What’s all this about sub-minimum wage?

In recent years there has been a push to end sub-minimum wage jobs.  I totally agree that people should be paid a fair wage regardless if one has a disability or not.  If the person is able to do the job – with our without supports – that person should be paid at least minimum wage.  No argument from me at all on this point.

But, there is also another side of the story that is not heard (or ignored) with regards to employment and those with profound and complex multiple disabilities.  This population is often the population that if employed, is employed at a “sub-minimum”  or commensurate wage based on productivity at the job.

What is also often missed in this issue is that fact that a job is much more than a paycheck and for a specific segment of our population, this job, even though it pays sub-minimum wage, is much more than a job and money to the people who are actually involved.  We cannot lose sight of this fact in the quest “to do the right thing” without understanding the whole situation.  Most of these people do receive public benefits already due to the fact that the majority have some sort of intellectual and developmental disability.  The wages they earn are not what they live on for food and rent – although every little bit helps because what they receive from public benefits is clearly at poverty level.

Recently, Liz Plank, a video blogger and journalist,  recently posted a video titled “Divided States of Minimum Wage”   This is a great story about Collette and how she has started her own cookie business and hires other people with disabilities to work in her shop. This is a great story and one of wonderful accomplishment.

It’s a very complex issue though and it does not help that people such as Sarah Launderville,  the Executive Director of the Vermont Center for Independent Living.  Unfortunately, Ms. Launderville misinterprets the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA – DOL)  law and goes on to say that people get paid based on what percentage of disability the person has and goes on to say “so you’re saying you’re half a person.”

There is a public Facebook group called Disability Visibility Project

Disability Visibiilty Project - Facebook

I posted my concerns regarding this video on the DVP site and was lambasted by others.  My comments were major triggers for many people on that site and I was since blocked from the site.  While I eventually self-identified as being disabled myself (I am and have even lost a job due to asking for an ADA accommodation) I was repeatedly called out as an ableist and other nasty terms.  Even when I asked one person to read what I wrote before swearing at me and making judgments this is the comment I received:
ableist shit comment

Once labeled – there is no opportunity to clarify since every comment is twisted and misinterpreted.   I followed the commenting guidelines more closely than most of those who swore and labeled me – but since I was reported to the moderator, I was blocked from the site (as were a couple of other people who spoke some truth).  If you are interested in reading the comments, here is a link to a PDF (DVP Banned Facebook Comments March 2 2018the of the post or you can go to the Facebook page of Disability Visibility Project and read/comment there.


I have made efforts to clarify issues regarding the certificates and advocating for people who chose to work in these types of employment settings.  I have attempted to illustrate various types of obstacles that would be difficult to overcome, even with appropriate supports, for many of these same people to work in an integrated employment setting.    It’s not as simple as just paying someone minimum wage when one needs intensive supports.  There are issues of transportation, funding and training for job coach who needs to be there at all times and issues with personal care assistance (typically job coaches are not able to help with personal care giving) just to start the list.

Another huge issue is the fact that in supported employment for people with intensive support needs, the work hours usually top out at 10 hours a week.  Vermont has an average of 8 hours a week and New Hampshire has an average of 11 hours per week.  So even though the person earns minimum wage the income earned is minimal.

This then creates another major issue – if the person is now only working 8-11 hours a week, what is that person going to do the rest of the day?  While working in a “sheltered workshop” people may receive their physical therapy on site, make and eat their meals, have personal caregivers and peers on site.  There are many opportunities to engage with others and be out in the community.  When work hours are drastically cut, many people have nothing to do but sit home alone.

How do we progress and move forward?  I’ll keep advocating for my son and others and I’m sure I’ll be called more names and blocked from other sites too  – but hopefully, someone will read it and understand and help to advocate for those who are not able to advocate for themselves.


Elimination of Sub-minimum wage in Seattle

The Seattle Commission for People with disAbilities  has made a recommendation to the Seattle City Council to eliminate certificates which enable employers to pay people with specific disabilities a commensurate wage.  I know that there are discussions all across the country that are looking at issues of employment and wages for people with disabilities.

This is a quick update on this very heated discussion.  From what I can assume by the articles that I read and the correspondence I have had with at least two of the commissioners regarding this issue vie Facebook,  there has been little research or collaboration with those in our community who may be, now or in the future, affected by this proposal.

Attempts to offer insight, requests for research, transition plans and funding plans have been ignored and people who expressed concerns have been rudely and aggressively mistreated by at least one of the commissioners.

