I am a husband, father, son, brother, uncle and friend. I believe in sharing my talents and experiences by giving back to the community by giving my time to coaching, church and especially to the disability community. I truly believe that all men and women are created equally.
Q. Don’t people with disabilities work fewer hours in the community than in a sheltered workshop?
It is important to note that people with disabilities who work in workshops also have significant “down time” between jobs. They only work when a contract has been secured and needs completion. Every hour an individual spends in a workshop is billed to Medicaid. The average number of hours worked per month in integrated employment is only 6 hours less than in sheltered work. Dispelling myths that work weeks are considerably shorter in community employment.
Q. Is it reasonable to expect that we can really employ more people with disabilities in the community in this job market?
The state of the job market for the general public is not a good measure of whether people with disabilities will be successful in gaining employment in a community. People with the most significant disabilities typically do not "compete" on the open market for the same type of jobs that anyone else does and typically are not seeking full-time employment. Skilled job developers know how to carve part-time, specialized jobs in businesses that incorporate the individual's strengths and help the business be more lucrative. This skill set, which most providers in Dane County have developed due to their youth employment policy focus, is considered nationally to be best practice and is designed to help people achieve individualized employment goals that meet their interests and strengths (not one-size-fits-all piece rate work on assembly lines such as workshops provide). Increasing the availability of this type of quality job development should be part of DHS’ plans to increase capacity across the state so community employment options are possible everywhere.
Dane County (a county that has focused its policies on building a network of quality community employment providers) has an integrated (competitive wage) employment rate for people with disabilities of 80%. Compare that to April data from the Department of Health Services which shows a statewide integrated employment rate in Family Care of 8% and 5% in IRIS. We must ask what Dane County is doing that the state can learn from and change.
Q. Don’t sheltered workshops train people for community employment?
Sheltered workshops are defined as providing pre-vocational training designed short-term to get people "ready" for employment. However, national statistics show that fewer than 5% of people who enter workshop “training” ever leave. Wisconsin data demonstrates that workshops in several regions of the state are not serving a training function and focus only a small proportion of their funding and efforts on developing integrated employment options for people.
Traditional facility-based employment does not provide true choice in employment options. Almost all jobs in these programs are assembly-type piece work. If an individual is not interested in this type of work or cannot do it quickly they will appear to be “low functioning” even if they would be very effective at another type of work. (For example, if your interests are related to animals, working with children, working outdoors, facility-based options will not provide you with the options or experiences you need to be successful.)
Q. What happens if Wisconsin does not create more community options for people and chooses not to change at all?
It is not a stretch to say that Wisconsin data demonstrates a potential violation of the Supreme Court’s Olmsted ruling which demands more integration for people with disabilities. Other states with similar or even more favorable data about where people with disabilities are living, working and receiving services have recently been the subject of class action lawsuits, U.S. Department of Justice action and Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services scrutiny. (See Rhode Island, Oregon, Minnesota.) These states are working with families and individuals to increase options for community supports that will provide a more inclusive life for everyone over time.
Wisconsin puts itself at considerable risk by operating business as usual and favoring funding toward segregated settings. Without proactively addressing this problem, the state may be faced with federal mandates that direct specific actions and leave the state with few options