Posts Tagged ‘sheltered workshops’

Seven years after the closure of his sheltered workshop, Mark Garrity is still waiting for something to replace it

January 12, 2023 4 comments

It has always been his work that has motivated Mark Garrity, his sister Patty says.

When he participated in his sheltered workshop, Mark was productive and social. He derived meaning from the tasks he was given, and he had fun with his friends.

Mark, 52, who has an intellectual disability, doesn’t need or care about being paid a minimum wage for it, Patty says. What is important to him is completing an assigned task.

“If Mark sees a pen without a cap, he’ll put it on with a twist and be proud of it,” Patty says.

But since 2016, when all remaining sheltered workshops were closed in Massachusetts, Mark has faced a void as far as work is concerned.

Mark Garrity (lower right) at a fundraiser for Road to Responsibility with his mother Helen (lower left). In upper row is Mark’s sister Marybeth Garrity (left), his sister Patty Garrity, and John Gregory, a staff member at the time in Mark’s group home.

Mark’s community-based day program is run by the Road to Responsibility (RTR), a provider to the Department of Developmental Services (DDS). The day program offers a cooking class in the kitchen, but that doesn’t interest Mark.

“He just stays in one room where he eats lunch,” Patty says. “When they took away his workshop, they took away his meaning. He’s not like you and me.”

Can’t function in the community

In his sheltered workshop, Mark packaged and assembled things such as car door locks. He took pride in that work.

The purpose in closing the workshops, according to the successive administrations of then Governors Deval Patrick and Charlie Baker, was to place people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in mainstream or integrated work settings that pay at least minimum wage. But Patty says that approach doesn’t work for Mark.

“He can’t produce at the minimum wage level,” she said. And now with the minimum wage in Massachusetts having risen to $15 an hour, she says, it would be even more difficult to find a suitable job for Mark in the community.

Moreover, if Mark were to go off-site and into the community to work, he would need 1-to-1 staffing assistance, Patty said. His day program doesn’t have sufficient staffing for that.

A few years ago, Patty proposed to Mark’s day program staff that the clients be given objects to pack into gift bags that the clients could then deliver to homeless shelters. She said she was told, though, that the program didn’t have the funds to purchase the gift bag items.

“Now his work is long gone,” she said, “and we continue to wait, and nothing is showing up.”

Federal and state lawmakers need to be informed about the value of work activities

We need to let our state legislators and members of Congress know about the lack of meaningful work activities in day programs, which is not unique to Mark’s program.

In the just-ended session of Congress, every member of the Massachusetts delegation, with the exception of U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, co-sponsored legislation (H.R. 603 and S.53), which would eliminate remaining sheltered workshops throughout the country and require that all clients be paid minimum wages in “integrated” work settings. Fortunately, the bills were not approved in that session, but the legislation will no doubt be reintroduced.

You can find your members of Congress here and state legislators here. Please let them know that if they support the elimination of sheltered workshops, they need to find ways to replace the work the shelters provided, particularly for those persons who can’t function in the community.

Sheltered workshop closures left thousands with little to do

All sheltered workshop programs were closed in Massachusetts as of 2016 after the federal Department of Justice had stated two years earlier that developmentally disabled people should work in integrated employment settings in which a majority of the workers are not disabled.

But while sheltered workshops have been deemed “segregated” settings because they are offered solely to groups of developmentally disabled persons, many clients and their families and guardians argued that the programs provided fulfilling, skill-building activities and did not preclude community integration.

Ever since the closures of the workshops, thousands of DDS clients have been transferred to day programs with little or nothing to replace the work opportunities they previously had.

For a potentially significant number of DDS clients such as Mark, mainstream work settings have never been a viable option. Those persons aren’t able to function in those settings or don’t desire to do so.

Neurologist said sheltered workshop was important for Mark

While Mark has had an intellectual disability since birth, his cognitive functioning was further impaired when he suffered a traumatic brain injury after being hit by a car in 1995. In a letter written before Mark’s sheltered workshop program was ended, his neurologist, Dr. Douglas Katz, a member of the Department of Neurology at Boston Medical Center, stated in that Mark began a long course of rehabilitation after the accident, and that his sheltered workshop activities were an important part of that rehabilitation effort.

Katz added that, “I understand this (sheltered workshop program is …likely to close… I think this would be a big loss for my patient Mark. I would support efforts to maintain this structured workshop for Mark and others that benefit from this service.”

Day program found a partial solution

In some cases, day programs have tried to find ad hoc solutions to the lack of available work activities. After COFAR contacted DDS about Mark’s situation in early 2017, RTR staff found a paper shredding activity for Mark to do at the day program site. The activity received verbal approval from the DDS southeast regional director, who determined that it was in compliance with federal regulations.

The paper shredding seemed at first to be a good solution for Mark. But Patty said that Mark soon sensed a lack of structure and purpose in the activity and became bored with it.

In 2016, we first urged state legislators to recognize that like Mark, not every DDS client is capable of or desires to participate in the mainstream workforce.

In 2019, we asked those lawmakers to support H.88, a bill which would have required that meaningful work activities be provided in DDS community-based day programs. But the language in the bill was subsequently removed by the Children, Families, and Persons with Deisabilities Committee and replaced with language establishing a Permanent Commission on the Status of Persons with Disabilities.

Day program staffing shortages have made problems worse

Day programs around the state are currently struggling with staffing shortages, which have made it even more difficult for them to provide meaningful activities to clients.

Mark’s day program is no exception. Mark, who stayed home from the program during the height of the COVID pandemic in 2020, is now back attending the program only one day per week due to the insufficient staffing.

Mark is still doing the paper shredding activity there, Patty says. But for most of the four-hours he spends at the day program site, “he’s mostly a spectator,” she said.

Patty herself takes Mark out of his group home on Mondays for coffee and errands. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, she takes him to the YMCA where he works with a personal trainer. On Wednesdays, after his day program ends, Patty takes him to a weekly bowling program.  And on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, she takes him out for coffee and to visit friends.

“As far as the community goes, Mark has a very balanced life,” she said. “It’s his work piece that is missing.”

Patty is planning to introduce Mark to her local legislators. She thinks that may help them to understand “what Mark can and cannot do.”

“I sometimes feel defeated,” Patty said, “I but will never give up the fight for Mark. “He’s capable of so much more, but the system needs to respond.”

DDS reports drop in integrated employment of clients in the state from 2019

May 11, 2021 4 comments
A new Department of Developmental Services (DDS) “Progress Report” shows a drop in total “integrated employment” of DDS clients in Massachusetts from a high in October 2019.
The Fiscal ’21 Progress Report data show total integrated employment hitting a peak of 7,180 DDS clients in October 2019, and then declining to 7,090 as of October 2020. As of March of this year, only 6 additional clients had been placed in integrated employment from October 2020, five months previously.
The new data confirm a report in our blog post in March that there has been an employment drop. At the time, there was no comment from DDS about the matter.
Integrated Employment is defined by the U.S. Department of Labor as jobs held by people with disabilities in “typical workplace settings” where the majority of persons employed are not persons with disabilities.
In these jobs, the individuals with disabilities earn wages consistent with wages paid workers without disabilities performing the same or similar work. The individuals earn at least minimum wage, and they are paid directly by the employer. 
We have long maintained that the administration closed all remaining sheltered workshops in the state as of 2016 without any assurance that all or most of the participants would be able to find jobs in the mainstream workforce.
The new DDS Fiscal ’21 Progress Report largely blames the integrated employment slowdown on the COVID pandemic, even though numbers provided in March to us by DDS indicate the slowdown began before the pandemic began.
Based on the earlier figures provided by DDS to us, we calculated that the number of clients in integrated employment actually dropped by 53% between October 2019 and February of 2020, which was prior to the start of the pandemic.
The FY’21 Progress Report does not confirm a drop of that magnitude. But the report actually does not list any data for Calendar Year 2020 prior to October. Thus, there are no data in the Progress Report for February 2020, which was when the large drop in employment appeared to have occurred.
The Progress Report also shows that the number of clients being placed in day programs after the closure of the state’s remaining sheltered workshops has far outpaced the number entering integrated employment.