Seattle Commission for people with disabiltiies Shaun Bickley and Cindi Laws

Below is the first letter that I submitted on the Facebook page.  This led to the Facebook page administrator blocking me from further comments or reacting to any posts – and this post was removed.

I am the parent and guardian of a young adult with significant intellectual/developmental and mental health disabilities – all of a degenerative nature and I network with many other families, caregivers, guardians and people with IDD who totally disagree with the assumptions that you and others are making about those with disabilities.

Yes, the members of the commission may have disabilities but is the specific population of those with significant intellectual/developmental disabilities represented?  The population which identifies as disabled is extremely heterogeneous and we need to have choices available to ensure that all have a chance and opportunity to work. We are all very concerned regarding this issues. For many of these people who work under these certificates it’s not about making a living wage – it’s about having a job and being a member of the community, participating, sharing experiences and having daily goals and activities – basically adding meaning to their lives. 

Unfortunately, my son and others who experience some of the same types of issues he does, are not able to articulate their ideas, attend meetings, and speak in coherent sentences – even with the help of assistive technology, and so their voices are not heard. 

You do not speak for them – in fact, it is quite the opposite because you deny the people who know, love and understand them, the opportunity to provide their ideas and choices. These people are their friends, families, guardians, caregivers, coaches, case managers, co-workers. These are the people who are all better equipped to fill in and be a proxy for their voices. 

The fact that you make assumptions that you are speaking for all people with disabilities without taking into consideration those who are affected by this issue is an act of discrimination and devaluation of their personhood. 

We need these certificates to ensure choice – remember the saying “nothing about us, without us” – Please take it to heart!

Mr. Shaun Bickley, one of the commissioners, took offense with my letter, stating “”nothing about us, without us” refers to disabled people, not to parents, siblings, neighbors,  co-workers and other allies”.  He wrote that they (the commission) were all disabled and therefore can speak for all people with disabilities – whereas, guardians’ concerns are only self-serving.  He wrote that all people, even if they can just move one muscle, can make their choices known – regardless if others understand them or not.  (I am very confused by this since if others do not understand, how are their choices known?)

In looking at the members of the commission I noticed that several are lawyers, a few have PhDs and several others have a variety of advanced college degrees, one is a filmmaker and an artist,  one is a medical doctor  – I’m curious which one has an intellectual/developmental disability?  This is the question that got me blocked from the Facebook page as it was seen as using “degrading language and making people feel unsafe.”

More to come – letters have been sent to The Seattle Commission for People with Disabilities, the Mayor’s office, the Office of Labor Standards and to each member on the Seattle City Council.


“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.


Shame on DRW (Disability Rights Washington)

AS an advocate for our community members with developmental and intellectual disabilities with the highest support needs, I have been thoroughly ashamed and disappointed in the position of Disability Rights Washington (DRW).  DRW is supposed to be the protection and advocacy agency for these very citizens yet I see they are actually doing much harm to this population which has the greatest need.

DRW operates a blog entitled DisAbility Rights Galaxy.  One would think that they would welcome comments but I believe they only welcome comments which they find agree totally with what they have written.  I find it interesting that Mark Stroh, the editor, refers to the following rule as to why my comment will not be posted:

Comments we know or suspect to be inaccurate which are presented as factual. We will error on the side of caution here. As an unknown wise person once said, you are entitled to your own opinions but you are not entitled to your own facts. However, we do not guarantee the accuracy, completeness or usefulness of any information in the comment section and expressly disclaim any liability for any information posted, or websites linked, to here.

as a reason that posts that I have written will  not be allowed and sit in limbo of “awaiting moderation” forever.  I think what he means to say is “our opinions are facts and therefore if anyone questions them they are only stating their opinion which is not fact since it does not agree with our “facts.”

The most recent issue of conern is that regarding “Sheltered workshops”  I have copied and pasted the original posting from Disability Rights Galaxy and my comment which is still in moderation and will not be posted.

Report: Sheltered workshops “exploit” people with disabiliites (sic)

Andy Jones | April 8, 2012

The National Disability Rights Network released a new report April 3 detailing how federal funding priorities entice states to funnel people with disabilities into sheltered workshop programs that segregate them from the regular workforce.

Opportunity Ahead Road Sign

People with disabilities want inclusive jobs

The report, titled “Beyond Segregated and Exploited,” is an update on ascathing report, released by NDRN in January 2011, that called for an end to subminimum wages and poor working conditions for people with disabilities.

