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