The Progress Report describes the past year as “incredibly challenging for day and employment providers and the individuals and families they serve.” The report notes that in March 2020, on-site day programs were shut down as a result of the pandemic, and were reopened in July under strict social distancing rules.

The DDS day program line item in the state budget is used, in part, to fund job skills training and other activities to help clients make the transition to the mainstream workforce.

The Progress Report states that mainstream workplaces also shut down or operated at reduced capacities during Fiscal ’20 and ’21, and stated that those shutdowns and reductions limited the number of individual and group-supported employment opportunities available.

Nevertheless, the Progress Report data indicate that after the day programs were reopened in July 2020, the numbers of clients entering integrated employment showed virtually no increase.

The report does not make specific projections regarding integrated employment in the coming fiscal year, but says that “it is expected that a similar number of adults will transition to these services in FY2022.”

Numbers entering day programs outpaced integrated employment

As noted, the Progress Report indicates that the numbers of clients being placed in day programs after the closure of the sheltered workshops has exceeded the numbers entering integrated employment.

While the numbers of clients placed in integrated employment rose by 20% from 2015 to October 2019, the number of clients in DDS day programs increased by 43% over that same period—a percentage more than twice as high—and those numbers continued to increase though March of this year. (See graph below)

Difficulty in finding jobs acknowledged

The Fiscal ’21 Progress Report acknowledges the state has experienced “difficulty obtaining job opportunities for individuals with significant disabilities who require customized work.” The report further notes:

  • Transportation challenges for people seeking or working at integrated jobs in the community, especially in geographic areas where there are limited public transportation and/or para-transit options.
  • Individual concerns with the impact on Social Security and other public benefits when individuals earn more income.

In addition, the report states that many day program providers are experiencing “workforce challenges … which result in higher vacancies and turn-over that have an impact on access to and continuity of services.”

Despite those problems, the governor and Legislature have so far proposed cuts in the Fiscal 2022 state budget for both DDS day program and transportation funding. We are continuing to advocate for a restoration of funding to the day and transportation accounts.

Equally importantly, we believe work activities are needed in the day programs to make up for the lost opportunities resulting from the closures of the sheltered workshops.

Legislative report misses an opportunity on employment of the developmentally disabled

January 26, 2021 1 comment

Even before the COVID crisis, people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) in Massachusetts were facing daunting problems in finding meaningful opportunities for employment.

Ever since the closures of all remaining sheltered workshops in the state in 2016, hundreds if not thousands of clients of the Department of Developmental Services (DDS) have been left in DDS day programs with little or nothing to replace the work opportunities they previously had.

For a potentially significant number of DDS clients, mainstream work settings have never been a viable option. They aren’t able to function in those settings or don’t desire to do so.

But even for those people with I/DD who can function in mainstream settings, it has always been difficult to find jobs. Now with unemployment a major problem in the state as a whole due to the pandemic, competing for opportunities in that workforce is an even more daunting prospect for people with I/DD.

For those reasons, we were glad to see a legislative subcommittee undertake a review of the subject of employment of the disabled in Massachusetts, although we were somewhat skeptical that the review would be unbiased and thorough.

Unfortunately, our concerns appear to be well-founded based on the report that has now been released by the “Workability Subcommittee” of the Children, Families, and Persons with Disabilities Committee. We think the Workability Subcommittee missed a major opportunity to address the problems described above.

Report buys in to anti-congregate care ideology 

While the subcommittee’s 33-page report has some good recommendations regarding persons with disabilities in general, it unfortunately seems to have largely missed the challenges faced by people with I/DD.

A key reason for that is that the report subscribes to the ideology behind the privatization of DDS services and against congregate work programs for people with I/DD such as sheltered workshops. The report is a cheerleader for the view that everyone can function in the mainstream workforce, no matter what type or level of disability they have.

The report even termed the sheltered workshop closures “a necessary and important step.” Yet there is no supporting analysis behind that statement in the report.

That isn’t surprising given that the Arc of Massachusetts, a key opponent of sheltered workshops, played an “instrumental” role in assisting the Subcommittee in its work, according to the report’s acknowledgements.

What the closures of the workshops did was take away a choice that was available to people and their families and guardians to continue to participate in settings in which they were comfortable and could function.

There has been nothing adopted to replace that choice, and the report doesn’t offer anything.

Vague recommendation on accommodating those who can’t handle the mainstream workforce

In November 2019, Patty Garrity, a COFAR member, and I met with Rep. Josh Cutler, the subcommittee chair, to discuss the employment problems noted above. Patty’s brother, Mark, is one of the former sheltered workshop participants who has been left with little or no meaningful work activities.

The subcommittee’s report does contain one mention and one recommendation regarding that concern.

Unfortunately, the report’s recommendation is overly vague. The recommendation states that the Legislature should ensure that providers “have the capacity to serve these individuals so they, in turn, can have meaningful work opportunities.”

That’s it. There is no specificity in the recommendation as to how those providers could or should serve those persons.

Even prior to COVID, Patty had to fight on a daily basis for activities for Mark in his day program after his sheltered workshop program closed. As Patty noted in a recent email conversation, Mark can’t handle mainstream settings.  He can’t meet productivity standards. He can’t even attend his day program right now because he doesn’t understand social distancing.

“At the moment,” Patty wrote, “I am back to visiting Mark through the window (of his group home), and everyday he will ask me, “work tomorrow?”

In our October 2019 testimony to the Subcommittee, we urged it to recognize that like Mark, not every DDS client is capable of or desires to participate in the mainstream workforce. We urged the Subcommittee to support H.88, a bill which would have required that meaningful work activities be provided in DDS community-based day programs.

But no mention is made in subcommittee’s report of that bill or anything like it.

The language in the bill was subsequently removed by the Children and Families Committee and replaced with language establishing a Permanent Commission on the Status of Persons with Disabilities that the subcommittee recommended. Yet the Commission’s charge does not appear to include any effort to address the lack of work opportunities for people like Mark. 

No acknowledgement of the lack of work opportunities due to COVID pandemic

There is a lot of boosterism in the subcommittee report regarding companies that have adopted hiring programs for persons with disabilities. But despite the delay in issuing the report until well into the COVID crisis, there is virtually no acknowledgement in it of the huge challenge the pandemic has posed to employment in general in the state.

As noted, if it was difficult for people with I/DD to get jobs pre-COVID, it is even more daunting now that thousands of people are out of work. You wouldn’t know that from reading the report, however.

The only employment stats mentioned in the report are from 2019 when the commonwealth’s average unemployment rate was 2.9%. There is no follow-up on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on that unemployment rate, which now stands at 7.4%.

This kind of incomplete analysis may be partly why the report fails to acknowledge the monumental difficulty of placing developmentally disabled persons in mainstream work settings, particularly now.

The report includes what the Subcommittee obviously considered hopeful numbers on mainstream or integrated employment of the disabled, again from 2019. But other than printing the numbers in a chart on Page 11, the report didn’t analyze them. Had the Subcommittee done so, it might not have characterized the numbers in such hopeful terms.

The chart shows the number of DDS clients in integrated or supported employment rose by 1,297 between 2014 and 2018. But the chart also shows the number of clients in day programs, which provide little or no employment activities, rose by 3,159.

In other words, the numbers show the promise of integrated or mainstream employment hasn’t materialized. More than twice as many former sheltered workshop participants had been transferred to day programs as had been placed in integrated employment.

In testimony submitted to the subcommittee in October 2019, we noted that the Legislature never provided adequate funding for the transition from sheltered workshops to mainstream employment. After 2014, it appears DDS was placing fewer and fewer clients in mainstream employment even as the sheltered workshops were closing.

The subcommittee report seems to be primarily concerned with disabled people with normal cognitive abilities

Overall, there seems to be little focus on people with I/DD in the report. Even the finding that mentions our concern about individuals with little to do following the closures of the sheltered workshops doesn’t specify that the people involved have I/DD.

