Last week, Rhode Island and the Justice Department came to a groundbreaking agreement to reform the system of sheltered workshops and day programs for people with disabilities. The agreement includes minimum wage guarantees and opportunities for competitive employment, among others. You can read the article from the New York Times here and read a wonderful editorial from the NYT editorial board here. Over the next 10 years, Rhode Island will be working to integrate people with disabilities into the workforce.
Under the agreement, Rhode Island will be moving people out of the sheltered workshops, where many people perform menial tasks such as sorting small items—tasks that do little to showcase their actual abilities. Sheltered workshops were not originally started to segregate people with disabilities from the rest of the workforce. Often, they began because parents felt their children were capable of more and just needed a place to learn skills to help them transition to competitive employment. Although sheltered workshops may have worked successfully for some people, a majority simply ended up segregated from the rest of the community.
This change to an inclusive employment model will involve a shift in the way many people think about people with disabilities and their ability to work. Rather than focusing on what they can’t do, it will drive people to think about theirabilities and the ways they can contribute to the workforce. People with disabilities can and do make valuable contributions to the workforce.
Inclusive employment opens up many possibilities for people’s lives. They’re working, earning a paycheck, making a positive contribution, building friendships. All of this takes time, and it can be difficult to see the possibilities of integration when you aren’t seeing immediate results. It’s important for family members to know that their loved ones are not losing services through sheltered workshops. They will benefit from inclusive employment and all the possibilities it opens.
We are excited to see how these changes unfold in Rhode Island and how this model is then applied in other states.
More Information about Integrated Employment
The Office of Disability Employment Policy and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services held two webinars in February about integrated employment: