Site Descriptions

Burlington, Vermont

Purpose of Visit:

Vermont represented an extraordinary opportunity to view the outcome of a state which had eliminated sheltered workshops and subminimum wage almost ten years prior. After making heavy investments in supported employment infrastructure and capacity, the Vermont state intellectual and developmental disability service-provision agency – Vermont Developmental Disability Services (DDS) – determined in 2000 that they would no longer fund new entrances into sheltered workshops. In 2002, Vermont changed its System of Care to indicate that it would no longer fund sheltered workshop services, allowing for a three-year phase out period to shut down existing sheltered workshops. By 2003, the last sheltered workshop in the state had closed, with agencies transitioning to providing supported employment services instead and people with disabilities moving into integrated employment and integrated non-work options.

Summary of Visits:

The Committee’s  site visit  in Vermont was broad and wide ranging, including senior officials in DDS and the state vocational rehabilitation agency, self-advocates, family members, supported employment coordinators, executives at support agencies, and past clients of workshops. According to state officials, approximately 80% of the workers in the last workshop closed transitioned into supported employment, while the remainder moved into a state integrated non-work program called Community Support. Approximately 40% of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities are in integrated employment, with the remainder in community-based, integrated non-work activities. There are no individuals in Vermont in facility-based work or facility-based non-work activities. Data sets from the Institute for Community Inclusion’s StateData.info website confirms these statistics.

Observations:

A consistent narrative emerged describing the state’s transition from sheltered workshops to a fully integrated employment support and day activity system. In the 1980s, the University of Vermont received a Systems Change grant from the Rehabilitation Services Administration tasking it to work in tandem with the state vocational rehabilitation agency and DDS to build up supported employment services throughout the state. The grant provided for extensive technical assistance and the creation of supported employment coordinators in key positions in state government. After the five-year grant cycle, both VR and DDS agencies decided to sustain the positions of supported employment coordinators within their agency. By 2002, every county in Vermont had a supported employment agency.

Vermont’s supported employment infrastructure depends on close collaboration between VR and DDS. The VR agency funds supported employment through grants to providers rather than a fee for service reimbursement arrangement based on individuals served. VR’s grants to agencies for supported employment services are supplemented by Medicaid reimbursements from DDS resulting in an effectively braided funding stream. The flat grant amounts made by VR allow many agencies to support services, such as “follow-along” tracking of individuals who no longer require direct service-provision to maintain their employment, that are not reimbursable by Vocational Rehabilitation or Medicaid.

DDS noted that they funded a wide array of different kinds of integrated employment models. Those models range from supporting individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities in applying for and succeeding in competitively posted jobs; working with employers and people with disabilities on designing positions through job carving and customized employment strategies; and supporting individuals to start their own business, having established self-employment services as a funded service from DDS. During the movement to close sheltered workshops, Vermont also eliminated enclave work settings as well. Prior to our visit, DDS officials reached out to the Department of Labor Regional Office and confirmed that there are no currently operating 14(c) certificates in Vermont.

New York, New York

Purpose of visit:

The Committee conducted the New York site visit on March 7, 2012. New York was selected because it has one of the largest and oldest ID/DD service systems in the state, and gave the Committee the opportunity to look at employment opportunities in a very complex urban environment.

Summary of activities:

Most of our visits took place in collaboration with AHRC, the state’s largest and oldest ID/DD service provider. AHRC provides advocacy, residential, day habilitation and educational services in addition to supported employment and sheltered workshop services. The Committee spent the full day on March 7 at one of the AHRC centers, which was well used by dozens of adults with disabilities and their families. During the course of our day at AHRC, we met with:

  • AHRC program staff
  • Individuals with disabilities working in the sheltered workshop or at AHRC
  • Parents of individuals with disabilities working in supported employment settings
  • State policy officials, including a representative from the state ID/DD program and a representative from Vocational Rehabilitation (VR)

The Committee also toured the workshop on site. On the day of the visit, the workshop activities included packaging insoles for shoes, packaging beverages marketed to lessen the symptoms of a hang over, and rehabilitation of printers. Work was done primarily on a piece rate.