There is no distinction made between high and low-functioning persons. The main focus of the report seems to be on how mainstream employers need to do more to hire people with disabilities in general.

Report acknowledged it did not deal with subminimum wage issue

In our October 2019 testimony, we urged the Subcommittee to recognize that it is necessary to allow employers willing to hire persons with I/DD to pay them a subminimum wage in order to ensure that those work opportunities are not reduced further.

The report acknowledged that it did not examine that issue.

As noted, we think this report is a missed opportunity. In an email exchange with us yesterday, Rep. Cutler defended the report, saying, “we don’t have a solution for every challenge presented.”

But this is not a matter of having a solution for every challenge presented. Rather it is a matter of recognizing the problems that exist and being open to addressing them.

We have questions for a legislative subcommittee reviewing employment of the developmentally disabled

October 8, 2019 26 comments

A special legislative subcommittee’s review of barriers to employment of persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) is long overdue, but it is unclear what direction the subcommittee will take on this important issue.

The “Workability Subcommittee” of the Massachusetts Legislature’s Children, Families, and Persons with Disabilities Committee has scheduled a public hearing on October 22 at 10:30 a.m. at the State House in Room B-1.

The hearing notice states that the Subcommittee is seeking to identify “solutions to promote opportunities for individuals with disabilities to participate and succeed in the workforce.”

Patty and Mark Garrity photo2

Patty Garrity and her brother Mark. After Mark’s sheltered workshop closed in 2016,  meaningful work activities came to an end for him. Mark is not capable of participating in a mainstream work environment, Patty says.

COFAR and our members plan to testify at the hearing. We haven’t been  consulted by the Subcommittee as part of its review, which began last spring and involved meetings with “disability advocates, employers, employees, and other stakeholders,” according to the hearing notice.

So on October 4, when we heard about the hearing, we posed questions in an email to the office of Representative Josh Cutler, chair of the Subcommittee and vice chair of the Children and Families Committee. Those questions were the following:

  • Does the Subcommittee recognize that there are some persons who do not have the capability to succeed in the mainstream workforce, or does the Subcommittee take the  position that all persons, no matter how profoundly intellectually disabled, can handle jobs in the mainstream workforce?
  • Is the Subcommittee also looking to promote work opportunities for individuals in their community-based day programs funded by the Department of Developmental Services?
  • Does the Subcommittee have data on the availability of mainstream workforce jobs for persons with I/DD? We have long been concerned that not nearly enough of those jobs exist even for those who are capable of doing them.
  • Is the Subcommittee aware that the Legislature has apparently never appropriated the level of funding sought by the Baker administration for training and other services to help prepare former sheltered workshop participants for mainstream work settings? If so, has the funding for that transition so far been adequate?
  • Does the Subcommittee support the continued payment of subminimum wages to persons with I/DD in order to enable them to get work opportunities either in mainstream or DDS settings?

In an email in response to us, Rep. Cutler declined to respond to our questions; but he did say they were “great questions” and that he would be interested in meeting with us. We are in the midst of scheduling a date for that meeting.

We have discussed employment issues involving people with I/DD in numerous blog posts and in legislative testimony since 2014 when the administration of then Governor Deval Patrick began closing sheltered workshops for persons with I/DD throughout the state.

The sheltered workshops were settings in which DDS clients did small assembly jobs and other piecework activities provided by area businesses. The participants usually received a nominal wage.

Many family members and guardians strongly supported the workshops; but the Patrick and then Baker administrations held to an ideology that the workshops “segregated” the participants from non-disabled workers, and that the participants would all be better off in mainstream, “integrated” job settings.

Here are some of our findings from our involvement with these issues over the past five years:

  • Starting in 2013, the Patrick administration worked closely with corporate DDS providers to close the sheltered workshops over the objections of the families of many of the participants. In doing so, the providers falsely claimed that the workshops did not allow for “community inclusion.” The providers also falsely claimed that the federal government was forcing all sheltered workshops to close in the state.
  • As of 2018, it was clear that the promise of the replacement of sheltered workshops in Massachusetts with mainstream integrated employment was not being realized. An unknown number of former sheltered workshop participants were being left without work of any kind in their DDS-funded day programs.
  • The position of Senator Elizabeth Warren and many others against the payment of subminimum wages to people with I/DD has made it even harder for those persons to find the kind of work they had previously enjoyed doing.

Patty Garrity is the sister of one of those former workshop participants who has been left without work opportunities. Her brother Mark is not able to work in a competitive, mainstream setting.

Garrity said she plans to testify at the October 22 Subcommittee hearing. “I want to explain that there are individuals like my brother Mark and his peers who are not minimum wage candidates,” she wrote in an email.  “There is still a huge void in Mark’s day and it is not going well…..going on 4 years now that I have been waiting for them to improve upon this and it is not happening.  Mark is happy to be with his peers, but all he is doing is shredding paper and he is bored.”

We hope the Subcommittee will pay close attention to the experience of Mark Garrity and others who have been left behind in the wake of the sheltered workshop closures.

Moreover we hope the Subcommittee does or will recognize that, as with so many other issues involving persons with I/DD, one size doesn’t fit all when it comes to employment.

There are many people for whom the mainstream, competitive workforce is not suitable. Their choices and the choices of their families and guardians should be respected.

Gifts of the Sheltered Workshop

October 14, 2018 1 comment

Guest post 

Note: This post was written and sent to us from Thomas Spellman and Dona Palmer of Delavan, WI.  Although all sheltered workshops were closed in Massachusetts as of 2016, we are still pushing for a resumption of work opportunities for clients of the Department of Developmental Services in this state.

As a result, we think Thomas Spellman’s and Dona Palmer’s points about sheltered workshops remain applicable to Massachusetts, just as they are applicable to work opportunities programs provided to developmentally disabled people across the country. 


Before we present the gifts of the “Sheltered Workshop,” let us take a step back and look at the big picture. What we see among Sheltered Workshop participants is a continuum, from mild to severe brain impairment.

While these individuals are all disabled, their NEEDS differ significantly.  A major contributing factor is behavior. While behavior is not a disability in and of itself, it can be a complicating factor in the employment of a disabled individual and in their life in general.

While the ability to “work” varies significantly among persons with brain impairment, behavioral issues and physical disability, those persons must do work that is meaningful to them. Whether it is just a smile or it is working for General Motors, the work must be meaningful to the person doing it.

As we all know, each person with a disability (or their guardian) has the right to choose where they “work” and where they live. This is a foundation of the Americans with Disability Act (ADA).

While the right of each person to choose is important, it is EQUALLY IMPORTANT that a variety of work experiences be available that address the varied needs of all of those individuals who are disabled. Sheltered Workshops MUST BE AVAILABLE to those with disability(ies), cognitive impairment, physical challenges and behavioral issues.

sheltered workshop photo

A sheltered workshop in New Jersey, which, unlike Massachusetts, has so far kept its sheltered workshops open

We know of the benefits of a Sheltered Workshop because our daughter Rosa has been working at VIP Service, a Sheltered Workshop in Elkhorn, Wisconsin, for fifteen years.

We use the term “Sheltered Workshop,” which in the past was accepted as a very good description of a safe place for people with disabilities to work. As we know, today it clearly is used by some in a derogatory manner, as in “You work at a Sheltered Workshop, and not in the community!! Poor you!”

Gifts of the Sheltered Workshop

First and foremost is the gift that the Sheltered Workshop exists!! (See note above about Massachusetts.) Without its existence, NONE of the rest of the Gifts WILL EVER BE REALIZED by the tens of thousands of disabled individuals who realize some or all of the Gifts every day!!!

Second is that there is WORK to do. While WORK is a human experience, and there is much written about WORK by others, we know from our own experience that WORK is fulfilling. Rosa has said that about the WORK that she has done at VIP.

While a person’s production rate may seem important, the more important issue is accuracy in order for WORK to be of economic value. Is the product that is being completed done exactly the way that it needs to be done? That is a challenge, and in some cases a major challenge to providing work to those who are disabled.

