Home > Uncategorized > Let’s honor Ally, Kim, Allison, and Gail’s choice to stay in their sheltered workshop

Let’s honor Ally, Kim, Allison, and Gail’s choice to stay in their sheltered workshop

It’s now up to a legislative conference committee to decide whether Ally, Kim, Allison, Gail and many others will continue their longtime participation in sheltered workshops for the intellectually disabled in Massachusetts.

Ally is 24 years old and has Down Syndrome.  She is non-verbal and suffers from anxiety, but excels at routine.   Her tasks and assignments at a workshop in Newburyport provide her with a feeling of satisfaction and importance, and with a paycheck, which she endorses and cashes at a local bank.  She then walks with her mother to a convenience store where she purchases items with her earnings.

Kim, 43, has worked in the same sheltered workshop for 23 years.  She has tried a number of times to work at jobs in the community, but those attempts have all failed for a variety of emotional, social and physical reasons.  However, by choice, she puts in a 30-hour workweek in the sheltered workshop. She lives in her own apartment with support from her parents and other family members, and from people in the community.

Allison is 44 and has been a  client of the workshop for 22 years.  During that time, she has grown in independence, but enjoys being with her peers in an organized, safe environment.   She works a few hours a week at a McDonald’s, but returns to the workshop every day. She is very proud of earning two paychecks.

Gail is 44 and has Down Syndrome.  “I like to get paid to do the work I like to do. I like to work with my friends,” she says of her participation in the workshop.   She lives in an apartment managed by the YWCA in Newburyport, makes her own breakfast and lunch, and takes a bus to the workshop every day.  Doing all of that requires 100 percent of her capability.   Gail has had several part-time jobs in the community, all of which, for a variety of reasons, have ended.  Her workshop job is the primary basis of her self-esteem.

However, the Patrick administration and state-funded, corporate providers believe they know better than these four women and their families what’s best for all of them, and are moving to close the Newburyport workshop and the rest of the sheltered workshops throughout the state.

As we have reported in several blog posts, the administration believes it would be better for Ally, Kim, Allison, Gail, and hundreds of other intellectually disabled persons throughout the state to work in mainstream jobs where they will not be “segregated” from non-disabled peers and will supposedly be able to earn higher wages.  DDS announced that it was no longer allowing new referrals to sheltered workshops in the state as of this past January, and plans to close all remaining workshops as of June 2015.

But the families of workshop participants are fighting back, arguing that appropriate mainstream work opportunities do not exist for their loved ones, and that the sheltered workshops provide what they want and need.  They maintain that when the workshops are gone, the former participants will end up stuck in DDS day programs with little to do and with no wages at all.

In late April, at the urging of families, workshop staff, and advocates, the House of Representatives inserted language in the proposed Fiscal Year 2015 budget to protect the workshops.  The line-item language is intended to prevent the planned closures of sheltered workshops if existing participants choose to remain in them.  The Senate, however, did not adopt the protective language.  As a result, the issue is now set to be decided by a legislative, House-Senate conference committee on the budget.

The Department of Developmental Services and DDS’s corporate providers are apparently already moving to head off the possibility that the conference committee will adopt the protective language in the House version of the budget.   We understand that late last week, Gary Blumenthal, president of the Massachusetts Association of Developmental Disabilities Providers (ADDP), held a meeting with administrators and staff and some parents in one sheltered workshop, and offered a vague promise to schedule another meeting with DDS to discuss keeping some of the workshops open on a limited basis.

Vague promises do not and should not take the place of clear and needed statutory language.  We hope that the message gets communicated to the conference committee, which is set to begin deliberations on the budget on June 4, that such promises will not suffice.  The protective language in the House budget should be adopted by the conference committee.

In coming weeks, we hope all six members of the conference committee will come to understand what participating in their sheltered workshops has meant for Ally, Kim, Allison, Gail and for so many others.





  1. Anonymous
    May 29, 2014 at 2:57 am

    If 2,300 people who curently work in a sheltered workshop lose their jobs due to the closure of sheltered workshops, would they then be counted in our unemployment rates??? I don’t think the state and Governor Patrick would even give them that dignity after forcing them out of a job.

    ADDP and DDS must really be worried that the “small group of parents” have accomplished so much in so little time. They are on a last ditch effort to slow down or stop the momentum of saving the workshops. Don’t be fooled, only legislation can save the workshops. The Committee Members need to hear from everyone about how important it is to protect the states most vulnerable citizens. Call, email or write to and respectfully ask the members to hold the House language and version of Line Item 5920-2025.


  2. Robert Wood
    May 29, 2014 at 12:36 pm

    What ever happened to the rights of individuals to work where ever they wanted to and not where someone else wants them to. We need choices and options for ALL our citizens not just some of them.


  3. A Very Concerned Parent
    May 29, 2014 at 6:26 pm

    It is beyond my comprehension that DDS and ADDP, departments and associations who claimed to protect the rights of the intellectually disabled in Massachusetts and strive to make their lives better, are in fact trying to put them back to the last century and disrupt and harm the lives of our very special individuals! For those individuals who are not able to function in the mainstream, the Workshop has been a place where they feel connected with others and have built up friendships that are very vital and important to them. The Workshop is a place where my daughter looks forward to attending–she feels accepted, safe, and loves all her friends and staff. I believe that DDS and ADDP have lost touch with reality and are egocentric in their thinking, self-relevant information is seen to be more important in shaping one’s judgments than are thoughts about others and other-relevant information. We do need choices and options for ALL our citizens, not just some of them!


  4. Beth Gray-Nix
    May 30, 2014 at 1:11 am

    I have tried to figure out what DDS is afraid of. Clients and guardians should be able to decide what is best. Are we going to legislate where people should work? The wages at the shop are determined under federal wage and hour rules. There ability to earn a portion of the regular wage is re-evaluated every 6 months. I have had clients that can work a 6 hour day and some who can’t do better than 10-15 minutes all day. We do not fit in the same round hole. Workshops continue to teach and offer different opportunities as they come up. If you close these supportive work placements the choice for most of the individuals will be to go to day programs where they can not earn anything. That seems like a pretty poor choice.


    • Anonymous
      May 30, 2014 at 1:43 am

      Beth, wondering where you work. Are the clients and families upset about the closure, if so what are they doing about it? Please email me at smacdjr@aol.com


  5. Barb Bussard
    August 31, 2014 at 6:24 am

    We are facing the same mandates in Ohio just this past June in our county dd program a flier was sent home with my son stating the workshop he attends would be closing by August The parents and individuals who attend that workshop have been fighting since to stop the closure we are now being told we have until next May but are in hopes to keep it open beyond that date We would really like to let everyone know this is a nation wide situation that many are against the closure of our workshop programs the few that were not properly run can not be used to represent the ones that have great programs as many do


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