Because the full Council was in New York City for our quarterly meeting, the Committee was able to extend the visit by an additional half day and include other Council members. On March 8, Council members divided into teams to visit different supported employment work sites including the transit center, some law offices, and a fabric store. Other types of supported employment described by AHRC staff included messenger services throughout the city, janitorial services, and hospital work.

On the afternoon of March 8, the full Council also had the opportunity to visit a non-profit organization called Job Path which specializes in customized employment.  The Council listened to a detailed presentation about the process the organization uses to develop jobs for its clients, and got to speak with two clients about their jobs.

Observations:

New York State has a large and complex DD system, which is one of the most expensive in the nation. According to AHRC staff, consumer expectations for services are high and (according to AHRC staff) services for day habilitation and residential services are generous. The Committee noted that individuals were enthusiastic to participate in day habilitation programs, and all of the individuals with disabilities the Committee spoke with talked about the social benefits of coming to the day program and the workshop. Several mentioned returning to the day program and subminimum wage positions after successful placement in integrated employment settings with competitive wages. There was clearly a strong social attachment to the program and the people (staff and clients) involved with the program.

Program specialists the Committee talked with discussed reasons why some individuals came back. The most commonly cited issues were benefits planning and social isolation in integrated work environments.  AHRC provides both integrated employment and sheltered employment, and reported that individuals move between both settings.  Concerns were expressed that if 14(c) were eliminated or reduced, it would be very difficult to continue to provide employment services to many of the individuals the program serves. AHRC leaders also provided a useful history about services for people with DD in New York.  One of the individuals helped move individuals out of Willowbrook [State School], and it became easier to see how the current state of services is part of an evolving service system. Many of those who the Committee spoke with were strong leaders that helped create New York’s service system after Willowbrook in order to include more community based supports for people with disabilities.

One individual with a disability the Committee met with was working for a piece rate at the workshop when work was available, and participating in the day program when there was no work. He was in his early 30s, and had strong conversational and adaptive skills. If he were encountered by a member of the general public, they might not perceive him to be an individual with a disability. This individual recounted to the team his success in integrated employment. He was working regular hours at a café inside a Barnes and Noble Bookseller. His performance was high enough that he continued to be rewarded with wages, at one point exceeding $12/hour. At this point, his benefits were at risk and so his mother required him to quit his job and return to piece rate work at the workshop. He reported that his benefits were needed to help pay rent each month.

The Committee also interviewed the mother of an individual in his 20s. By report, her son experiences a significant intellectual disability, has limited verbal communication skills, and experiences challenges with fine motor dexterity. She was determined, however, that he would work in an integrated employment setting for a competitive wage. She utilized her natural networks and drew upon her son’s unique interests to work with the Disney Store in Times Square to develop a customized employment opportunity for him. His job responsibilities include performing the opening ritual with children each morning, greeting customers, bagging purchases, and ensuring customers have baskets in which to carry their goods. He works about 10 hours a week, and though he started at minimum wage he has earned several raises which boosted his pay. He utilizes public transportation to get to his work site. His mother describes this as a situation that gives her son meaningful work that he enjoys, allows him to earn some money, and contributes to the bottom line of the business for which he works.  

One Council member had the opportunity to spend some individual time with one of the AHRC executives. The executive described messenger services as a competitive job with which many adults with intellectual disabilities found success. Individuals deliver parcels, packages and letters across all boroughs of the city utilizing public transportation and even taxis. This is a valuable service to the customers, and it allows the employees to earn competitive wages. She described one adult with an intellectual disability who was working as a messenger on 9/11. He was able to navigate through the unexpected chaos to safety.

At Job Path, the Committee met a woman who participated in a customized employment development process. Her job coach spent a couple of weeks with the client in her neighborhood. He observed her interests and skills, as well as the business opportunities in the neighborhood. He noticed that when they visited retail stores, his client would fold merchandise that had not been put away properly. He used this information to approach one of her preferred retail stores about a potential job opportunity. She was hired at minimum wage to fold their merchandise as it arrived.  Since being hired, she has been recognized as one of their most productive employees and has received pay raises. She reported that she enjoys her work, enjoys her colleagues, and appreciates that they include her in staff social activities and events.