Third is the 1986 amendment to the Fair Labor Act of 1938, which provides for a “Special Minimum Wage” for persons with disabilities.

This is NOT a “Sub-minimum Wage. Sub-minimum Wage is a term that was coined by the National Disability Rights Network to negatively describe the “special minimum wage” as described by Section 14 (c)(A)(5) of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 as amended. 

New terms such as prorated wages or commensurate wages are used, but it is the CONCEPT and not the name that is critical to the existence of Sheltered Workshops.

The logic underlying the “Special Minimum Wage” is simple and clear. If Rosa produced half what a full-time worker would produce, then she will receive half of the financial benefit for doing that specific job. It may need to be audited from time to time, BUT THERE IS NOTHING THE MATTER WITH the concept.

If we want significant meaningful WORK for people who have mild to moderate brain impairments and or physical impairments, then we MUST HAVE the Special Minimum Wage. If the Special Minimum Wage is ELIMINATED,  Rosa and tens of thousands of others whose disabilities limit their ability to work WILL HAVE NO WORK AT ALL.

Fourth is The VARIETY of JOBS that an individual can experience. We have only recently realized the importance of this. Rosa has learned over 100 jobs in the fifteen years that she has worked at VIP. Each of those jobs required her to trust Pam, her supervisor; to listen to Pam, to comprehend what Pam is saying, and when necessary ask Pam for help on how to do something.

Having been with Pam for 15 years, Rosa is proficient at each of those tasks. The hardest thing for her was asking for help. The VARIETY of job experiences has allowed her to grow to become more independent.

It needs to be noted that while some individuals may be able to do a two or three-step assembly job, they may not be able to collate a ten-page letter. Some may be able to put labels correctly on a bottle while others cannot. This variety of JOBS is very, very important to the growth and health of all those who work at a Sheltered Workshop.

Fifth is that besides the variety of jobs, there is the allowance to work at different speeds. It makes no difference in a Sheltered Workshop if an assembly job takes a minute or ten minutes. To know that what you are doing, and the speed that you are doing it, is OK is very important. It is one of those things that one might not see as a Gift, but surely it is.

Sixth is the Stability of the Sheltered Workshop. The schedule stays the same. The workers are the same. There is a place to go to WORK and be with FRIENDS. There is a stability of workers and supervisors. For Rosa and, we assume, many others, KNOWING what tomorrow will bring is VERY, VERY important in their lives. She “implodes” emotionally when the “activities” (as she calls them) of the day are not known.

For Parents and Guardians, KNOWING that the Sheltered Workshop WILL BE THERE WHEN THEY are NO LONGER CAPABLE OF caring for their loved one, is of even GREATER IMPORTANCE! It is to know that the Social Contract to take care of a son or daughter who is disabled WILL BE HONORED by the community of the next generation.

Seventh is Family. For many individuals with disabilities, their personal living situation can be disrupted by a change of ownership of the residential facility that they call home. The “home” can be too expensive or it can be too big or not big enough, and of course it can close. When an individual is forced to change households, they lose that “family,” and so the stability of the people at a Sheltered Workshop becomes their family. As I was preparing this, I realized that Rosa will grieve our deaths with her Sheltered Workshop family. 

Eighth is Safety.  Both physical and personal safety are priorities at Sheltered Workshops. That extra caution is reassuring to both the workers and their parents and/or their guardians.

Ninth is Friends and Community. What is special about the Sheltered Workshop is that with time, true friendships do develop with both the other workers as well as with the supervisors.

Fifteen years ago, Rosa bonded with Pam, a PAID STAFF member at VIP Services. Rosa has shared with Pam the births of Pam’s girls, hearing the baby stories, and now watching the girls show their goats at the County Fair.

And now Pam has accepted the role of guardian if both of us become unable to be Rosa’s guardian.  It is despicable to use the term PAID STAFF in a derogatory manner, which some disability rights individuals do. They imply that because someone is a paid staff member, there is not a real bond.

What is CRITICAL TO UNDERSTAND HERE is that our personal individual associations are part of what defines us as INDIVIDUAL HUMAN BEINGS. These relationships, in large part, will be with OTHERS much like ourselves. These relationships are our very essence. There must be an ACKNOWLEDGEMENT OF THIS MOST BASIC HUMAN FACT.

Tenth is that transportation is made available. A few Sheltered Workshop participants may be able to drive, but the vast majority of workers at Sheltered Workshops need a ride to work. In those cities with bus service and a Sheltered Workshop on the bus line, a few more individuals are able to catch the bus to get to work, but there still are a significant number, who without affordable transportation being provided, will NOT BE ABLE TO WORK.

Eleventh is the Staff.  Yes, the staff of the Sheltered Workshop is a gift. Some disparagingly call them PAID STAFF,  but they are a group of highly trained individuals giving of themselves in many ways that would not be easy for many of us to deal with on a daily basis. To imply that these tens of thousands of staff members can be replaced in the for-profit workforce now being called “community integrated employment” is beyond absurd.

Twelfth is that Sheltered Workshops allow participants to take extended vacation time, in turn allowing parents who are retired to take longer vacations without endangering their son’s or daughter’s job when they return. Will a Walmart allow a 6-week vacation? That’s the amount of time our family spends in Florida in March and April of each year.

Thirteenth is that Sheltered Workshops are also a backup for those persons who are having a hard time at their public employment place of work. It may be for a few weeks or it may be a permanent change, but it is critical that the Workshops be there. The alternative to not being successful at Public Employment Work CANNOT BE SITTING AT HOME WATCHING TV!!

Thomas Spellman and Dona Palmer can be contacted at

Confusion reigns over employment of the developmentally disabled in Massachusetts

August 16, 2018 Leave a comment

When it comes to the crucial issue of employment of people with developmental disabilities in Massachusetts, the policies of both the federal government and the Baker administration appear to be unclear, confusing, and to contain a number of contradictions.

Yet, neither the Baker administration nor the Massachusetts Legislature, in particular, seem to be showing much interest in clearing things up.

Consider these facts:

  • Although the Patrick and Baker administrations stated that they were closing all sheltered workshops in Massachusetts in order to place developmentally disabled people in so-called “integrated” or mainstream work, those mainstream jobs have proven to be difficult for many, if not most, of those people to find.
  • An unknown number of former sheltered workshop participants, some of whom do not want mainstream work,  have been left without work of any kind in their Department of Developmental Services-funded day programs.
  • It is unclear what work arrangements are considered by both the federal and state governments to be legal. In one case, DDS has resorted to a creative, if jerry-rigged arrangement under which a developmentally disabled man has been placed on the staff of his day program so that he can continue to do piecework there in compliance with federal rules.


Barbara Govoni (right) with state Senator Joan Lovely, Senate chair of the Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities Committee, this week. The Committee did not approve a bill Govoni proposed that would ensure work opportunities for  her son and other developmentally disabled persons. But Lovely says she wants to work with Govoni on the issue.

Let’s look at each of these issues a little more closely:

Integrated work is apparently still unavailable for many who want it in the mainstream workforce

In 2014, the administration of then Governor Deval Patrick began closing sheltered workshops that provided developmentally disabled persons with piecework activities because those facilities supposedly segregated those persons from their non-disabled peers and paid them less than minimum wage. The Baker administration followed that same policy, ultimately closing all remaining workshops as of the fall of 2016.

The plan of both administrations was to provide training to those former workshop participants and place them in mainstream workforce settings along with supports that would help them to function in those settings.

We expressed concerns at the time, however, that the workshop closure policy was being pursued without knowing, among other things, whether sufficient jobs existed in the private sector for all of those former workshop participants and others who want jobs.  We also expressed concern that the Legislature wasn’t following through with funding needed for training.

Since 2014, data appear to have borne out our concerns.

DDS data provided to us last month show that despite the workshop closures, smaller and smaller numbers of people have actually entered the integrated or mainstream workforce in Massachusetts since Fiscal 2016.  During that fiscal year, a high of 509 clients in the DDS system newly started working in mainstream jobs.  That number dropped to 127 clients entering integrated employment during Fiscal 2017 and a net increase of 98 clients during Fiscal 2018.

