Legislation Warning for Sheltered Workshops in NJ
I know this post is in regards to developmentally disabled adults. However, it can effect the future of your disabled child if they are unable to handle a normal workplace. I recommend keeping an eye out for legislation like this in your state and begin a letter writing campaign to keep this from happening in your state.
Do those with disabilities have a right to work?
Workers cut pieces of brown paper at the Occupational Training Center in Burlington Township on Thursday.
Lockers line one side of the work area of the building in the Occupational Training Center in Burlington Township. Workers have decorated the lockers with pictures, names and stickers.
Amy Collom works on cutting paper and fabric in the work area of the Occupational Training Center in Burlington Township.
Sarah Settle, of Southampton, left, and Adrien Berry, of Westampton, work on cutting brown paper in the work area of the building in the Occupational Training Center in Burlington Township. Workers have decorated the lockers with pictures, names and stickers.
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Posted: Sunday, March 24, 2013 5:55 am | Updated: 6:46 am, Sun Mar 24, 2013.
Do those with disabilities have a right to work? By Danielle Camilli Staff writer PhillyBurbs.com
Posted on March 24, 2013
BURLINGTON TOWNSHIP - Adrien Berry has been working at a job she loves for eight years.
Each day, she spends hours assembling and packaging everything from emergency kits for first responders to quirky products popular on infomercials.
It's simple work, but it's hers. And admittedly, she and her 160 co-workers, all Burlington County residents with developmental disabilities, aren't paid much.
But they say their "sheltered workshop" is a priceless opportunity to do a meaningful job in a safe and accessible environment, while contributing and earning a paycheck for real work.
"We love our jobs and coming here every day," said Berry, 29, of Westampton, who works at the nonprofit Occupational Training Center of Burlington County on Manhattan Drive. "It's what we do for a living."
The state, however, says it isn't enough.
These workers with disabilities deserve more than sub-minimum wage, tucked away from the community and competitive employment, the state claims. And these sheltered workshops, advocates contend in this national debate with New Jersey now in their crosshairs, are halting those with developmental disabilities from reaching their full potential.
The state Division of Developmental Disabilities has announced plans to begin phasing out and defunding sheltered workshops in favor of reformed and expanded supportive work programs that will focus on moving the population into competitive employment in the community.
The reform is in keeping with New Jersey's commitment as an "Employment First" state which recognizes that "competitive employment in the general workforce is the first and preferred post-education outcome for people with any type of disability." While providers applaud the shift in focus, and will still be the ones to deliver services and programs, they maintain that the state shouldn't eliminate all other options.
The Division of Developmental Disabilities, which is part of the state Department of Human Services, will phase out the programs over the next 12 to 18 months, but a spokeswoman said it is working with providers, including the 28 Occupational Training Center in the state, on the transition.
The division funds about 830 of the nearly 1,000 consumers in sheltered workshops at a cost of nearly $7 million, spokeswoman Pam Ronan said.
"The ultimate goal ... is having jobs in local communities, working with and among their non-disabled peers for a competitive wage," Ronan said.
Officials cite a recent report by the Institute for Community Inclusion that indicates only 14 percent of the state's DDD clients in such programs ever move to other employment, about 6 percent below the already-low national average.
Furthermore, the state claims that Medicaid will no longer fund vocational services in sheltered workshop settings. In addition, the U.S. Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division has been increasingly vocal regarding the obligation of states to support individuals to succeed in community employment.
Supporters argue that it is the "over-reliance" on sheltered workshops that is the concern to the Department of Justice, but that landmark Supreme Court rulings clearly state there is a place for these programs as an option for disabled workers.
Debate has been raging
Joseph Bender, executive director of the county's Occupational Training Center, said the debate over sheltered workshops has been raging since at least the early 1980s. And he agreed that people with disabilities who can work in community or competitive employment in the "real world" definitely should, and do, move into those settings. The nonprofit's sheltered workshop makes up only 4 percent of its total $33 million budget, Bender said.
By definition, those who qualify for the DDD's habilitation services, including the workshops, must have a work level of under 20 percent of a worker of standard ability.
"And work is only one component of the day. Work is also used as a tool to reach habilitative goals of increasing attention span, motor skills, interpersonal skills and socialization," Bender said. "The DDD is taking something it should be proud of and eliminating it. We support supportive employment, but object to removing anyone's program choice based on a philosophy of a work-only option."
He said while other states are ripe for reform, citing examples of the disabled working as "slave labor" on turkey farms or in sweatshop-like conditions, that is not the case in New Jersey.
"Advocates always give the extreme examples and the examples of operations that are totally illegal, but that's not what goes on here in New Jersey," Bender said. "Sheltered workshops work here. Now they're trying to destroy the choices of the majority who choose to stay in the sheltered environment. Their vision becomes the only reality available, and that's tragic."
He said statewide about 3,000 workers with disabilities were placed in community workplaces last year, including the county OTC's successful contracts for food service, janitorial services, and other work for Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst.