Salem, Oregon

Purpose of visit:

Oregon was chosen because, based on data, it had a high rate of supported employment placement. However, after this selection was made a class action lawsuit was filed against the state because of an increasing number of sheltered workshop placements. As part of this lawsuit, the federal court ruled in May 2012 that the integration mandate under Olmstead is not limited to housing, and it applies to employment. Since the original draft of this report was offered to the Council in June of 2012, the US Department of Justice also issued a letter to Oregon stating that its own investigation of employment in Oregon found that the state was noncompliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act in regards to employment. Oregon also gave us the opportunity to see a state that has no private or public residential institutions for adults with intellectual/developmental disabilities and examine a less urban area.

Summary of activities:

The Committee’s interviews in Oregon took place in Salem, the state capital. Because this is a central location in the state, we were able to talk with people from a variety of communities. 

The Committee began the day with a tour of Shangri-La, one of Oregon’s largest providers of residential, employment, and day habilitation services for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The tour was led by the CEO of Shangri La; the Director of the Oregon Rehabilitation Association; and the Employment Program Director for Shangri La.

When the Committee arrived onsite it had the opportunity to observe a landscape crew at work, and to talk briefly with a couple of employees. These landscaping crews complete work on a contract basis with local businesses, and employees earn wages based on their productivity. The Committee also visited a woodshop on site as well as a sewing site. In the woodshop, the Committee had the opportunity to see a variety of specialized technologies that allowed individuals with disabilities to safely increase their productivity. Employees were engaged in loading, hauling, milling, sawing, stacking and sorting wood products. The Committee also had the opportunity to see a day habilitation program on site, which included a variety of activities and classes including cooking, computers, games, and functional academics. When the Committee arrived, there was an individual sitting outside the facility waiting for the day program to open. He indicated his enthusiasm for the program, and described how important it was to his quality of life.

Following the visit to Shangri-La, the Committee moved to a conference room at the state Capitol to complete our interviews for the day. Interview panels included:

  • Employment providers using 14(c) certificates from several areas of the state
  • State policy officials including representatives from the Developmental Disabilities Program (the team lead for the Oregon Employment First Initiative; the director of Vocational Rehabilitation; and the Assistant Superintendent from the Oregon Department of Education).
  • Advocates, including representation from The Arc of Oregon (this is an advocacy organization that does not provide direct services); Disability Rights Oregon (the state P&A center); a brokerage director; and the Oregon Council on Developmental Disabilities.  Two of these individuals are also parents—one is the mother of a transition age student, the other has a son in his thirties with significant physical and developmental disabilities who enjoys integrated employment with competitive wages.
  • Six adults with developmental/intellectual disabilities from Corvallis (a city of about 54,000 people), along with their DD program director and a support person.

Observations:

The Committee noted that all of the panels seemed aligned to a core set of values that focused on self-determination and community inclusion, despite some disagreements about 14(c) and appropriate employment settings. The policy maker panel and the advocate panel referred extensively to Oregon specific data—which is readily available on the Oregon Employment First website.

The Committee’s first visit in the morning was to Shangri-La, which provides a variety of worksites. The Committee talked to some employees, as well as to supervisors. The organization provides employment and day services to many people, and the providers explained the significant role the organization plays in providing structure during the course of the day for individuals. In this sheltered work environment, the type of work performed by the individuals was more complex, challenging, and meaningful than the type of work the Committee saw in some other workshops on our site visit tour. These worksites looked much like any manufacturing or mill worksite one would visit that primarily employed people without disabilities. We noted complex equipment particularly in the mill and woodshop area of the site. The providers explained their significant investment in equipment to maximize efficiency for their employees (thus boosting wages), as well as to enhance safety and make the work accessible to more people. They lamented that industry has not adopted similar technology that would make it possible for more people to work in integrated settings.