We are assuming that demand for these mainstream jobs remains high, possibly in the thousands. That there was a net increase of less than 100 developmentally disabled persons in integrated employment in Fiscal 2018 appears to show that the administration has been unable to find jobs for people who want them.

Fiscal years 2015 and 2016 were apparently the years in which most of the population of the sheltered workshops left those programs and in which most of the increases in integrated employment programs took place. The problem is that the numbers of clients entering integrated employment in those years were much smaller than the numbers entering DDS-funded day programs.

Overall, the DDS day program population increased by 81% from Fiscal 2014 through 2018 while integrated job placements increased by only 19%. The chart below reflects this trend and illustrates the fact that the total day program population in the DDS system has caught up with and even surpassed the total number of departmental clients in integrated employment since Fiscal 2014.

Chart on DDS integrated employment vs. day program population

Source: DDS

When we asked DDS for any records indicating whether the Department is having a problem providing suitable work opportunities for those who want them, DDS referred us to two policy documents dated 2010 and 2013. But those documents obviously do not provide any information about the situation today.

One of those policy documents is the Department’s 2010 “Employment First” policy statement, which called for “integrated employment as a goal for all” DDS clients. The policy statement also called for a “consistent message” and an “infrastructure including prioritizing and directing of resources, that supports this effort.” (my emphasis)

To date, however, neither a consistent message nor an adequate infrastructure appear to exist to support that goal of universal integrated employment.

The DDS’s 2013 document, titled “Blueprint for Success,” stated that it was the Department’s goal to close all remaining sheltered workshops as of June 30, 2015.  (The last workshops were closed a little more than a year later.)

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.

Some DDS Employment First website links don’t work

In response to our request for documents and information, DDS also referred us last month to its Employment First website.  It isn’t apparent, however, that the website contains any information that indicates whether or not it is difficult for developmentally disabled persons to find mainstream employment.

In one case in which I clicked on the website and then went to the “Career Planning” section under the “Resource Library,” a link to a “Career Planning Guide” took me to an error page. Another link to a “Guide to Person-Centered Planning for Job Seekers” took me to a page with generic advice on seeking employment, but no information on current job prospects for people with developmental disabilities in Massachusetts.

Under a link called “Program Development and Management,” I clicked on another link labeled “Ensuring Excellence in Community Based Day Supports,” and got another error page message.

Barbara Govoni and Patty Garrity, two of the more active family members of former sheltered workshop residents, both said they had never been referred to the website by DDS.

Legislative committee kills work opportunities bill

Last year, state Representative Brian Ashe of Longmeadow filed a work opportunity bill (H. 4541) at the request of Govoni, the mother of Danny Morin, a former sheltered workshop participant. The bill would have required optional work activities in DDS-funded day programs for up to four hours a day.

Govoni is concerned that Danny has been provided with few activities that are meaningful to him after his workshop closed in 2016, and misses the steady work that the workshop provided. She terms this lack of available work opportunities for Danny and others a human rights issue.

But Govoni’s bill was referred to the Children, Families, and Persons with Disabilities Committee, which effectively killed the measure in June by sending it to a study. Earlier this week, Govoni and I met with state Senator Joan Lovely, the committee’s Senate chair, to discuss the bill among other DDS issues.

Lovely said the employment bill was filed late in the two-year legislative session. She noted there was little time to analyze the implications of the bill, so the committee decided to send it to a study. The problem with that is that no one in the Legislature actually does such studies. Sending a bill to a study is a euphemistic expression used for killing a bill.

But Lovely said the committee is concerned about the work opportunity issue, and said the committee has been in touch with DDS about it. One proposal being discussed is to hire an ombudsman in the Department who would help individuals and families locate existing day programs that offer work opportunities.

Another proposal under consideration is to establish new work opportunities programs in existing day programs without making such work opportunities a legislative requirement of DDS.

But it isn’t clear that DDS really is working to establish those programs or whether the Department even considers work activities in day programs to be legal.

A staff member for Representative Ashe said she was told by DDS officials that the Department is essentially hamstrung by federal rules that prevent DDS day programs from offering any work activities because such activities can only be offered in “integrated” settings.

DDS tries creative approach to comply with federal requirements

Despite that, we have heard of recent cases in which arrangements have been made to provide work activities in DDS day programs. Patty Garrity’s bother, Mark, is one of those cases.

As we reported last year, Mark, like Danny Morin, was bored in his day program after it had ceased operating as a sheltered workshop. He wasn’t interested in the classes on painting, cooking, or money management that had replaced the piecework he had enjoyed doing.

In March of 2017, Mark’s day program found paper shredding work for him that DDS determined was in compliance with federal rules.

Ashe’s aide queried DDS about Mark’s case and was told that in order to allow Mark to do the paper shredding work under the new federal rules, the provider agency running his day program has actually placed him on its staff and is paying him minimum wage. As a result, Mark is now considered to be working in an integrated setting.

Ashe’s aide told us that Mark’s work arrangement is considered a “unique circumstance.”

Federal rules regarding integrated employment are unclear

The problem with unique arrangements such as Mark’s, however, is that they don’t necessarily solve problems involving larger groups of people. And it may even be questionable whether Mark’s arrangement was actually necessary.

Despite what DDS told Ashe’s legislative aide, it does not appear clear that the federal rules strictly forbid work activities in day programs such as Mark’s.

In an informational bulletin issued in 2011, the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) stated that federal Medicaid funding will not cover “vocational services delivered in facility based or sheltered work settings, where individuals are supervised for the primary purpose of producing goods or performing services.”

That would appear to preclude at least some work activities in DDS day programs. But it seems possible that what the CMS bulletin refers to as “pre-vocational services” do allow for at least certain work opportunities in those settings, although the guidance, as usual, is vague. It also isn’t clear which types of work activities DDS recognizes as pre-vocational services and which it considers vocational.

The CMS bulletin offers a rather vague and clunky definition of pre-vocational services as:

…services that provide learning and work experiences, including volunteer work, where the individual can develop general, non-job-task-specific strengths and skills that contribute to employability in paid employment in integrated community settings. (My emphasis).

The bulletin does state that persons doing pre-vocational activities can be paid for those activities “in accordance with applicable Federal laws and regulations.”

The bulletin implies that these pre-vocational work opportunities can be provided in “fixed-site facilities,” which we think would include DDS day programs, although this again is not clear. Also, the bulletin states that these work opportunities must occur “over a defined period of time,” which implies that the individuals are ultimately expected, as the bulletin says, to be placed in permanent integrated employment. Once again, the “defined period of time” isn’t defined!

It’s also unclear to us what the CMS bulletin means in stating (above) that while pre-vocational services can include “work experiences,” they must provide the person with “non-job-task-specific strengths and skills.” Does that mean that the individual can do work but can’t do specific tasks?

It seems that the paper shredding activity that Mark Garrity is doing could be considered a “work experience.”

As a result, it seems possible that when Govoni’s bill is refiled, as we hope it will be in the next legislative session in January, the bill should specify that all DDS day programs be required to offer pre-vocational activities to anyone who requests that.

When Govoni and I met with Senator Lovely, Lovely agreed that the current rules governing work opportunities are confusing and need to be clarified.

The federal and state models are ‘one size fits all’

 The CMS bulletin recognizes that work is vitally important to people with developmental disabilities in the same way it is important to non-disabled persons. As the bulletin notes:

Work is a fundamental part of adult life for people with and without disabilities. It provides a sense of purpose, shaping who we are and how we fit into our community.

Yet, after that acknowledgement, the CMS bulletin appears willing to ensure that fundamental part of life only for those who agree to work in the mainstream workforce. The bulletin states:

…Because (work) is so essential to people’s economic self sufficiency, as well as self esteem and well being, people with disabilities and older adults with chronic conditions who want to work should be provided the opportunity and support to work competitively within the general workforce in their pursuit of health, wealth and happiness.

