of minimum wage and competitive wage, one does need to take productivity into account.

It also needs to be explained that in “sheltered workshops” the wages are not by the hour but generally by the work completed. So, it may seem that the person working there is making far below minimum wage but then again if the person only completes one task isn’t it only right to get paid for what is completed?  If one got paid for the time it took to complete it, the productivity would be so low that the costs to maintain employment would be astronomical.

My son is involved in the School to Work Program.  He is transitioning from high school into adulthood and this will be his last year of school at age 21.  He has the opportunity to work in a sheltered workshop, and currently does that on school breaks and during the summer.  He LOVES this opportunity – but not because he is working and earning money, but because he is around people he knows and talks with, he knows the schedule of snacks, lunch and they listen to music on the radio.  Any “work” that he actually does is very, very minimal and he has to be guided extensively to stay on task as his attention span is about 2 seconds at the maximum.  He is not driven to earn money since he does not have the concept of what money really is.  He knows one needs money to buy things but that’s about the extent of his understanding.

Even though my son loves the adult training center, I also know that he has abilities that could take him much farther and I want him to have the opportunity to be out in the community.  He is very interested in community events and current events and the fact that school will be ending (an environment in which he has thrived his whole life) his ability to continue learning in an educational environment will end.  There are no continuing educational opportunities for people like my son.  There are no community colleges or universities that have “special education” classes for those with IDD to continue learning.  School is done and it’s time to work.

Yet for people like my son, why does this have to be the way?  Why can’t we look at life long learning opportunities or continued educational opportunities in subjects they may be interested in – just like everyone else?  My other children had the opportunity and choice for education after high school but my son with IDD does not have that choice.

The school to work program is for students living in the community.  My son was going to be excluded because he lives in an intermediate care facility.  Even though he has attended public school his whole life and has been integrated into many community activities and events in our local community, the funding for program for those with developmental disabilities does not cross boundaries – one is either “in the community” or “in the institution” and this is where I really question the rigid boundaries of funding that prohibit choice and growth.

With the push for community integration, if we are not going to allow those who need the residential and health supports of the intermediate care facility to tap into funds and programs that all others have access too, how are we ever going to really see what could be possible?  This is a continuum of care and we need to have access to both sides of the fence.

But back to my questions regarding feasibility, productivity and jobs.  I am looking at this realistically knowing my son and his abilities.  Even though he has some wonderful skills and even extra-ordinary skills, the fact that he can not focus for more than 2 seconds and has very limited ability with fine motor skills, job opportunities are very, very limited.  He will need a 1:1 job coach at all times with him on any job and that is something that would have to remain in place continuously with any job placement.

So, where do the funds for this come from?  Does the employer pay both my son and his coach a wage?  That hardly seems economically feasible to pay two people for one job.  In addition to that, would the job be done up to standard (quality and/or quantity) by my son (or other person with IDD?) I really do not understand how anyone could expect that someone with my son’s abilities would be able to hold a job earning a competitive wage – in my mind this is not realistic knowing my son.

I would love to see both educational and vocational opportunity choices for people with IDD to access after high school.  Why is it assumed that their education is over and done with?

What happens to those who will not be able to work independently if that is the only job choice that is given?  What happens to the families? What happens when the parent needs to stay home with their adult child because there are not opportunities – work or recreation – during the day for the adult child?  How does anyone in the family earn a wage if the parent then needs to become the full-time caregiver of the adult child?

There are many questions and few answers which take into the account the fact that we have a large heterogeneous population but the population is seen as “all alike” in their support needs.  We forget there is a continuum and we need to account for people all along that continuum.