Many states are moving away from pre-vocational services and sheltered workshops for the intellectually disabled. Arguments against sheltered workshops are that they isolate people with disabilities from the community and limits competitive employment opportunities that pay higher wages. Although these are legitimate concerns, I feel that sheltered workshops still have a place and are beneficial to our consumers. Sheltered workshops provide a place for individuals who would like to work but are not quite ready for competitive employment. Sheltered workshops also prepare individuals for the transition to competitive employment in a more supervised setting. There are some advantages to sheltered workshops and they should still be considered as an option for the disabled.
Provides a Sense of Pride- Sheltered work environments provide a sense of pride because they are a part of a service to the community. Many sheltered workshops produce goods and products that we use every day. Vocational programs for the disabled complete many job tasks we take for granted such as producing labels and assembling kits for cable and equipment companies.
Independence- Individuals are able feel a sense of independence with earning their own money.
Limited Impact on Benefits- Employees of sheltered workshops are often paid on a "Piece Rate". The employee is basically paid based on the amount of products they produced. The money they earn has little to no impact on Medicaid or Social Security benefits. In most cases, the amount of money earned is much less than the minimum hourly wage. Many have argued that this is unfair and almost amounts to sweatshop wages. However, the amount of money is often not the primary concern, as their disability benefits usually cover primary expences such as housing, food, and other services.
Limited Pressure- Sheltered workshops offer a “pressure free” environment where employees can develop work skills. Employees can learn how to complete tasks without the pressure of working with the general public, who may not have a full understanding of their disability. Pre-vocational services can provide an opportunity to improve on speed and completing work tasks with good quality without being thrown into a situation that may be overwhelming. In some cases, there are other issues such as a seizure disorder or behavioral challenges that may limit the ability to work in a competitive environment.
Consumer Choice- In some cases, the employee just simply likes where they are working and don’t want to be forced to change jobs. For many employees with disabilities, any change can be stressful and changing jobs could be more detrimental to their progress. The elimination of sheltered workshops would take away an option for those who may never be able to work in a competitive employment setting but enjoy going to “work” and earning money.
Good for Business- Pre-vocational programs also benefit local businesses. Companies offer contracts to the programs to provide work for their employees. Companies also benefit by having the work done at a reduced rate. It would be much cheaper to pay a pre-vocational employee a piece rate instead of paying an in-house employee $8 to $10 or more per hour for the same task (Not including health benefits and other expenses).
People with disabilities should have the opportunity to transition to supported employment and have the same opportunities as the rest of the community. However, sheltered workshops still play a vital role in providing opportunities to people who are not quite ready for the next step. Many of these decisions are made by people who don’t work directly with the clients or haven’t worked directly with clients for so long that they are out of touch with the reality of what they really need. Keeping sheltered workshops just adds an additional choice for more person-centered planning.