A Response to ACCSES: We Believe NDRN is On the Mark Regarding the Need to End Segregation and Exploitation

A Response to ACCSES: We Believe NDRN is On the Mark Regarding the Need to End Segregation and Exploitation

Open Response Letter Regarding ACCSES Response to the National Disability Rights Network (NDRN) Report
Members of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions:
In an April 16, 2012 letter to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, ACCSES CEO Terry Farmer writes “strong opposition to the recommendations made by the National Disability Rights Network (NDRN) in its report
My colleague, Laura Owens, APSE president, and I support the NDRN Report and write now to explain why the ACCSES letter in fact demonstrates why the segregation and high unemployment rate of people with disabilities has continued so long.
The NDRN Report cites the highly unnecessary segregated nature of employment services received by people with disabilities, commonly called sheltered work. The report recommends ending such services, along with the obsolete practice of paying individuals sub-minimum wage, which in some cases have been literally pennies per hour. (For example, a Wisconsin survey found workers earning as low as two cents per hour.) The NDRN Report asks for greater promotion of integrated employment and increased labor protections for workers with disabilities. We support these recommendations fully, and we are deeply disappointed that ACCSES would abandon such principles.
Clearly the ACCSES letter illustrates a disturbing gap between what most disability service providers do and providing people with disabilities what they actually want and need, not to mention contemporary research. In January, 2012, a class action lawsuit was filed challenging Oregon’s failure to provide supported employment services to more than 2,300 of its residents who are segregated in sheltered workshops. One of the plaintiffs, Paula Lane, earned about 40 cents per hour. Yet, Lane has repeatedly asked for a real community job at competitive wage. A 2007 study supports the idea that people with disabilities prefer real jobs. Researchers surveyed adults with intellectual disabilities in sheltered workshops, their respective families or caregivers, and staff members in these workshops. They found large majorities of all of these groups, including staff, felt individuals working in sheltered workshops would prefer employment in the community and could perform outside workshops if support was made available.
Despite the fact that the large majority of disability funding goes to segregated services, research has shown no support for the efficacy of those services. One 2012 study showed that individuals who participated in sheltered workshops earned significantly less, and cost nearly two and half times more per person to serve, than their non-sheltered workshop peers. A similar 2011 study found, “…while what individuals learned in sheltered workshops didn’t improve their employability, it did appear to make them more costly to train.”
So, what is the response by the organization said to represent the provider agencies who continue to provide 1960-based services in the face of conflicting evidence? It seems to be to put its collective head in the sand. Rather than acknowledge the problem and talk about ways to manage the phase-out of segregation, and means to promote evidence-based practices, they have chosen to complain that exposing shortcomings is troublesome, saying “Pitting people with disabilities against their disability service providers is a divide and conquer strategy that distorts the widely shared goal of employment for people with disabilities.”
Divide and conquer? Workers with disabilities are already impoverished with the lowest employment rate and income of any minority group in this country. What’s left to conquer? Right now most disability agencies are spending money on programs that do not produce needed outcomes. The ACCSES letter states the NDRN recommendations would “curtail, restrict, and deny employment options, choices, and opportunities.” Remarkably, the evidence shows that this is exactly what the current system has been doing for the last 30 years. Rather than continue the failed policies of the past, let’s commit to the innovative ideas proposed in the NDRN recommendations.
Dale DiLeo, Advocate, Past-President, APSE
Laura A. Owens, Ph.D., Executive Director, APSE



Mr. DiLeo: You continue to purport the pie in the sky philosophy of one-size-fits-all for people with disabilities. You believe that people with disabilities and their families are unable to make their own decisions. Your beliefs are a throwback to the 1960’s hippie commune era, where individual choice is unrecognized and group thought promoted.
To mandate a particular philosophy, choice or set of services insults the intelligence of the families and people that are served in community rehabilitation programs.
We are still a democratic country,and thus all people with disabilities and their families need to continue to choose the type of service that best meets their particular need.

Bob Niemiec

Looks like you touched a nerve, Dale, and the “real” group-thinkers don’t like their nerves to be touched or their comfortable existence questioned.


All these “programs” were designed 30 or more years ago to prepare folks for work–that hasn’t happened. So, like Marc Gold said, try another way. Many folks across this country have and have demonstrated that it IS possible to support everyone in valued and meaningful ways to work in integrated settings at the prevailing wage. Our precious and limited public resources should be funding that which results in such outcomes now that we have learned how to do so. There are some things about which we shouldn’t have choice and this is one of them—we desperately need work first policies. We can no longer afford to fund programs that don’t provide the outcomes we desire. If folks need respite, call it that and fund that accordingly, but don’t call it habilitation or pre-voc because that’s not what it is!

Judith Stevens

Thank you for your clearly reasoned response to this report. This is a civil rights and social justice issue. Equal opportunity means just that!


Jim, I have to disagree with your comment. There is nothing more “one size fits all” than a sheltered workshop that assumes just because someone has a disability they should have the same job as everyone else who has a disability. Regular employment isn’t one option, it’s tens of thousands of options.

This also isn’t a matter of insulting the intelligence of families, the problem is that we have been telling families that we are the “experts” and that we know what is best for their loved one. Sheltered workshops are what we created so implicitly recommend. We tell families that people are “not ready for competitive employment” or “need pre-vocational training” and they believe us. The fact is, often we are just taking the easy way out. It’s time to raise the bar on our own services and realize maybe we are the ones keeping people out of the workforce and in the services we have invested so much time and money into creating.


Just as we should not judge people by the color of their skin, hair, clothes, etc. we should not judge people with disabilities by their labels. We should also not assume they continue to require separate services. The biggest barrier to the employment of people with disabilities is Lack of Expectation. People with disabilites have continually demonstrated their ability to work in real jobs with real wages. society no longer find it acceptable to segregate people in separate schools or warehouse them in large residentail institutional settings, yet we continue to “serve” them in smaller institutional day settings we have created in the name of helping professionals. It is the staff of these facilities that benefit through job security and continued employment. It is time to give people with disabilities the opportunity for real jobs and real wages as promised in the DD Act, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and the Americans with Disabilities Act. it’s the right thing to do, and NDRN got it right. Thank you Dale for supporting them.


Thank you Dale and Laura for supporting the Need to End Segration in Employment. Our families need improved information about opportunities for their sons and daughters. We started a Postsecondary Education Program in August 2011 with one of our students coming from a sheltered workshop. Last year at this time, that young lady’s options were limited. She was not allowed to socialize during the day. She did not have choices. Today she has completed her first year of college. She has gained experience in two jobs. She has met new friends, rides the bus, and navigates a very large campus. What did it take? Opportunity.

Thank you! Keep up the good work. Liz Fussell


Too often, people with disabilities aren’t allowed to CHOOSE anything–others are just assuming that a workshop is the service that best meets their particular need.


Many of the CRPs here in Wisconsin have been actively engaged in shifting to support integrated employment. A number of them share in this video how they’ve come to see it as the right thing to do! Check it out and share widely!! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xd3qgUwLHbw