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Few people moving from sheltered workshops to “integrated” jobs

While the Baker administration appears to be moving ahead with a policy of closing all remaining sheltered workshops for developmentally disabled persons in Massachusetts, records show that relatively few people so far have been transferred from the workshops to the “integrated employment settings” that are supposed to replace them.

Confirming our concerns, the data from the Department of Developmental Services show that most of those people have been transferred to community-based day programs funded by DDS or MassHealth.

This has financially benefited corporate DDS providers that run the day programs and that have been among the most vocal proponents of shutting down the sheltered workshops. In what we consider to be an example of the inappropriate influence of private interests in DDS policy, two of those provider organizations actually helped draft a key DDS document that called for the workshop closures.

According to DDS records, the number of participants in sheltered workshops dropped by 1,166 between August 2014 and August 2015 — a 61 percent reduction from the 1,913 people who had been in those programs.  The number of sheltered workshop providers dropped from 39 to 14.

In that same period, the number of developmentally disabled persons in corporate-run, community-based day programs increased by 1,116, or 27 percent.

In contrast to the increase in day program use, the number of developmentally disabled people in “integrated employment” settings increased from August 2014 to 2015 by only 337, or about 6 percent.  DDS said it had no records on the number of integrated workplaces that exist in Massachusetts.

Community-based day programs actually cost considerably more to run than do sheltered workshops, according to an expert in the field.

A DDS document in November 2013, titled “Blueprint for Success,” stated that it was the department’s goal to close sheltered workshops to new participants as of January 2014 and to close all remaining workshops as of June 30, 2015.  The closure of all of the workshops has not yet occurred, but it appears to be likely to happen despite protective language placed in the state budget for the workshops.

The title page of the Blueprint states that the document was prepared by DDS and by the Massachusetts Association for Developmental Disabilities Providers (ADDP) and the Arc of Massachusetts.  Both the ADDP and the Arc are largely supported by DDS-funded providers, which have benefited from higher DDS funding for the day programs to which most of the former sheltered workshop participants have been transferred.

The Blueprint called for a total of $26.7 million in state funding over a four-year period for the transition from sheltered workshops to mainstream work settings.  But the document did not offer specifics as to how those mainstream jobs would be found.

2014 Blueprint Progress Report, drafted by DDS and the ADDP, stated that $3 million allotted in the Fiscal Year 2015 budget for the transition from the sheltered workshops fell short of $5.5 million that DDS and the corporate providers had requested.  Nevertheless, the report stated that 31 of 39 provider agencies would receive funding to transfer participants out of the workshops.

It now appears most of the funding has gone toward community-based day programs. The expert we talked to suggested that it would have been more effective had the funding been earmarked for subsidies for employers for hiring developmentally disabled workers.

Sheltered workshops provide developmentally disabled persons with a range of assembly jobs and other types of work, usually for a small wage.  But the programs have become targets of a political ideology  that holds that any type of congregate care setting is institutional in nature and therefore bad for those involved.  Sheltered workshops allegedly “segregate” developmentally disabled people from their peers in the wider community or in the mainstream workforce.

“Integrated individual employment” is defined by DDS in a 2010 policy directive as “taking place in a workplace in the community where the majority of individuals do not have disabilities.”  In addition, the policy directive states that the “optimal employment status is earning the prevailing wage.”

Many families of the sheltered workshop participants have countered that those programs are fully integrated into the surrounding communities and provide the participants with meaningful activities and valuable skills.  Those families have also raised concerns that there are relatively few integrated or mainstream workforce jobs available for people with developmental disabilities; and that absent a sufficient number of such jobs, former sheltered workshop participants  are likely to be transferred permanently to community-based day programs that do not offer the same activities or skills as the workshops did.

The contrast between the percentages of people who have been transferred to day programs and those placed in integrated employment is not alluded to in a September 2015 progress report submitted by DDS to the Legislature’s House and Senate Ways and Means Committees and to the Children, Families, and Persons with Disabilities Committee.  The data noted above on the numbers of people in sheltered workshops and other programs in 2014 and 2015 can be found in tables in the report; but there was no analysis in the report of the data and no conclusions drawn based on that data.

In that five-page report, DDS Commissioner Elin Howe stated that DDS was offering training and consultation services to day program providers on the “delivery of quality, inclusive community based services…”  Howe also said DDS was working “to assure that all individuals have access to and integration in the community…”

But Howe did not explain in the report how or when that access to integration in the community would be achieved by DDS.  Howe’s report also provided no data or information on the types of services offered in community by day program providers or how successful those programs might have been.

The DDS’s 2010 policy directive similarly did not contain a plan for placing former sheltered workshop participants in mainstream jobs; but the policy directive did take a strong ideological stance against the workshops, going as far as to state that mainstream employment had been shown to be “a viable option… even for those individuals with the most significant level of disability…”  No evidence or source was cited for that statement.

The disappearance of sheltered workshops appears to be yet another example of the erosion of cost-effective care for the developmentally disabled due to the influence of corporate interests that stand to benefit financially from it. At the very least, this case shows that a public agency should not develop policies jointly with the corporate contractors that it funds.