“What we found was a system that does not provide truly meaningful employment opportunities for people with disabilities and in many instances exploits theirdisability for the financial gain of employers,” said NDRN executive director Curt Decker in the most recent report. “We found a system that traps these workers in endless “training” programs that prepare them for nothing and often leaves them impoverished. Worse, federal laws and programs as well as many provider organizations within the disability service system help facilitate this travesty.”

States receive money for sheltered workshops, separate work programs meant to provide employment for people with disabilities, from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the Rehabilitative Services Administration. However, these programs are not balanced with funding for programs to assist individuals with transitioning into the workforce.

For example, in Ohio, where 97 percent of the state’s disability employment funding is directed toward sheltered workshop programs, more than 5,200 workers are earning an average of $1 an hour. As detailed in a series of articles by the Columbus Dispatch, these programs receive almost no oversight. Despite havimg the largest number of individuals employed in sheltered workshops nationwide, the state’s 40 percent poverty rate for people with disabilities is among the nation’s highest.

“Despite CMS’ and RSA’s expressed preference for integrated employment, the heavy flow of Medicaid dollars spent on prevocational services and RSA’s policy allowing workers to get those services in sheltered settings does not support the call for community-based employment,” the report states.

Federal law allows sheltered workshops to employ pay individuals less than the minimum wage under a Great Depression era law designed to bolster employment for people with disabilities.

The report provides an overview of a number of efforts by Protection & Advocacy organizations around the country to improve conditions and opportunities for people in sheltered workshops, including a class action lawsuit filed in January by Disability Rights Oregon which argues that Oregon’s system of sheltered workshops violates the Americans with Disabilities Act by unnecessarily segregating people with disabilities.

The report calls for an end to federal and state funding to sheltered workshops that segregate people with disabilities from the workforce, the creation of new tax incentives for employers to hire people with disabilities and increased labor protections and enforcement.

Posted April 11, 2012 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

Your comment is awaiting moderation.

It is true that Sheltered Workshops do not train people for “truly meaningful employment” and there may be people who work or spend time in these facilities who could benefit from other opportunities. I fully support employment for people with developmental disabilities but there are also many misconceptions about sheltered workshops which advocates publicize which simply are not true.

There are benefits to sheltered workshops and they should not be banished. Maybe if the name was changed to something else and the pretense of “training” for another job was removed, they might be better accepted by some disability advocates.

Regarding the pay – most of these workshops do not pay by the hour – they pay by piece work. If a person decides to not work but socialize all day – they won’t get paid for the “work” because they are not working. Yet, if they sit and do some work for awhile, get some things done, take a social break for a couple of hours then do some more work, they will get paid for the work they have done.

For many, the workshops provide not only employment but a pattern to their day, personal support, socialization, community involvement and more. If this is taken away without a replacement for these supports and relationships what are the people left with?

We are finding this every day with more and more supports being taken away. Many are now left with nothing. There are few day programs and if people are able to find a supported employment situation that time is only for a few hours a week. Who supports the person for the remaining hours?

With the turnover rate about 40% for caregivers in supported living homes, these people will then be left at home – that means more people to care for in their homes and fewer caregivers to care for them.

I’m sorry but for me that spells disaster.

The letter below is the first letter that I sent to inquire about the state of limbo.  I did not receive a response.  Today, when I again emailed Mr. Stroh, he sent me the rules and highlighted the informaion above as the reason that my comment will not be allowed.

To: mstroh@dr-wa.org
Subject: Disability Galaxy posting
Date: Sat, 21 Apr 2012 18:15:13 -0700

Dear Mr. Stroh,

I’m curious about the timeline for having a reply to a posting moderated?  I posted the message below on April 11, 2012 and it is still “awaiting moderation.”  This is not the first time that a message that I have written to clarify some issue has been in this state of limbo for an extended period of time.

I understand that my letter does not necessarily support the posting on Disability Galaxy but I do believe that it is in the best interest of all to read other opinions about the issues.  Without a full understanding of how these issues affect our families and loved ones, how are people going to be fully informed.

Thank you very much,


I would love to know what Mr. Stroh finds so offensive or inaccurate in my comment.  Of course I do not believe that a sheltered workshop is the best place and they do not train workers for other jobs.  Yet, I do believe that sheltered workshops serve a purpose.  Just ask families of people with very high support needs – the people who now have no meaningful activities or structure to their day – ask them what they think are benefits of sheltered workshops.  DRW may be surprised but one would never know because these opinions are never allowed to be shared since they do not agree with the “facts” of DRW.