The providers the Committee interviewed each provided supports for a variety of work environments and wage scales. All talked about a desire to help individuals maximize their wages, but argued that without 14(c) they could not sustain their business model. As a result, they were concerned that the elimination of 14(c) would lead to fewer people being employed and diminish their ability to serve Oregonians with disabilities.

The Committee noted that the support needs of the individuals with disabilities we met with were higher than the needs of those we met in other states. Despite this, with the exception of one individual living in foster care, all of the individuals the Committee interviewed were living in supported living situations where they had their own apartment or home. All of the individuals the Committee spoke with referenced busy lives that included work, romantic relationships, and volunteer commitments. The types of volunteer commitments individuals referenced included everything from membership in a Kiwanis Club, to serving on the board of a League of Women Voters, to providing mentoring and support to younger people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Though not all individuals interviewed were earning minimum wage, they were all outspoken in their belief that they should earn minimum wage. The group seemed uniquely empowered about their employment, civil and community inclusion rights. One individual described walking off of a job after he saw his employer refuse to consider the application of a person in a wheelchair. He said that wasn’t right, and he could not work at a place that discriminated. Another individual talked about losing work from a towing company, but following up with a discrimination complaint. “He got in lots of trouble and had to pay fines,” said the employee.

One of the individuals interviewed works in a grocery store. He collapses boxes, works in the bottle recycling center (all Oregon beverage containers, including teas and water, have deposits thus this is a big need in grocery stores), and returns carts. He earns more than minimum wage, and recently earned a raise which he was very excited about earning. He credited a supportive employer in creating a work environment that he enjoys. He said he can count on his employer to step in if customers are mistreating him because of his disability, or generally exhibiting bad behavior in the store.

Another individual has been working at a golf course for over 10 years. He uses a combination of special transportation and taxis to get to his worksite, where he earns more than minimum wage. His job responsibilities include maintenance of the golf course, supporting golfers, and he was recently promoted to driving service carts which is an accomplishment of which he is very proud. The Committee received a letter from his parents who were not available for an interview explaining that the golf course manager recently reminded them that he is not employing this individual as an act of charity - this person has a job because he does it well, and is an asset to the team. The individual reported finding the job after he interned at the golf course as part of the job discovery process while he was still in high school. He did reference a job opportunity that did not work out at a burger fast-food restaurant.  Initially, he had a lot of support at the work site, however, when management changed he reported that he had a harder time making sure the burgers “weren’t pink.”  He left the job.

A couple of the employees worked for an organization that creates small businesses in the community with the purpose of creating integrated, supported employment. Individuals with disabilities work alongside people without disabilities in a variety of activities. Some individuals are earning above minimum wage, others are earning less.  Of note, one of the individuals we met with experiences Down syndrome, lives in her own apartment, is engaged, and participates in a variety of volunteer activities. She works at a bakery operated by Cornerstone and earns less than minimum wage. On the other hand, another individual interviewed who has much higher support needs works in the downtown book bindery. She earns significantly more than minimum wage.

Vancouver, Washington

Purpose of visit:

Washington was added to the Committee’s site visit list late in the process because of a strong recommendation from people in the field about the state’s success with supported employment, particularly in Clark County. Because of the easy proximity to the Oregon site visit, it was added to the itinerary. It also gave the Committee an opportunity to look at how different employment policies apply in the same region and how the same basic economy impacts the experiences of people in the system. Vancouver, WA and Portland, OR are separated by a bridge over the Columbia River. They share a workforce (people travel from one state to the other for work each day), a common demographic base, and are impacted by the same economic trends.

Summary of activities: 

All of the interviews took place in a conference room at the Education Service District (ESD) building in Washington. The ESD facility is a mission driven facility, with signage and photographic displays portraying the history of public education in Washington, particularly for historically underserved groups like Native Americans and students with disabilities. There was also a clear focus on workforce development in the building, with a student run coffee shop on site.