Neither the federal government nor the Baker administration in Massachusetts appear to recognize that at least some persons with the most profound levels of disability are not able to participate in the mainstream workforce.

The CMS bulletin states the following: 

All individuals, regardless of disability and age, can work – and work optimally with opportunity, training, and support that build on each person’s strengths and interests. Individually tailored and preference based job development, training, and support should recognize each person’s employability and potential contributions to the labor market.`(my emphasis)

The DDS Employment First policy referred to above appears to go even further in that regard, stating that:

It has now been clearly demonstrated that individuals who were previously considered unemployable in integrated community settings can work successfully. Even for those individuals with the most significant level of disability, through careful job matching and support design, employment has been shown to be a viable option. (my emphasis)

These statements are unsupported by the evidence. That is probably why neither statement provides any evidence to support its claims.

Recently, however, the federal government proposed changes at least to rules that prevent developmentally disabled persons from working for less than the minimum wage.

We hope to work with the Baker administration and the Legislature to find ways to penetrate and clear up this dense thicket of confusion and contradictions that has grown up in the past several years over the vital issue of work for the developmentally disabled.

We hope Govoni’s work opportunity bill is enacted in the next legislative session. In the meantime, legislators, advocates, and policymakers need to get together to clarify and agree on what can and should be done.

Questions remain as key disabilities committee kills work opportunities bill

July 13, 2018 4 comments

The Legislature’s family and disabilities rights committee has rejected H. 4541, a bill intended to ensure that developmentally disabled individuals get work opportunities in their state-funded day programs.

A staff member of the Children, Families, and Persons with Disabilities Committee said the committee understands many people cannot find those work opportunities and is therefore discussing other possible ways of providing for them. But details regarding the policies being considered by the Children and Families Committee are sketchy, and the committee hasn’t yet responded to written questions about those ideas.

Barbara Govoni, the mother of a developmentally disabled man, had pushed for months for passage of H. 4541, which would have established optional work activities in DDS-funded day programs for up to four hours a day.

Many people in community-based day programs funded by the Department of Developmental Services have not been able to find such work since all sheltered workshops were closed in Massachusetts in 2016.

H. 4541 had been referred to the Children and Families Committee in May, and the committee effectively killed the measure last month by sending it to a study. With formal business in the current two-year legislative session ending on July 31, any similar legislation will have to be re-filed next January and go through the legislative process all over again.

It isn’t clear what the committee’s objections were to H. 4541. We’ve noted that some committee members appeared to have some misconceptions about the bill, including the idea that it would bring sheltered workshops back to the state.

In fact, the bill would have simply provided work activities for individuals who continued to desire those activities in their day programs, and who either could not or did not want to work in “integrated” or mainstream work settings. As we have reported, many of these people miss the work they used to do in their sheltered workshops, and are unable to relate to most day program activities that replaced that work.

At the same time, it appears that some DDS-funded day programs are, in fact, continuing to offer work activities to some residents. It’s not clear how many such programs currently exist.

A legislative aide to Representative Kay Khan, House chair of the Children and Families Committee, said earlier this week that the committee had been in touch with the Department of Developmental Services about the work opportunity issue, and that one proposal discussed was to hire an ombudsman in the Department who would help individuals and families locate existing day programs that offer work opportunities.

Funding remains a question

Another proposal under consideration by the Children and Families Committee and DDS is to establish new work opportunities programs at additional day programs without making such work opportunities a legislative requirement of DDS.

No details are yet available, however, on the scope of the Children and Families Committee’s or DDS’s proposals. Also unknown is how funding would be appropriated for an expansion of existing work opportunities programs, and what the amount of that funding might be.

The Legislature, unfortunately, has previously shown a reluctance to fund job training and other programs as part of the effort to replace sheltered workshop programs with “integrated” or mainstream work opportunities for DDS clients.

The administration of then Governor Deval Patrick and the Legislature had set up a DDS line item in Fiscal 2015 to fund job training and other programs to help transfer clients from sheltered workshops into mainstream employment. That line item was initially funded with $1 million and was raised to $3 million the following year.

For Fiscal 2017, current Governor Charlie Baker, with the support of the DDS corporate providers, had proposed boosting the job development line item to $7.6 million; but the Legislature wouldn’t agree to the higher funding.

As of Fiscal 2018, the job development line item was eliminated and all funding for those efforts was transferred to the overall DDS Community Based Day and Work line item. It would seem the case needs to be made that additional funding is now needed for the day and work line item to fill the gap in work opportunity programs.

The solution needs to be comprehensive

Robin Frechette, an aide to Representative Brian Ashe, who filed H. 4541 on Govoni’s behalf, said she believes the Children and Families Committee co-chairs and other committee members “understand there is a gap in services to a particular group of individuals who are not able to work out in the community, and it needs to be addressed.”

But Frechette expressed a concern that simply having an ombudsman direct individuals whose day programs don’t offer work opportunities to different day programs that do offer those opportunities could be disruptive to those individuals.  She also said she was concerned that there may be few such programs available in the western part of the state where Barbara Govoni and her son live.

Earlier this week, we sent email queries to both the Children and Families Committee co-chairs and DDS to try to find out more about the proposals under consideration.

We have asked for records from DDS on the number of work opportunity programs that currently exist in DDS-funded, community-based day programs, and the number of work opportunity programs that DDS plans to establish.

We are also asking for the number of DDS clients who have been placed in “integrated employment” or mainstream workforce jobs and the number of DDS clients in community-based day programs since Fiscal 2014.

And we have asked DDS for its assessment as to whether there is a problem in providing suitable work opportunities for people in the DDS system who desire it, and whether some DDS clients are unable to function in mainstream work sites.

In addition, we’ve asked the co-chairs of the Children and Families Committee what the committee’s specific objections to H. 4541 were.

Despite the rejection of H. 4541, the opportunity remains for state legislators and policy makers to address the critical work opportunity problem facing developmentally disabled people across the state in an effective way.  We hope those legislators and policy makers will make a serious commitment to finding a workable solution; but we know from experience that deeds will be more important than words in that regard.

Families tell legislators that work opportunity bill for the developmentally disabled is about choice

A few days ago (on June 12), Barbara Govoni and Patty Garrity took their case to Beacon Hill for passage of H. 4541, a bill that would ensure that developmentally disabled individuals get work opportunities in their community-based day programs.

Also testifying at the June 12 public hearing of the Legislature’s Children, Families, and Persons with Disabilities Committee in support of the bill was Robin Frechette, a legislative aide to Representative Brian Ashe, who had filed the bill on Govoni’s behalf.

As we noted earlier this month, time is running out in the current legislative session to pass this critically important bill. And many legislators appear to have misconceptions about the legislation.

Govoni, Garrity, and Frechette all pointed out that H. 4541 is needed to fill a gap in work activities for the developmentally disabled — a gap that opened up after all sheltered workshops were closed in Massachusetts in 2016.

We too submitted testimony, and I spoke on behalf of COFAR to the four legislators present on the panel — Senator Joan Lovely, Senate co-chair of the committee; Representative Kay Khan, House co-chair; and Representatives Carolyn Dykema and Shaunna O’Connell.

Supporters of H. 4541

Supporters of H. 4541 on June 12 following the Children and Families Committee hearing. They are (from left) Patty Garrity, Robin Frechette, Danny Morin, Barb Govoni, and John Govoni.

The bill is Govoni’s vision and was filed after she had spent months advocating for it.

“I would not be here had there been a realistic decision to incorporate a community-based support program (when the sheltered workshops were closed),” Govoni testified. That program, she said, should have included a work activity option at day program facilities across the state.

Frechette testified that not all developmentally disabled persons are able to work successfully in mainstream work environments. Garrity pointed out that her brother, Mark, is one of those DDS clients who is “not able to compete in a competitive market for a job.”

Garrity said that when Mark participated in a sheltered workshop at his same day program location in Braintree prior to the workshop’s closure, “the work would come in and Mark would get a paycheck at the end of the week that provided him with self-esteem.” That is no longer the case, and not only is Mark bored with his current day program activities, he tends to let everyone he meets know he misses the work he used to do.