"We are the most successful placement service for individuals with disabilities, and for anyone in the state of New Jersey to say that we are somehow locking these people up in sheltered workshops is a lie," Bender said. "It's a lie."
For certain populations, sheltered workshops and the bench assembly jobs there will be the most real, meaningful work environment that allows individuals to function to their ability level, supporters said. Unfortunately, not every disabled person, including those with severe cognitive, developmental and behavioral issues, will be able to be employed in a competitive workplace, he said.
At the workshop in Burlington Township last week, individuals sorted hangers, folded and boxed papers, assembled and packaged pens and DNA kits, and worked in the fabric shop under the close supervision of OTC staff.
"I would be fearful for many of these people if they were forced out into the competitive workplace," production coordinator Hazel McKinley said. "It would be detrimental. You know how they say it takes a village? Well, this is part of that village, where people with very special needs can come and be productive and cared for while learning, working and earning a paycheck."
Dorene Berry, Adrien Berry's mother, agreed. She has seen the success of her daughter, who has Down syndrome, at the Occupational Training Center, but doesn't believe she would be a good candidate in an integrated work setting where she would have to be more independent.
"She works well there, but it requires a lot of support and supervision and reinforcing of appropriate behaviors," the Westampton mother said. "She functions at a relatively high level, but she needs the structure and support. She doesn't go to work to make tons of money, but that paycheck means the world to her. It builds her confidence and is a source of pride."
The Berrys and others fear that the loss of sheltered workshops will push their participants into day programs with very little or no work component. They worry that the support programs the state will emphasize won't lead to jobs, especially considering all workers are now assessed annually and over the years have not been able to move on to more independent community work settings.
Instead of work, days will be filled with arts and crafts, some volunteering, trips to the movies and the zoo, and other places in the communities.
"My son knows the difference, and when he heard about the changes, his first response was, ‘I'm not a baby,' " said Maria Robinson of Medford Lakes. "He's extremely upset. This is his job, and it has been a blessing to him. It's his life, and they want to take that away."
Alex Robinson, 30, has worked at the OTC for about eight years. He is mildly developmentally disabled, with other medical issues and complications.
"It's not about the money. It's about his ability to earn a paycheck and learn how to budget and have a sense of cost and value," his mother said. "It's also about more than the work. It's the first time he has ever had a friend and been among peers who accepted him. This would be a huge loss for him and the others."
Bender, the participants, and their families and guardians have reached out to state legislators for help to halt the defunding.
State Sen. Diane Allen, R-7th of Edgewater Park, and others in Trenton are considering legislation to keep successful sheltered workshops open.
"I believe, for so many, they are the perfect answer to very difficult situations," Allen said. "To rip these programs from these individuals and their families right now would be wrong. We're working in Trenton to stop it."
Joseph Young, executive director of the nonprofit Disability Rights New Jersey, rejected the argument that sheltered workshops could be the only or best option for some of the state's disabled.
"For every person you show me in a sheltered workshop, I'll show you someone in an integrated work environment," Young said, noting that the workshop program has a strong history in New Jersey and no noted cases of abuse. "I understand people are comfortable and afraid, but that's why change requires education."
State never says never
The state doesn't question the potential of the DDD's nearly 28,000 adults eligible for services, either.
"We never say never. Each individual is unique, and there are many possibilities that exist," Ronan said. "DDD will work with each person and also with each of the service providers. There are opportunities here for both individuals and service providers to transition into more integrated, community employment environments and many opportunities for pre-vocational activities with employment-related goals."
Young said more employers need to be open to workers who have disabilities who can be successful with some support or accommodations, which they are entitled to under the Americans With Disabilities Act.
He said he is skeptical that sheltered workshops will ever be totally phased out in New Jersey. Bender agreed that workshops will not shut down even if the state defunds them.
Ronan, of the DDD, said the state's reform is focused on work, not moving people into day programs. She said support can come in several ways to make for successful work in the community, including on-the-job coaches, job and interpersonal skills training, and career planning.
She said that initially supported employment may cost more for some individuals, but that research shows it is less expensive over time.
"More importantly, however, (it) is integrated, and individuals benefit from their inclusion in the workplace and community," Ronan said.
Bender agreed that the supported work is and can be successful and an option for some, but he also cautioned that it must be funded properly with more dollars needed as a program participant's functioning level decreases.
Ronan said that reforms would be a long-term process and that the Division of Developmental Disabilities is working now on developing transitional planning for individuals and providers.
"We're exploring whether case-by-case solutions exist to meet the needs of the individuals now served in the sheltered workshops," she said.
Allen said that she is confident the state has the best intention with the changes, but that making changes across the board is not ideal.
"The state is doing what it believes is right, but it doesn't understand the individual programs," she said. "If there are programs with problems, then they should go. But for the programs like the OTC that are meeting a need and doing well, we need to make sure they continue and that we give them support."
Group owner of Different Learners Support Group (http://www.cafemom.com/group/118648)