During the Washington visit, the Committee met with:

  •  A director of an employment focused consulting firm
  • The ESD Superintendent
  • A special education director from Clark County Public Schools
  • The Clark County DD Program Employment specialist
  • The Washington State DD program Director
  • Two parent advocates
  • Two employees experiencing disabilities
  • Two employers
  • Two employment agencies

Observations: 

Like Oregon, Washington seemed to have a very clearly articulated and aligned set of values. Where Oregon was focused on community inclusion (social, residential, community), Washington (or at least Clark County) has a laser focus on employment. Throughout the day, different stakeholders said: “Everyone can work. Everyone should work.”

The policymakers indicated that this focus begins in early childhood. Beginning in Early Intervention/Early Childhood Special Education, Washington students are given opportunities to contribute to their classrooms, and parent education includes encouragement to engage students in chores and productive activities at home. High schools focus on vocational opportunities, and there is a robust transition program in Clark County. All students—those with and without disabilities—are encouraged from an early age they have a responsibility to work as adults.

There are no sheltered workshops in Clark County. All but one closed voluntarily as the service model in the county transitioned to supported, integrated, competitive employment. The initiative seems to be successful because of proactive engagement with local employers, and a commitment from state and local government to participate by providing supported employment opportunities. Individuals with disabilities are working for the county and for public transit agencies. Labor organizations have also been engaged in this work, with individuals with disabilities joining unions and becoming engaged in the worksite, social and political activities of the organization. One anecdote was shared about a union steward who suspected one of his members with a disability as being financially abused. He became engaged in the situation, advocated for his union colleague, and eventually became the individual’s trustee.

When the sheltered workshops closed in Clark County all of the individuals transitioned to supported employment jobs, primarily individual, and the buildings were used for early intervention programs and gathering places for families (family support support centers).  There are no day programs in Clark County. The two parent advocates the Committee met with observed that much of the conversation about 14(c) and sheltered workshops is based on a misunderstanding of the definition of work. They argue that respite, day programming/day habilitation and work are not the same thing and the Committee should not intertwine them. All three items are important—and are not mutually exclusive. However, respite and day habilitation are not work, and they suggested policymakers should stop arguing that it is work.

One innovative state policy adopted by Washington is legislation that allows state agencies to use savings in their budgets to hire a person with DD/ID into a supported employment position without impacting the FTE (full-time employment) allowance for the state.

The Committee interviewed two adults with disabilities on this visit. The first individual was an older man with significant and multiple disabilities. He serves on the county advisory board.  He does not have traditional employment (he is retired and is in his early 70’s and is beyond the traditional employment phase of his life), but instead works as a graphic design artist. He has art shows and sells his work to earn money. 

The other adult was in his early thirties and was accompanied by his mother. He works at a local hospital on Monday through Thursday four to five hours per day. He sterilizes surgical equipment, and makes more than minimum wage. He is proud of his work, and credits the job he has to his prior work at a grocery store. He said learning to manage the carts was a skill that he was able to use in his new, more challenging role at the hospital. He enjoys his work and reports that he spends his lunch break with the surgical nursing staff who include him in their conversations and social activities. He likes to use the money he earns to pay his bills, take trips, and pay for drum lessons.

Important findings from the Oregon/Washington experience include:

1)     Some individuals with DD/ID who live in Washington are being placed into integrated competitive work opportunities in Portland, Oregon. This raises questions about the argument that competitive jobs in private sector employment are not available. Perhaps it is about job development and outreach activities.

Oregon does not technically have a waiting list for services for Medicaid eligible adults with DD/ID. However, Washington has a long waiting list. Although Clark County is not serving individuals with DD/ID in sheltered workshop environments for employment, there are individuals who are not getting any support at all. If the Committee were to do further work, it may be useful to circle back to each state and find out more about the characteristics of individuals not being served, and why they aren’t receiving any support.

Pierre, South Dakota

Purpose of Visit: 

South Dakota was selected for a site visit because it reflects a rural site and seems to have a relatively large percentage of people with ID/DD working in sheltered workshops. The Committee visited the state capital of Pierre which reflects the state – Pierre has about 15,000 residents, the government is the largest employer, followed by the regional hospital, and the city is 30 miles away from the closest interstate. The host was the South Dakota Coalition of Persons with Disabilities.

