It seems the Department of Developmental Services and their corporate provider allies are spreading misleading and at times false information about sheltered workshops in their joint effort to close them throughout the state.
The battle over the workshops is now in the state Senate, which is considering budget amendments to prevent the administration from carrying out its plans to close all remaining workshops in the state by June 2015. As we have reported, the administration considers these popular programs politically incorrect because they allegedly group intellectually disabled people together to do assembly and other types of work, and thereby “segregate” them from their non-disabled peers.
In an email sent to members and advocates on Friday, Leo Sarkissian, executive director of the Arc of Massachusetts, maintained that sheltered workshops “do not allow for community inclusion.”
That’s just not true. As an administrator of one sheltered workshop explained, non-disabled persons work alongside disabled individuals in that DDS-funded facility, and several disabled clients are taken into the community regularly to make deliveries and for other purposes. “Our building …looks and feels like any other business in our community,” the administrator said.
Meanwhile, DDS and the Association of Developmental Disabilities Providers (ADDP) are misrepresenting the position of the federal government, particularly the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, regarding sheltered workshops. Contrary to what DDS and the ADDP are saying, the DOJ is not requiring states to close the workshops. That is what the ADDP contends, however, on its website and emails it is sending out.
In addition, a DDS PowerPoint used in “family forums” earlier this year stated that DOJ legal actions in Oregon and Rhode Island found that sheltered workshops “violate the ADA (Americans with Disabilities) Act and the Olmstead Supreme Court decision.” But that’s not true either. A DOJ letter sent in January to Rhode Island state officials makes it clear that while the Obama administration doesn’t like sheltered workshops, the Department does not consider that the workshops violate the law. The letter notes, for instance, that:
While sheltered workshops and facility-based day programs may be permissible placements for some individuals with I/DD (intellectual and developmental disabilities) who make an informed choice to rely on them, the State of Rhode Island has unnecessarily and unjustifiably over-relied on such programs to the exclusion of integrated alternatives like supported employment and integrated day services (our emphasis).
The DOJ letter goes on to state that sheltered workshops in Rhode Island do not have to close if people choose to remain in them. Yet, the Patrick administration is mischaracterizing the DOJ position as requiring it to close all remaining workshops in Massachusetts. The administration must be worried that there is a chance of passage of language in the Fiscal Year 2015 state budget that would ensure that sheltered workshops remain open for those who choose to stay in them.
The effort to close the workshops is being driven by an extreme anti-congregate care ideology that the Patrick administration subscribes to. Simply because a group of disabled people work together in sheltered workshops, the administration considers it to be a “segregated setting.”
If that’s the case, though, what does the administration think about the Gateway Arts program in Brookline, which provides art studio space and “professional development for more than 100 adults with disabilities who have talent in fine hand crafts and fine art?”
Even if it’s not technically a sheltered workshop, the Gateway Arts facility (as shown in the website photo below) would appear to be in violation of federal regulations, as far as the Patrick administration is concerned, because there are more than 100 disabled artists there. That would seem to make it even more of a congregate facility than a sheltered workshop with 20 or so disabled people and non-disabled people in it.
Please call your senator and ask him or her to support budget amendments 875 and 946, which state that DDS “shall not reduce the availability or decrease funding for sheltered workshops serving persons with disabilities who voluntarily seek or wish to retain such employment services.” Also, please ask them to support amendment 176, which would strike the words “closure of sheltered workshops” from a budget line item that funds the transition of people from sheltered workshops into provider-run day programs.