“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.

I worked in a sheltered workshop

For the past 3 years I worked in what was essentially a “sheltered workshop.”

I had worked for this large Medical Center for over 20 years when I developed a disability due to being a long-term caregiver to my son with intense support needs.  I requested an ADA accommodation which was very reasonable and actually would have been beneficial to the unit I had worked on – but the management had changed and this particular manager did not appreciate nurses who questioned anything – so consequently, the ADA accommodation that I requested ( to work 8 hours shifts, any day of the week, between the hours of 7AM and 11PM) was found to be unreasonable.  I essentially lost my job on the unit which I loved.

After being put on unpaid leave against my wishes and filing a grievance, the only job that this huge medical center could offer a skilled, committed nurse with compassion for patient care, was a position in pre-op surgery  – this job is the lowest of the low for nurses – a place where those who can’t do their jobs are sent  –   yet is supposed to be the final safety check for patients prior to going into surgery.  I saw the job just as that and became aware of many errors and issues that needed to be corrected – but rather than being thanked or appreciated for trying to improve issues with patient care and safety, I was continually reprimanded.  One manager told me that “this is like Swiss cheese, some things just slip through the holes”  I couldn’t believe what I was hearing!

This job was in the basement of the hospital – 3 floors below the ground – no windows and smelled musty.  Countless days passed with no breaks and time was wasted trying to get the slow elevator to ground level which meant that the 30 minute lunch break was only 20 minutes or less.  My colleague and I were treated as people without brains – only people who were supposed to do one task over and over again (start IV’s in surgery patients) without thought to what was going on with the patients.  We were to act as robots without brains.  We were to ignore issues that were of concern to patient safety because our job was only to start the IV.  If there was a difficult patient or some issues that caused a delay, we were reprimanded for holding up the “flow” of the department.  What ever went wrong or slowed the process, was blamed on us.

I was called into the manager’s office many times to be reprimanded for looking up things on the computer.  I told the managers that I would look up things I didn’t know, medications I was unfamiliar with, conditions on the patient’s history and physical that I needed to know more about or education on nursing issues.  I was told that I was not allowed to educate myself on company time – that wasn’t part of my job description.

No wonder I began to hate my job and hate going to work.  I had never experienced such job dissatisfaction in my over 25 years of being a nurse.  I was essentially being paid to not think and to not be a nurse.  I felt like I had a master watching every move and if I didn’t stay on task a huge whip would come down on my shoulders and I lived in constant fear of being fired for trying to give quality patient care.

As I was talking to a friend about my new job and how happy I am in it describing my day, my friend said “it’s normal but you were treated like a slave for the past 3 years so what is typical and professional for others seems odd to you coming from your old job.”  It then dawned on me that I had really experienced what many say a sheltered work shop is – working in sub-standard conditions, doing the same task over and over and over with no ability for advancement or progress.  One difference though is that I was paid well for my job – but then money isn’t everything.

I have to say though that “sheltered workshops” are not all like what many believe they are.  They are not assembly line jobs with the person doing the same task hour after hour and day after day with no opportunities to try new things or to experience pride in their work or to earn good wages.  Many operate as supported employment – developing the skills that each individual shows potential in.

I know my experience is very different than that of people who have ID and do not have appropriate or adequate supports or have choice in what they may or may not do or where they may choose to work but it did give a glimpse into the process of pushing people down into holes where they do not fit and not allowing them to learn, grow and contribute and be a productive part of the team.

 

Goodwill Job Training Opportunity

Shoreline Goodwill offering Job Training Classes  – Great Opportunity for folks to look into!

Students can learn valuable skills in computers and English

Shoreline Goodwill’s Job Training and Education Center, located at 14500 15th Ave. NE, will be registering people for free classes July 16 – 19, 2012.  The eight-week session runs from August 6 – September 27, 2012.

The staff expects classes to fill up fast and reminds prospective students that sign-up is on a first come, first served basis.

The center will offer the following classes:

  • § Retail and Customer Service Training Program
  • § English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL)
  • § Basic Computer Classes– Introductory courses for people with little or no computer experience.
    •   Computer Basics
    •   Basic Computers for ESOL
    •   Microsoft Word
    •   Microsoft Excel
  • § Career Building Assistance: Instructors can help people with job searches, resume and cover letter writing, interview practice and more.

For class availability and enrollment information, call 206-631-8460.