Summary of Activities: 

The Committee first visited the OAHE, Inc., a nationally accredited private non-profit community-based agency, which has been providing supports and services to persons with developmental disabilities since 1982. The agency started as a group of concerned parents and guardians searching out available services for those individuals in their care. Today, the agency provides a wide range of supports in the areas of employment services, living services, professional services, support services, and total service coordination.

OAHE indicated that the primary employer of people with ID/DD in South Dakota is the Federal government, specifically the General Services Administration (GSA), which has a $2.8 million contract for services, primarily custodial, in the 7 GSA offices in South Dakota. OAHE also operates several businesses including a thrift store and shredding business. The main focus of employment is community employment, although the state seems to be struggling with work in integrated employment.

At OAHE, the Committee met with four direct line staff who consisted of job coaches, an employment specialist, as well as staff who worked as the coordinator for training for the Ability One contract. The Ability One Program uses the purchasing power of the Federal government to buy products and services from participating, community-based nonprofit agencies nationwide dedicated to training and employing individuals with disabilities.

The significant role of the federal government through the Ability One programs was reiterated. One individual estimated that without the 14(c) certificate about 30% of the people currently working in competitive employment would not be able to maintain their jobs. One comment made was that finding easier ways to obtain the certificates would be of assistance to the people at OAHE.

OAHE struggles to balance the day habilitation programs, sheltered work and competitive employment. Many of the OAHE participants worked one or two hours a day in competitive integrated employment – paid by the employer.

The Committee met with six people with disabilities who are employed in the competitive job sites available through OAHE. Their jobs were with FedEx; Slumberland (a mattress/bed store); a paper route; and in custodial positions. All were interested in working more hours and being paid more money. The Committee also met with four parents of young adults with ID/DD;  four advocates, including  one from the PADD (Protection & Advocacy for People with Developmental Disabilities). We also met with three employers who are currently hiring people with ID/DD. One employer was the Slumberland bed store mentioned above, as well as a craft shop in town.

The Committee ended the day in a discussion with major policymakers including representatives from the state DD, VR, HHS and Medicaid agencies.

Observations: 

There is strong interest by front line staff, their supervisors and policymakers to have additional training available to service providers. Well-meaning people begin to create their own programs when there is not training on competitive employment, job supports, and coaching/assessment. The development of combination day habilitation, sheltered and competitive employment programs for individuals speaks more to the program design than the needs of specific individuals.

One individual works a few hours a week for FedEx scanning packages. But, since these are the only hours available in the competitive setting, she works the rest of the week in sheltered employment or in volunteer positions.

Federal programs such as the Medicaid Infrastructure Grants and the Social Security Navigator programs have resulted in improved services and are appreciated by everyone the Committee spoke with while in South Dakota. The individuals with disabilities and the parents interviewed seemed very aware of benefits available to them and interested in pursuing maximum employment.

Several parents and policymakers commented on the need to have a holistic approach to employment which they considered as having all options available to them including subminimum wage and sheltered workshops – along with supported integrated community based employment. It was mentioned that the sheltered workshop for people who are blind and people with vision disabilities had been closed – taking away a choice for people seeking employment. 

Several people in the different groups mentioned stigma as a major issue in the development of job opportunities for people with ID/DD. They indicated there was still a bias against hiring people with disabilities, especially those with ID/DD. 

Several of the service providers and policymakers commented on the disparity between Medicaid waiver funding for sheltered versus competitive employment. Increasing the FMAP (Federal Medical Assistance Percentages) rate was also seen as a potential change to improve the opportunities for employment.

Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Purpose of Visit: 

Baton Rouge was selected to represent a medium size city in the South. It represents a city that has undergone significant change in the past few years. Louisiana as a state has a diverse population of both urban and rural that creates challenges to state officials in locating employment opportunities for persons with intellectual/development disabilities.

Summary of Activities: 

The agenda consisted of meeting with a worker and family member. This was followed by an interview with Barry Meyer, The Arc Executive Director and a tour of the facility Metro Enterprises; and meetings with the Executive Director(s) of Vocational Rehabilitation; Medicaid & Developmental Disabilities; and Louisiana Rehabilitation Services, Regional Office.

