Washington Continues Movement Away From Sheltered
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
August 23, 2004
VANCOUVER, WASHINGTON--Like many other places around the world, the state of Washington is making a bumpy transition from sheltered workshops to community-based employment for people with developmental disabilities.
Sheltered workshops, which are based on a model of employment from the early part of the 20th century, have been losing favor in the last few decades because they often segregate people with disabilities from the community at large, fail to provide stimulating work matched to a person's interests or skills, and usually pay workers a wage based on their "productivity" -- a rate that seldom at or above minimum wage. Those who oppose sheltered workshops consider them one of the worst forms of discrimination -- in some cases resembling Third-World sweat-shops.
Supporters of sheltered workshops have long claimed that some people need specialized settings, that they cannot be expected to work for area businesses mixed in with the general work force because their slow pace or behavior would not be accepted or tolerated. They argue that pay at sub-minimum wage levels, which have been allowed by federal law since the Great Depression, help people with mental and physical disabilities to earn more than they would if they tried to compete with other workers.
In Washington, employment services for adults with developmental disabilities are provided by, or contracted through, the counties. Many of those counties are supporting -- even urging -- employment service agencies to abandon sheltered or "prevocational" services in favor of supported or competitive employment in the community.
Recently, Inclusion Daily Express featured a Tacoma Tribune story about Vadis, a program that will be closing its sheltered workshop at the end of this month.
On Saturday, the Columbian looked at Vantech Enterprises NW, an employment services program in the Portland suburb of Vancouver in Clark County, Washington, which shut its sheltered workshop at the end of June. More than 30 people were let go.
The article looked at both sides of the issue, including that of family members that are worried that their loved ones have lost their sheltered services in a job market that already experiences a high unemployment rate.
"Finding a new sense of purpose" (The Columbian)
"What happens to Vantech now?" (The Columbian)
"Positive outlook as sheltered workshop closes" (Tacoma News Tribune -- August 2, 2004)