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Study Shows That Eliminating Workshops Would Be Huge Mistake

This wonderful photo of people at Opportunity Sheltered Industries in Houston is a good example of the wonderful work conducted at Missouri's more than 90 workshops serving more than 7,000 people with disabilities.
A recent study by the CHIMES Foundation and researchers from George Washington University found many problems for people with disabilities in Maine following “conversion” from Extended Employment Sheltered Workshops to integrated employment.

Some national groups have called for replacement of workshops by competitive, community employment for all workers with development disabilities. While workshops recognize the fundamental need for options and choice, long experience has shown that it is unrealistic to see community employment as the only solution. This recent study is a good example of the concerns expressed by workshop leaders.

In Maine, a 2008 law directed state agencies to increase supported and integrated employment opportunities for people with disabilities and ultimately close workshops. The report, “Transitions: A Case Study of the Conversion from Sheltered Workshops to Integrated Employment in Maine,” studied the experience of people with significant disabilities who were employed by workshops, as well as providers who formerly operated workshops in Maine. Approved by the GWU University Institutional Review Board, this study outlining the experience in Maine can serve as a guidepost for policymakers in other states.

The study examined several questions, from how much success Maine experienced trying to move people from workshops to costs for providers.

Key findings in the report include:

• People who had been employed in workshops have seen their hours worked per week decline. Two-thirds of those previously employed are no longer employed, and those who are working earn less per week because of the reduction in the number of hours they are allowed to work.

• The number of people with intellectual developmental disabilities who were served in integrated employment in Maine also declined during the years from 2001 to 2014. Employment data for people with intellectual disabilities in Maine shows an average of only 12 hours worked per week in 2011, the lowest in the nation. After the passage of the law, non-work placements increased dramatically from 550 to 3,178.

“When you look at what happened in Maine—overall employment rates declined, hours worked per week declined, day habilitation rates increased—you really have to wonder how this benefits people with disabilities, particularly those with multiple, significant disabilities,” said Terry Farmer, CEO of ACCSES, which represents more than 1,200 disability service providers across the country.

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