 The day began with a conversation with a shelter participant and his mother. Prior to coming to the workshop, he had a job in Virginia as a janitor in a state library. The job was in a competitive situation with competitive wages. He left that situation after many years. He stated he left because he could not handle the pressure from supervisors. It appeared he had more than one supervisor and they were giving him mixed direction on how to do his job. He is now working in the workshop with the shredder, four hours a day. He is making around $50 dollars every two weeks.  He would like to earn more money, but was not sure at what job. He did not want a job with pressure. He said there wasn’t anyone at the other job he could have talked to about the problems he was having with his supervisor.

The Committee then spoke to Barry, The Arc Executive Director, about his ideas regarding competitive integrated employment. After the discussion the Committee toured the workshop and the work included shredding, recycling coat hangers, and cleaning remote controls. The enterprise also had another section that makes survey stakes, covers for large pipes, as well as a gardening endeavor.

Observations: 

The director said he had a mix of 60/40 (percent) of people who earned subminimum wage (60 percent in supported employment and 40 percent in workshops). He also said he has people with disabilities working in the community in integrated work sites.  He said he had about 100 employees. He, along with Rosemary Morales from the Office for Citizens with Developmental Disabilities, indicated that CMS barriers such as definitions were limiting access to competitive integrated employment. Also limiting access are students with disabilities dropping out of high school and not receiving transition services. They stressed that more benefits planning is needed, along with the need for activities after work hours.

The Committee also  met with state officials including Mark Martin, the Director of Vocational Rehabilitation; Laura Bracken, the Director of the Developmental Disability office; Don Gregory, the Director of Medicaid, and his Deputy Stacey Gidrey. The Medicaid Director indicated that the Medicaid Buy-in program in Louisiana allowed 2,600 people with disabilities to be employed but of that number only 300 pay a premium meaning that earnings for the population is low. He also stated that employment is an outcome valued by the agency. The Vocational Rehabilitation Director indicated that the supported employment system needed significant improvement. This included more training of staff. The Director of the Developmental Disabilities office was encouraging that there were many who could work in the community but they needed a stronger system to support them. She was also concerned that there are not enough jobs with flexibility for customized employment, including microenterprises. She thought that families needed the security of supports for their family members, such as respite. The state was developing an Employment First initiative. All the departments said they worked well together.

We also spoke to an individual who worked at McDonald’s for 18 years, and his sister.  He enjoyed the work and he was getting there on his own. He took pride in his work declaring that it was “his hobby”. He worked the lunch shift. After work he would come home and enjoy music. He had been living with his mother and now was with his sister.  Asked about whether he would like another job he indicated he would not and didn’t know where he would get a job. He was making more than minimum wage. His sister indicated  he was due for a change so that he could earn higher wages and work more hours – something that his shift work would not allow since he cleans during the peak afternoon lunch rush. She also indicated that the job helped her brother branch out as an independent human being. She identified transportation as an issue, as well as the need for employers to learn about the benefits of hiring people with disabilities.

Columbus, Ohio

Purpose of Visit:

Ohio was chosen as a state visit site for several reasons. Ohio is one of the few states where counties fund more of the cost of ID/DD services than does the state. In the most recent survey from the Coleman Institute, the funding break-out for ID/DD services was 46% Federal, 30% county and 17% state. The local funds are generated by a robust county levy system. It is also a state that has (by the most recent Institute for Community Inclusion State Data Report) a very high percentage of its ID/DD population working in facility based work. In 2009, over 14,000 people in Ohio were working in facility based work.   

Summary of Visits: 

The Committee interviewed or met with over 40 people during our site visit. We met with parents and siblings - some of whom had been involved years ago when workshops were first set up in Ohio. These older parents were quite protective of the benefits of sheltered workshops and were not concerned about the issue of wages. One couple volunteered the information that they have willed their home to the local county program as a “thank you” for the services provided to their child.

Younger parents, especially those whose children have been in integrated educational environments had very different perspectives. They did not want their children directed to segregated environments and had expectations of wages at minimum wage levels or above. None of the parents expressed a strong desire to close sheltered workshops; however the younger parents definitely did not want their children working in a segregated environment.