My response this morning to Mr. Stroh:

Thank you.  This is the right of your agency but I find that the editorializing that is done is harmful to those who DRW claims to advocate for.  This is a very sad state of affairs.  My posting is not inaccurate but it does not agree with your opinion and since this site is yours, you are welcome to post your opinion as fact but then do not allow others to question it.  This is not democracy.

I’m so sorry that your agency which is supposed to be the P&A agency for our vulnerable citizens is not living up to the job.

This is an example of the divisive advocacy and silencing of those who are very involved and know what it’s like in the “trenches”. We are not respected or valued for our opinions, insights and concerns. The very concerns which Olmstead upholds.   If these agencies are there to be the protection and advocacy agencies one would hope that they uphold the 1999 US Supreme Court Decision Olmstead which clearly states the individual has choices.  These choices are being taken away by those who believe their OPINION is fact.

It might be wise for Mr. Stroh to go back and read the Olmstead decision.  He may be enlightened by what it actually says.

Again, I will repeat my message to Mr. Stroh – I’m sorry but for me that spells disaster.

How to Provide for Community Integration

Supported employment is becoming the only program that will be available for people with intellectual disabilities after the age of 21.  This program is replacing the sheltered workshops and in so doing is eliminating a very important part of many people’s lives. Please do not misunderstand the issue that I am trying to convey – read the story before making comments.

While supported employment is also a needed and critical program, it does not best serve the needs of many of our loved ones – particularly those with a dual diagnosis of Intellectual disability and mental illness of mania, psychosis or schizophrenia.  The population with a dual diagnosis is in need of a program which provides a stable setting every day of the week for several hours.  They do not do well in settings in which they only have support a few hours a week and then are left to their own devices to manage the rest of their time.

As a parent of one of these people with a dual diagnosis, I know that the supported employment program will not be the program that serves his needs.  There are so many opportunities to include him in community activities in other programs but if all the funds are used in the supported employment programs, there will be nothing left for those who need another type of program to function optimally.

I was recently at a local meeting area which has several eateries which serve a commons.  I witnessed a young man who was being supported by a “coach” in his job.  He clearly had no interest in the job, was spinning around, looking at the ceiling, while the coach would take a tea bag, put it in his hand and then he would drop it in the correct bin.  The coach was attempting much hand-over-hand work with him but it really was her doing the work.  She then picked up the bin of dirty dishes; put it on the push cart and then they both pushed the cart out of the commons.

This scenario made me feel really sad.  If a person has only so much support to enable them to be out in the community and experience life, I would much rather have my son experiencing opportunities that he enjoys and which get him out with people in a more natural way.  These activities are going grocery shopping, going to the library, going to a restaurant, walking to the park, going to church – these are all normal activities which he greatly enjoys and interacts with all types of people.  These are activities which he needs a 1:1 support person to help him.

Other activities that my son greatly enjoys are meeting with people and being in groups.  This is what the “sheltered workshop” provides for him.  No, he doesn’t do much work there and it’s not training him for a future job but it does provide stability, group activities which he craves, interaction with people, and structure to his day.  These are all critical components to his care which will be gone if the sheltered workshop is closed.  The sheltered workshop is not a sweat shop nor is it slave labor.  He does learn skills and is capable of some work with 1:1 support at all times. He gets paid for the piece work that he is able to accomplish but that is definitely not his motivation since he does not understand the economics of having a job and supporting himself.

If my son was only allowed 5 hours a week of a support person, it would be much more beneficial to him to use that for activities which he enjoys and activities which he chooses rather than a type of “employment” that means nothing to him and is only there to make others feel good that they are accomplishing something.  This type of “employment” would be torture for my son.

My son and many like him are not going to be cured and will not be “getting better”.  Yes, they are able to learn but will always need a high level of support.  They are not people who can be taught a skill and then be sent off independently to do that skill.  Even when they know how to do something, they need the constant support to maintain focus and follow through.

People like my son are very much like people with Alzheimer’s disease.  A similar condition is dementia.  Dementia, which my son has, is a brain disorder which obstructs and diminishes cognitive performance such as memory, judgment, personality and social function.  We need to be realistic in the choices that we make with services.

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.