It is not clear yet whether the Children and Family Committee co-chairs are in support of H. 4541. An aide to Representative Khan said on Friday (June 15) that Khan and Lovely were “having a discussion” on all bills still in the committee as formal business in the current legislative session winds down, and would make a decision this week on which bills to report favorably.

Misconceptions persist about the workshop closures

During the June 12 committee hearing, comments from some legislators implied that they may not fully understand the intent of H. 4541 or the problems that have occurred as a result of the workshop closures.

Senator Lovely said that a developmentally disabled client of a DDS provider in her district worked as an intern for her and went on to work successfully at a CVS pharmacy. Lovely added, though, in addressing Govoni, that, “We do recognize that CVS may not be a good match for you,” meaning Govoni’s son, Danny Morin.

We want the legislators to know that the promises made that people would be able to move easily from the sheltered workshops and into mainstream employment have not materialized.


Barbara Govoni testifies during June 12 public hearing on H. 4541

As we reported in 2016, the number of participants in sheltered workshops dropped by 1,166 between August 2014 and August 2015 — a 61 percent reduction — while the workshops were being closed. In that same period, the number of developmentally disabled persons in corporate-run, community-based day programs increased by 1,116, almost the same number as the number of participants who had left the workshops.

Yet, the number of developmentally disabled people in “integrated employment” settings increased from August 2014 to 2015 by only 337, or about 6 percent.  Placing people in integrated or mainstream employment was supposed to be the reason for closing the sheltered workshops!

Studies in other states have found similar outcomes from sheltered workshop closures.

We also want the members of the Children and Families Committee to understand that while H. 4541 is intended to address that unkept promise of access to mainstream employment, the bill isn’t intended to bring the actual workshops back.

DDS providers pushed for the workshop closures

We further want the legislators to know that while the closures of the sheltered workshops in Massachusetts was a policy of the administrations of then Governor Deval Patrick and later of current Governor Charlie Baker, the closures were supported by corporate providers to the Department of Developmental Services as well. The providers stood to gain financially from the closures to the extent that the closures would mean more funding for the provider-run day programs.

We have  pointed out that organizations representing corporate DDS providers in Massachusetts co-authored at least two reports with DDS in the period leading up to and during the closures of the sheltered workshops in the state. The reports both called for the closures of the workshops and for more funding for day programs.

It seemed to us at the time, and still does, to be inappropriate for DDS to have allowed the providers to co-author a document that called for a public policy intended to ensure more funding for those same providers, particularly given that the policy was opposed by individuals and families who were benefiting from the workshops.

Misconceptions about the federal role in closing the workshops

As the then Patrick administration began closing the workshops in Massachusetts, the administration argued that the closures were mandated by the federal government and that Massachusetts had no choice but to comply with the federal order.

But the federal government was actually telling the states at the time that sheltered workshops were permissible for those who wanted to remain in them; the problem, according to the U.S. Department of Justice, was that some states were “over-relying” on the workshops. It also appears that unlike Massachusetts, many, if not most other states did not view the federal government as having issued a clear directive to close their workshops.

In remarks in late 2016, in fact, then DDS Commissioner Elin Howe stated that Massachusetts was only the fourth state in the country to have closed all of its sheltered workshops.

In comments made during the June 12 hearing of the Children and Families Committee, some of the legislators appeared to have the impression that the federal government had required the closure of all sheltered workshops around the country, and that the workshops no longer existed.

However, sheltered workshops are continuing to operate in other states, and there have been successful legislative efforts in some of those states to preserve the workshops as an option for those who desire them.

In Missouri, families mounted a successful effort last year to protect the workshops in that state, and that movement has reportedly spread to other states.  State legislators in New Jersey similarly passed legislation last year to preserve the state’s sheltered workshops.

As things currently stand, the federal government has not ordered sheltered workshops to close and has extended a deadline for removing Medicaid funding for them until 2022.

We hope the state Legislature will recognize that H. 4541 is in line with federal guidelines because it doesn’t prevent anyone who wishes to do so from seeking employment in the mainstream workforce. The bill simply ensures that work opportunities exist for those who don’t choose to participate in mainstream employment.

In the end, H. 4541 is about choice.



Mother wages uphill battle for work opportunity bill for her developmentally disabled son

June 6, 2018 3 comments

[Update: The Legislature’s Children, Families, and Persons with Disabilities Committee has scheduled a public hearing at the Statehouse on Tuesday, June 12, at 1 p.m. on H. 4541]

Barbara Govoni personally lobbied for months before a bill was finally filed in the state Legislature that would ensure that developmentally disabled individuals who are unable to function in mainstream work environments are provided with employment opportunities within their existing community-based day programs.

Govoni would now love to see H. 4541 move forward in the current legislative session. She believes it would ensure that meaningful activities are provided for her son, Danny Morin, and for many others like him.

But even though the bill has close to two dozen co-sponsors, time does not appear to be on Govoni’s side.

With the current two-year legislative session drawing to an end, a staff aide to Representative Brian Ashe, who filed the bill on Govoni’s behalf, acknowledged that the chances for passage of H. 4541 this year are slim. The bill was referred last month to the Children, Families, and Persons with Disabilities Committee.

Last September, we reported on Govoni’s efforts to reintroduce steady piecework activities in day programs for those who desire it. Danny had enjoyed the work he did in his Agawam-based sheltered workshop before that program and all other remaining workshop programs in the state were eliminated in 2016. After that, Danny was offered only day program activities in the same location, most of which he couldn’t relate to.

In recent months, Danny has been working once a week for about two hours at a time at an assembly and packaging company in Holyoke. It is a pale substitute for the steady work he enjoyed when he participated in the sheltered workshop.


Barbara Govoni and her son Danny Morin

“People are suffering with not having enough work,” Govoni said. “This bill would have a monumental impact on the lives of these people if it were to pass.”

In addition to people such as Danny, there are many Department of Developmental Services clients who are either unable to function in mainstream work environments or are unable to work at a rate that those mainstream employers require.

H. 4541 specifies that the work program would be optional for day program participants and would allow them “an opportunity to work in a supportive employment environment which enhances productivity, safety and self-esteem.”

The work would be offered through the DDS-funded day programs for up to four hours a day. All participating individuals would receive a sub-minimum wage permissible under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act.

The Children and Families Committee had 30 days to act on the bill after it was referred there on May 21. But even if the committee were to act favorably on it within that time frame, the bill would probably still have to go through at least two additional committees including the House Ways and Means Committee before reaching the House and Senate floors.  After July 31, formal business in the current two-year legislative session comes to an end.

A staff aide to Representative Kay Khan, House chair of the Children and Families Committee, said the committee will schedule a public hearing on the bill this month. But the aide said there is only “a very low chance” that bill will reach the floor of the House prior to the July 31 deadline.

We strongly support this legislation and hope it doesn’t lose the momentum it has gained so far if, as seems likely, it has to be reintroduced when the new legislative session begins next January.

We understand the Baker administration and previous Patrick administration objected to sheltered workshops as  “segregated” settings because they offered work activities solely to groups of developmentally disabled persons.

What should make H. 4541 acceptable to people with those objections is that the employment program would be voluntary. In that sense, the bill mirrors  language that was inserted in the state budget in Fiscal Years 2015 and 2016 that stated that sheltered workshops would remain open for those who wanted to remain in them. That language, however, did not prevent the Baker administration from closing all remaining sheltered workshops in 2016.

The voluntary nature of the employment program under H. 4541 may be why the bill has garnered co-sponsors from across the state. We hope more legislators begin to realize that the closures of the sheltered workshops has caused problems for many DDS clients, and that this bill is a good first step in addressing those problems.

Even though the bill’s chances are slim in the current session, we encourage people to call the Children and Families Committee to urge them to act quickly on the measure. You can reach the office of Rep. Khan, House chair, at (617) 722-2011, and Senator Joan Lovely, Senate chair, at (617) 722-1410.