  1. itanzman
    January 20, 2016 at 9:29 pm

    The ADDP doesn’t want sheltered workshops so that money can pour into their day programs. It is a lie…a big lie that when you close sheltered workshops, they end up in competitive employment. Thanks for bringing this to light.


  2. itanzman
    January 20, 2016 at 9:29 pm

    Reblogged this on priority 1 task force.


  3. January 21, 2016 at 1:19 am

    I am a licensed clinical social worker with 35 years experience working with cognitively disabled adults. I am also the mother of a 43 year old autistic and cognitively impaired daughter who I love, dearly. The plan to phase out sheltered workshops in favor of integrated, competitive, community employment is unwise at best. The concept that everyone is capable of reaching that goal, including the most disabled, is a fantasy. There are only two reasons why such a plan has been devised: 1. Either the proponents are totally ignorant of the WIDE range of needs and capabilities of the intellectually and developmentally disabled, including the nature, cost and feasibility of providing appropriate supports, or 2. They are cruelly trading on the hopes and dreams of the disabled and their families for the sole purpose of saving money or channeling funds to providers who do not have the capacity to meet the real needs of the intellectually/developmentally disabled.

    This is the honest, painful truth: I truly wish that the average-functioning adult were a peer for my daughter. The only “normal” people who seek out her company are either paid providers, family, or a few kind, charitable adults. The amount of time they choose to spend with her is limited because she cannot function at their pace, at their intellectual level or with the independence expected of an adult. They quickly tire of her. Her “peers” are other intellectually/developmentally disabled adults on her level of functioning, period.

    I truly wish that she could be self-supporting and independent of the whims of the politicians who hold her future in their hands. I truly wish that she were not so vulnerable to abuse and exploitation because of the poor social judgment and naivete that is the result of her cognitive limitations. I truly wish that she could be safe in the community. I truly wish that as I age I could be reasonably confident that she will be okay when I’m gone. But, none of that is possible. Instead, she will be battered about by the ever-changing regulations because, unlike normal adults, she cannot function independently.


  4. suesquared
    January 21, 2016 at 11:07 am

    Well said Joann. Fantasy is the perfect word for all of this.


  5. Anonymous
    January 22, 2016 at 7:29 pm

    I agree with you Joann, except that those who have pushed for this are not ignorant of what they do, but they are incompetent and uncaring. They do not care about the needs of this population. It’s about the money; it’s all about the money. And not saving it, but channeling these taxpayer dollars to the so-called non-profits, who then call themselves ‘private.’ And as you say, “who do not have the capacity to meet the real needs of the intellectually/developmentally disabled.” Not only that, but they don’t have the willingness, either. That would detract from their bottom line.

    This is just the latest issue about which to hoodwink taxpayers, but it surely won’t be the last. When the developmentally disabled are able to work at some type of ‘community’ job, it’s menial work at best, and often requires an additional person to supervise. Not exactly integrated employment. But they have been able to sell this to the unsuspecting public, because it doesn’t affect them. Yet.


  6. June 9, 2016 at 2:07 pm

    sheltered workshops don’t teach job skills it’s another way to keep the disabled non disabled in there for life without parole it’s time for these so called sheltered workshops or sheltered sweatshops to be phased out


    • June 9, 2016 at 2:18 pm

      You have a right to your opinion on this. We disagree with it. If sheltered workshops were really the prisons or sweatshops you describe, families and guardians of the participants wouldn’t be trying to prevent the closures of these programs around the country. Our major problem with the closures of sheltered workshops in Massachusetts is that few of the people in them are being transferred to mainstream jobs, but rather are being sent to day programs where there are few or no job-related activities for them. Is that situation acceptable to you?


  7. September 3, 2016 at 4:54 pm

    sheltered workshops are nothing but dead job training they lead to poverty the disabled /non disabled live below poverty mr. kassel i know what’ s to be poor many years ago i grew up poor we didn’t know where our next meal was coming from we couldn’t afford anything to eat we ate instant potatoes every day i don’t agree with you about keeping sheltered workshops open they are out dated this is the 21st century not the 19th century they are in reality sweatshops and prisons they pay subminimum wage to the disabled non disabled you like the idea of cheap labor


    • September 3, 2016 at 7:54 pm

      Mr. Bennett, you don’t sound as though you understand the purpose of sheltered workshop programs. The programs are intended to provide work and social skills to people with developmental disabilities, plus a small payment as a reward for doing that work. These programs are not intended to be a means of earning a living for these people, most of whom qualify for care from the state and would otherwise be in day programs that pay nothing and often provide little or nothing for them to do.


  8. September 9, 2016 at 5:44 pm

    you’re saying i don’t understand the purpose of sheltered workshops mr. kassel i worked at a sheltered workshop 30 years ago goodwill industries they have a sheltered workshop like the industrials services of guilford my former vocational rehabilitation counselor judy lockhart called and told me you have to go to the sheltered workshop i told her i don’t want to go there


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