Sheltered workshops have been formally and informally available in the United States for individuals with specific disabilities since early in our nation's history. Traditionally, workshops were considered "sheltered" when the workers, because of their disabilities, needed more support, training, supervision and direction than was otherwise available in the outside work structure. The workers were considered sheltered from the demands of being in a competitive work place and the possible emotional and physical abuses of coworkers and supervisors. Over the past 190 years, the transition from home and school life to a work life has developed significantly, leading to increased opportunities for many disabled individuals to become included rather than segregated from their communities. The changing legal and political environment is described, along with a discussion of the Individual Transition Plan for disabled students aged 14 years and older in the public school system.
Keywords Disabled students; Individual Transition Plan; Job coaching; Postsecondary education; Sheltered workshops; Supported employment; Supported housing; Transition; Sheltered Workshops
Overview: Historical Background of Sheltered Workshops
Traditionally, workshops were considered "sheltered" when the workers, because of their disabilities, needed more support, training, supervision, and direction than was otherwise available in the outside work structure. The workers were considered sheltered from the demands of being in a competitive workplace and the possible emotional and physical abuses of coworkers, supervisors and the public. Examples of the first formal schools with programs that included education plus learning technical skills are the Perkins School for the Blind (then called the New England Asylum for the Blind), established in 1832 in Boston, Massachusetts, by Samuel Gridley Howe, and the American School for the Deaf (then called the Connecticut Asylum for the Education and Instruction of Deaf and Dumb Persons) established by Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet in Hartford, Connecticut in 1817.
World War I saw an increase in Federally-supported rehabilitative services for disabled veterans, especially in regaining some measure of work skills. Between WWI and WWII children with disabilities had the choice to stay at home or to enter an institution for the majority of their lives. Parents were encouraged to send their children who were physically or emotionally disabled to large state residential institutions, which were often labeled "schools." Within these institutions, small industries were developed in on-site sheltered workshops, such as broom-making, knitting, and chair-caning businesses for individuals with blindness. In the journal Outlook for the Blind, articles and editorials early in the century were already discussing issues around employment, including the need for work that addressed different levels of ability (Moore, 2006). The Social Security Act of 1935 and the Randolph -Sheppard Act of 1936 provided major funding for individuals who were disabled, with a special focus on the blind. The Wagner-O'Day Act of 1935 and the Bardon-LaFolle Act of 1943 provided state and federal vocational rehabilitation support, especially to returning WW II soldiers (Moore, 2006). At the same time, parents were pushing for a change in services provided for their children.
The Law Is Changed
The Supreme Court decision in Brown vs. Board of Education in 1954 is best known for its racial desegregation of public schools. However, the decision affected all schools which were segregated, including those schools which served students with disabilities (Hunt & Marshall, 2002). The Supreme Court declared that all children must have an equal opportunity to education, and that this right was guaranteed by the constitution. The struggles and successes for equal education within the Civil Rights movement encouraged parents and advocates of children with disabilities to pursue the right of education for their children within their local, public schools. In 1973, PL 93-112, the Rehabilitation Act, created the Office for the Handicapped, which enabled the present day delivery of state and federal rehabilitation services. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act also impacted special education services through accessible architecture and buildings, prohibiting discrimination for medical services based on disability, and provided a mandate for educational services for students who may not qualify under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), but still have significant difficulty in learning or performing tasks (Hunt & Marshall, 2002).
The deinstitutionalization movement, as exemplified by the Willowbrook State School on Staten Island, New York, fought legally to move residents into the surrounding community. The Willowbrook Consent Decree, signed by Governor Hugh Carey on May 5th, 1975, obligated the State of New York to caring for 6000 Willowbrook residents for the remainder of their lives in the "least restrictive manner." This entailed providing housing, therapeutic and educational programs (Kaser, 2004).
In June, 1975, both houses of Congress passed versions of PL 94-142, (the Education for All Handicapped Children Act) which was signed into law by President Gerald Ford on November 29th, 1975 (NYSED, 2007). This landmark legislation, (later relabeled as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) included the wording "least restrictive environment." This phrase affected decisions by which social, health and educational services are provided, and the level at which they are provided, to this day.
Services and the funding for these services provided in the public schools are dictated by laws passed at the state and federal levels. PL 94-142 provided the mandate and the funding for the development of inclusive services within public education throughout the nation. Among other things, the Individual Education Plan (IEP) was introduced for each student who qualified. Later amendments to PL 94-142 (IDEA) included PL 99-457 (1986), which focused on services and funding for pre-schoolers (3-5 yrs), and provided early intervention for 0-3 year olds with disabilities, under the Handicapped Infants and Toddlers Program. In 1990, PL-101-476 introduced the concept of using "people first" language (i.e., an individual with a disability, rather than 'this paranoid man'), and mandated transition planning (ITP) for all students with disabilities (age 14 - 21). Also passed in 1990, PL 101-336, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which addressed private sector employment, public services, public accommodations, and telecommunications. All of these laws are designed to provide a "free, appropriate, public education to all children" as stated in the Rehabilitation Act and IDEA, with its amendments, and to assist the students in the transition from school to the adult working world (Hunt & Marshall, 2002).
The Idea of Supported Environments
The early sheltered workshops tended to be filled with workers who had higher levels of job-related functioning, and generally, many individuals with disabilities were considered unemployable. Under the Wagner-O'Day Act (1935) "sheltered workshops" were defined as "agencies and industries that employed persons who were blind to produce goods and services," who "functioned outside the competitive labor market" and who had "75% of the direct labor and production jobs performed by blind employees" (Moore, 2006). Wehman & Revell (2005) saw three things that changed the employability of persons with significant developmental disabilities. These were advocacy (be it from parents, teachers, social workers, etc.), concretizing research into practice, and the legal mandates from the above-mentioned laws. Parents wanted their children to go to nearby, neighborhood schools rather than residential or distant schools. The theories brought the idea of supports into the classroom, e.g., rather than send the child away, bring the supports to the child in the local schools. The higher the level of need, the more supports are to be provided. The experience from the classroom was then generalized to the workplace and to housing. The early sheltered workshops had been, in effect, employment in which workers received support in order to accomplish the job tasks, but the new idea was to provide enough support so that workers with disabilities could work in local, competitive employment outside of the sheltered workshops. Again, individuals were not to be sent away somewhere, but were to have the supports brought to them in order to integrate workers into the larger community.
With supported housing individuals are provided the type of supports necessary to live in the community rather than in larger institutions. Examples of supported housing programs are those provided for individuals with disabilities, for individuals transitioning from substance abuse treatment programs, for women having experienced domestic violence, and for the elderly. For the elderly, a tiered service approach for providing supports is generally used. The first level is providing support to the family so that they can support the elder in the home. The second level is sending in-home service professionals to provide direct services. The third is the Assisted Living Facility, where elders have their own apartment or room, but can participate in activities within their house or building, such as eating meals, with others. With all the above levels, an elder could participate in Day Programs provided by a senior center which may include socialization, cognitive stimulation programs, and even volunteer opportunities. It is only with the higher levels of medical and physical care that the elderly might need to enter and live in a Skilled Nursing Facility or nursing home. This tiered approach is an example of the "least restrictive environment" coupled with providing enough supports so...
(The entire section is 4370 words.)