Things ‘sliding backwards’ for two men after closure of their sheltered workshops (an update)

September 12, 2017 Leave a comment

Makeshift solutions that were adopted in recent months to help two men cope with the closures last year of their sheltered workshops have not been successful, members of their families say.

“It’s sliding backwards,” Patty Garrity, the sister of Mark Garrity, said in an interview last week. She said a paper shredding experiment that was tried with Mark in March worked only temporarily. Mark soon lost interest in the activity and is bored in his day program, which replaced his sheltered workshop.

In a separate day program, Danny Morin’s temporary work came to an end a few months after it began. In addition, the clients in Danny’s program are now scheduled to be moved into smaller, separate day programs, and Danny’s mother is concerned he could be separated from his long-time girlfriend, another client in his program.  The director of the program said that clients’ preferences would be considered in the relocation decisions.

While sheltered workshops were operating for both Mark Garrity and Danny Morin, piecework was always available and both men were satisfied and fulfilled by it, their family members say.

Barbara Govoni, Danny Morin’s mother, is trying to interest state lawmakers in her idea to reintroduce steady piecework activities in day programs for those who desire it. Govoni has proposed legislative language that would require the state to provide a “supportive work environment” to disabled persons who “cannot be comfortably be mainstreamed into a vocational community setting.”

In May, we first reported on the impact of the closures of their sheltered workshops on Mark and Danny and their families.

We noted that paid piecework and assembly work that had been given to Mark and Danny to do in their sheltered workshops were taken away last year and replaced by day program activities that they couldn’t relate to. In each case, their provider agency managed to come up with a makeshift solution to the problem that allowed the men to continue doing work similar to what they had done before.

Now it appears that those makeshift solutions haven’t solved the underlying problems created by the workshop closures for the two men and potentially others.

Sheltered workshops may have closed prematurely in Massachusetts 

All sheltered workshop programs were closed in Massachusetts as of last summer as a result of requirements by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) that developmentally disabled people work in “integrated employment” settings in which a majority of the workers are not disabled.

But while sheltered workshops have been deemed “segregated” settings because they are offered solely to groups of developmentally disabled persons, many clients and their families and guardians have argued that the programs provide fulfilling, skill-building activities and do not preclude community integration. Moreover, it is not clear that the CMS has necessarily required the shutdown of all sheltered workshops.

In Massachusetts, the Baker administration and former Patrick administration claimed they had no choice but to close all of the workshops in the state, or else the federal government would bring a lawsuit against them.  But many other states have apparently not acted in the haste that Massachusetts did in shutting the programs down. Last year, DDS Commissioner Elin Howe, who has since retired, stated that Massachusetts was one of the first states in the country to close all of its workshops.

Paper shredding activity for Mark Garrity didn’t last

At the Road to Responsibility (RTR) day program in Braintree, which Mark Garrity attends, Mark was frustrated for months after his sheltered workshop at the site was closed in September of 2016. Piecework activities that Mark enjoyed doing came to an end and were replaced by nature walks, cooking classes, and a money management class, none of which interested Mark.

After COFAR contacted DDS about Mark’s situation in early March of this year, RTR staff found a paper shredding activity for Mark to do. The activity received verbal approval from the DDS southeast regional director, who determined that it was in compliance with federal regulations.

The paper shredding seemed at first to be a good solution for Mark, and he even got paid for it. But Mark’s sister, Patty Garrity, said that Mark soon sensed a lack of structure and purpose in the activity.  Mark is also sometimes asked to use the copy machine and to take the copied documents to staff offices; but Patty says that activity usually occupies only a few minutes of his day.

“I think he’s bored,” Patty said. “Every day I would pick him up and ask how’s it going with the shredding. It didn’t hold his interest.”

Patty said that despite the fact that funding was earmarked to pay Mark for doing the paper shredding, he recently stopped doing it. “Now he’s unproductive, and it’s not fair to him,” she said.

RTR officials have said that they did recently offer Mark an employment opportunity at a company outside of his day program; but Patty did not approve that offer for Mark, contending that Mark is not a suitable candidate for outside or mainstream employment. She said he is not able to produce at a rate that employers require in paying a minimum wage.

While his sheltered workshop was operating, Mark was paid by the piece, so the rate at which he was able to produce was not an issue. Moreover, jobs at the sheltered workshop would rotate. Mark was constantly busy then, Patty said, but now he is chafing under the lack of structure.

In addition, Mark appears to fall outside of at least one work category that still exists at his day program for clients who have been determined to be unable or too high-risk to function in the community outside the program. While those clients have been given work to do each day folding t-shirts, Mark has not been offered that work because he has not been ruled unsuitable for community interaction.

“They’re (the RTR staff) trying to do the best they can,” Patty said, “but the people are bored.”

Work at Work Opportunity Center site is intermittent

 At the Work Opportunity Center day program in Agawam which Barbara Govoni’s son, Danny, attends, some piecework has been available intermittently from a company that is located in the same building in the center.

The company, Millennium Press, used to supply piecework activities to the Work Opportunity Center when the Center operated as a sheltered workshop. Now the company rents a portion of the Work Opportunity Center’s building.

The work offered by the Millennium Press to clients of the Work Opportunity Center since the closure of the sheltered workshop complies with federal regulations because non-disabled people also work for that company. Danny Morin and other clients of the Center signed an agreement to be paid a sub-minimum wage for doing the work.

However, Barbara said that the Millennium Press work is not steady. Danny and other clients in the Center were kept busy recently for three to four months putting stickers on envelopes and boxes for the company, but they finished ahead of schedule, she said, and the work came to an end.

Pushing for legislation to bring back workshop activities

Govoni has been trying to interest legislators and her congressman in filing legislation at either the federal or state level that would ensure the legality in Massachusetts and potentially other states of a steady supply of piecework activities for persons who desire them. She met last week with state Representative Brian Ashe, a Democratic legislator who represents her hometown of Hampden, to discuss her proposal.

Such legislation would be similar to language that was inserted in the state budget in Fiscal Years 2015 and 2016 that stated that sheltered workshops would remain open for those who wanted to remain in them. Unfortunately, that language did not prevent the Baker administration from closing all remaining sheltered workshops last year.

Govoni’s proposed legislative language would require the state or states (if her language was enacted by Congress) “to provide a supportive work environment, separate from the mainstream community, to enhance productivity, safety and self-esteem.” The language states that the separate work environment is not meant to exclude “other forms of integration or inclusion.”

We emailed Ashe’s legislative aide last month with our support of Govoni’s proposed legislation, but have not heard back. Govoni said Ashe told her he would bring her idea to the attention of “the proper legislative committee” in the Massachusetts Legislature.

Clients at the Work Opportunity Center will be split into groups 

Govoni said the clients in her son’s day program will be split into three groups and that each group will be sent to a different day program location based on where they live. She was told at first that the decisions on the new locations would not be based on any existing preferences the clients had expressed such as preferences for maintaining relationships they may have formed in the Agawam center.

DDS regulations state that the Department must provide services that promote “self‑determination and freedom of choice to the individual’s fullest capability.” If clients are being moved to different locations without regard to their personal preferences, it would appear that they are not being allowed to exercise self-determination or freedom of choice in that respect.

Bob MacDonald, executive director of the Work Opportunity Center, said that after discussing the issue with DDS, he has received clarification that the relocations should take client preferences into account. MacDonald said each relocation decision will take into consideration 1) where the individual lives, 2) the “consumer’s preference,” and 3) the recommendation of the individual’s clinical care (ISP) team.

Without discussing specific people, MacDonald said that if two clients are known to have a relationship or a preference for staying together, that would or should be taken into consideration in the relocation decision.

We hope that Representative Ashe and others in the Legislature will make a sincere effort to promote legislation that will ensure the restoration of steady and meaningful work activities for those in DDS day programs that desire them.

Even if someone believes that DDS-centered work activities tend to segregate or exploit those individuals (and we don’t believe that to be the case), we think everyone should respect the wishes of those individuals and their families and guardians who want to engage in those activities. That is what self-direction and freedom of choice are all about.

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