Home > Uncategorized > House leadership rejects politically correct view on sheltered workshops

House leadership rejects politically correct view on sheltered workshops

In a welcome counter to some political-correctness-run-amuck in the Patrick administration, the leadership of the state House of Representatives is reportedly solidly behind efforts to preserve vital sheltered workshops in Massachusetts for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

As we reported last week, Rep. Brian Dempsey, chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, placed language in the Fiscal Year 2015 budget that would block the Patrick administration’s plans to close all remaining workshops in the state by June 2015.

As a result, the Department of Developmental Services prevailed on a House member to file a budget amendment (No. 282), which would remove Dempsey’s protective language from the bill.  Corporate providers to DDS, meanwhile, began blaming COFAR for having thrown a monkey wrench into their plan to transfer participants from the workshops to their own provider-run daycare programs.

But we understand that the plans in the House are to quietly quash Amendment 282 during the budget debate, which starts on April 28. The scene will next shift to the Senate, where we hope the Senate Ways and Means Committee will place similar protective language for the workshops in its version of the budget.

Workshop proponents have spent the past week calling members of the House to urge their support for Dempsey’s line item language, which states that  DDS “shall not reduce the availability or decrease funding for sheltered workshops serving persons with disabilities who voluntarily seek or wish to retain such employment services.”

As we’ve noted, DDS and the providers maintain that the sheltered workshops “segregate” developmentally disabled people by placing them together in group settings.  This allegedly prevents them from reaching their full potential because they are not being placed alongside non-disabled peers in mainstream work sites.   Citing that reasoning, the administration blocked all new referrals to the workshops as of this past January, and announced plans to close all remaining workshops in the state as of June of 2015.

While the administration’s reach-their-potential argument may sound reasonable in theory, it has no relationship to the experience of real people such as Kim Ryan and Gail Wayne, both of whom have been participants in a sheltered workshop in Newburyport for the past 20 years.  Kim’s parents, William and Janet, said that Kim has tried seven different times to work in mainstream, community-based  jobs, but has experienced either “social or emotional failures with each of these attempts.”

Martha Smith, Gail Wayne’s mother, said Gail has also worked in many community-based jobs, such as sorting mail in the Newburyport City Hall and working in the municipal library; but each of those jobs disappeared over the years for different reasons.  Gail currently does volunteer work in a gift shop in Topsfield, but it is in the sheltered workshop that she has been able to work on a permanent basis and to earn a paycheck.  “Her first love is the workshop,” Martha Smith said.  “She feels completely secure there and wants to be there. She wants it to continue.”

Martha’s husband, Reid Smith, maintains that there are few full-time jobs available in the mainstream workforce for developmentally disabled persons such as Gail and Kim.  Reid Smith adds that the term “sheltered” may be a misnomer.  “It’s a workplace with a little more supervision,” he says.  “I always urge people who happen to oppose them t go and see them.”

As part of its argument for closing the workshops, the administration has cited federal lawsuits in Oregon and Rhode Island, which are based on the segregated workplace argument.  However, as we’ve noted, those settlements did not require the closures of all sheltered workshops as the Patrick administration is planning in Massachusetts.

It’s still worth contacting your state representative and Rep. Dempsey’s office to voice your support for these workshops, and to thank Rep. Dempsey for his support.  The House Ways and Means Committee number is (617) 722-2990, and Rep. Dempsey can be contacted at Brian.Dempsey@mahouse.gov.  You can find your own legislators at: http://www.wheredoivotema.com.

  1. Janet Ryan
    April 18, 2014 at 7:10 pm

    Sheltered workshops have been a wonderful choice for many special needs citizens who feel intimidated by community jobs. The workshops have provided a safe and secure place to work and many friendships have been made both with other individuals with special needs and with staff and volunteers who work with these individuals. It would be very unfair to take away a place of work where comfort and care is so needed and appreciated.


  2. Anonymous
    April 19, 2014 at 12:02 am

    The worst part of this whole process is the misrepresentation on the part of DDS, ADDP and The Arc about the lawsuits in Rhode Island and Oregon. They have led program participants, families and providers to believe that those lawsuits led to court ordered closing of sheltered workshops in those states. If they are omitting important information or misleading families and individuals they are paid to serve, what other things are happening behind the scenes that directly negatively affect the indivduals they are supporting? When is the last time any of those involved who have pushed the closing of sheltered workshops have worked directly with anyone with a disability? Not sure how they sleep at night…..


    • R. Brown
      April 21, 2014 at 3:21 pm

      They read a white paper on how everyone, regardless of the level of their coginitve impairment, can be “normal” and it made them feel warm and fuzzy so now they will save them all.

      You are spot on about the continued misrepresentation of the Oregon & Rhode Island decisions, not to mention the continued misrepresentation of the Olmsted Decision. Evidentally for these misguided self appointed saviors of all, the terms “appropriate to the needs of the individual”, “self determination” and “choice” only have meaning in accordance with thier narrow idelology. We battle the same issues here in Michigan.

      For those for whom full or partime employment in a community business works, the option clearly needs to be there for them, but the one size fits all ideology has been and will continue to be a disaster for whom such placements simply will not work or be to their benefit.

      Lastly because they may work in, or out of, a community based center program does not deny them inclusion in other community activites. It certainly hasn’t for my daughter.


  3. Anonymous
    April 21, 2014 at 2:28 pm

    Ms. Howe – Picture this – there is a group of people that think the job you are currently doing is not really your “dream job”. They think you have more potential and should have a job doing something different. Then they tell you that they are going to eliminate your job, make you spend your time training for the other job that will give you higher pay, feel more valued, let you meet different people and improve your “dismal” life. After your current job is taken away from you without your input, you then have to train until the new and better job (that no one has promised to give you) comes along. By the way, the new job may materialize in 2 weeks, 2 months, 2 years, or maybe never. Oh yeah – you and your family are supposed to be grateful for this new and exciting opportunity before you.

    Not sure you would be happy with people who do not know you running your life and eliminating your choices.


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