Siblings present a unique perspective of expectations for adults with ID/DD. Although the Committee did not interview very many siblings, they were additionally looking for settings where the individual is accepted and happy as much as one with higher wages.

The Committee met with people with ID/DD who currently are situated in the workshops. They had expectations to someday work outside of the workshop but were concerned that they would not have friends in the work site or be invited to participate in work activities. They were all disappointed in the low wages that they are currently being paid. The Committee toured a large sheltered workshop and had informal conversations with people working at the site.

The Committee also met with about 20 policymakers over lunch. Those attending included the Director of the Ohio Department of DD, as well as the VR Director. The counties were represented by the Ohio Superintendents of the County Boards of DD as well as the Ohio Association of County Boards of Developmental Disabilities and the Ohio Association of Adult Services. Several representatives of self-advocacy groups and community rehabilitation providers were also at the luncheon. The Committee engaged in a wide ranging conversation that addressed issues such as the disparity in funding for supported employment, and the recession and lack of community jobs - especially in certain parts of the state. The Governor had just issued an Executive Order declaring Ohio an Employment First state and establishing a diverse committee, including persons with ID/DD, to improve the opportunities for community integrated employment at minimum wage or higher. All in attendance saw the Executive Order as a new emphasis on increasing opportunities for employment for people with ID/DD.

The Committee also had the opportunity to visit two individuals with ID/DD who are working in integrated, competitive employment. The Committee interviewed them at their respective work sites. One gentleman, who was blind, had moved from a sheltered workshop to his current position as a box folder at a mail order contact lens firm. The second gentleman works from his home and is self-employed. He reviews radio program transcripts to ascertain that purchased advertising is actually aired on the radio as contracted.

Observations: 

Generally, the workers the Committee interviewed were not satisfied with their wages. They did not feel they were being paid for the work they are doing. The two men mentioned above who were working in competitive, integrated employment are good examples. Neither of these men was satisfied with their current employment. One of them had actually made more in the sheltered workshop on a piece rate basis than he is currently earning at minimum wage in a competitive, integrated job. The second man, because of the extent of his disability, took so much time to do the job that he actually was working for less than a dollar an hour as a self-employed contractor.

It was clear in our interviews that people with ID/DD are interested in working in the community and are very concerned about making so little money. One woman related a story about how after she got her job in the sheltered workshop she promised her family that when she got her first paycheck she would take them out to dinner. In her words “nothing too fancy.”  She related how surprised and sad she was when she received that first check – for 38 cents. All of the individuals we interviewed were fully aware of piece rate wages compared to hourly wages.

At the same time, individuals working in sheltered workshops were quite content with their relationships with co-workers and staff in the sheltered workshops. They did not feel that they would be as accepted in integrated environments and related personal stories about people returning back to the workshop because of dissatisfaction with relationships within integrated work environments. Several of the trained self-advocates were especially frustrated with low wages.

Most of the individuals and their families were aware of benefits planning or at least knew where they could go to get such information. Ohio has had several benefits planning grants from the Department of Labor and Social Security so it is likely this is the means by which people were aware of the work incentive programs.

Training for employment was discussed quite a bit in several of the sessions. Several workers had certifications (human resources, child care) from private employment programs and/or the local community college. Programs like Project Search and the Ohio State University TOPPS program, both of which provide internships or work experiences, were mentioned as models for pathways to employment. The Ohio Rehabilitation Services Commission and the Ohio Department of Developmental Disabilities have a long history of written agreements using state or local funds as a VR match. Currently this relationship is demonstrated with the Bridges program which serves young people with ID/DD who are transitioning from school to work.

Training for providers of supported employment services was also discussed. In this area there seemed to be little communication between traditional DD service providers and the VR community rehabilitation programs. Instead, a parallel service delivery system seemed to be developing.

All of the individuals interviewed clearly desire moving towards a more supported employment model. The challenges will be major in doing so, but the clear message from people with ID/DD and their families was to do so with all choices available but do so at a fair wage.

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