November 12, 2015

The Toronto Star is wrong about sheltered workshops. I should know.

Thomas PrattRebel Blogger

"Giving Everyone a Chance" was the headline in November 8 issue of Toronto Star. The article lambasting the sheltered workshop environment for developmentally handicapped adults, stating that they work for as little as 46 cents per day.

It went on to mention that there is no reason why developmentally handicapped adults should be treated this way, as we have already fully integrated them into our educational system.

I was in this field for approximately 14 years, working one-on-one with many developmentally handicapped adults as a front line staff person.

I can assure the sheltered workshops are not “sweatshops” were people work long hard hours under dangerous conditions.

The staff strive to maintain a safe and caring environment and keep their trainees entertained and engaged. A happy worker is a productive worker. We never ask a trainee to perform a task we would not do ourselves, and we often worked right along side them.

Let us first address the pay issue. The Star stated that in many cases these individuals make less than 45 cents per hour.

I have not worked in the industry since 1996, but at that time, unless things have changed drastically, trainees received what was known as a training allowance if they worked in a training centre, or incentive pay if they were in a sheltered workshop. This amounted, at the time, to about $5 every two weeks (sometimes more if they were on a token economy program.)

Yes, this allowance was miniscule, and on the surface, this looks like exploitation.

However, training centres and sheltered workshops were established to teach developmentally handicapped adults about the value of work. In addition, they provide a constructive day program, as many of these individuals are not deemed employable.

The allowance that they receive is just that. They also get a Family Benefit Allowance, and Vocational Rehabilitation Services helps pay for their training. Their pay, therefore, is not being provided by the sheltered workshop or its contracts, but by the government.

Thus to say they work for as little as 45 cents per hour is misleading.

Many of the clients I worked with had dual diagnoses: psychiatric problems as well as being developmental delays. Many did not possess the social maturity to hold a full time job. Some were borderline individuals who may have been in fact learning disabled as opposed to developmentally delayed. We had the most success training and placing these individuals in the job market.

Of course, that was always reflective of the economy. If the economy was booming, the chances of integration were great, bit if not, then the a sheltered environment was the best place for them until the economy improved.

In fact, this idea of integration for developmentally handicapped adults is nothing new. This has been the ongoing policy of the Metropolitan Toronto Association for Community Living since the 1980s.

Integration can work if the environment is conducive to it, but that in itself is misleading. The Star leaves you with the warm fuzzy thought that if we shut down sheltered workshops, these clients would have a wonderful life in the real working world.

Time for a reality check. As it is, even university students have a hard time getting jobs that pay enough to live on, and in many cases they have no safety net. The real working world is highly competitive. Only the best and most qualified can survive.

So guess what? If you start mandating the employment of so many slow learners into the workforce, you'll have under-qualified staff working at your business for much lower salaries. Then think of the safety concerns that may arise if the person is easily distracted from their work.

The sheltered environment provides a safety net for the slow learner and protection from the kind of exploitation that exists in the real world.

As far as wages go, you would have to pay these slow learners minimum wage. This is hardly enough to survive and they would lose their Family Benefits Allowance.

Remember, I mentioned that we had the most success placing borderline handicapped or learning disabled adults in jobs. It is true, but here is the problem: The jobs they are offered are so low paying they are really not interested in doing them for the long term. They even tend to sabotage their placements in the community after awhile because they are now a small fish in a very big ocean.

However, in the sheltered environment, these individuals can have more say, gain more praise and help the slower learners in the group. They acquire status and self-esteem.

So does integration like the kind the Star promotes actually work?

Perhaps, but before we start shutting down training centres, we need to collect more data on the success of community based jobs for the very slow learner. 

In our rush to do the “moral thing,” we may be putting a worthy group of people out on the streets with no program to help them.



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commented 2015-11-16 01:44:54 -0500
It turns out that there is a lot of money that can be made from de-institutionalization.
commented 2015-11-15 03:20:50 -0500
Thomas, you are absolutely correct – these people need help where their vulnerability won’t be abused. When Riverview (BC’s mental health facility) was closed down a lot of the patients were put on Social Assistance and left to fend on their own. I came to know one such gentleman who lived around my work place and he was constantly physically attacked for his social assistance check. Many were forced to buy drugs and now we have a downtown eastside filled with drug addicted persons with mental health issues and of course we now have a huge ‘poverty pimping’ industry in our downtown eastside. Pearson’s Hospital (persons with MS or other degenerative illness) has also closed down here and another industry has arisen out of this where individuals are paid something like $5,000 a month to care for a single patient in their own homes. So far we have not heard of or know of any abuse in the system but then again we know that there are always people who end up abusing, like foster care homes etc. It becomes extremely lucrative for persons engaged in this care-giving.
commented 2015-11-13 22:05:34 -0500
I am not making any attempt to control anything. I am just merely the messenger delivering the political correct version of the truth.
commented 2015-11-13 18:42:25 -0500
sam, you don’t get to control the narrative. fuck off
commented 2015-11-13 17:30:24 -0500
I am not at all offended or even upset in any way. I was only trying to show how things have changed in the disability industry, and for the worse. It seems like nowadays, the leftists try to side step the concept of disability as much as possible. They do not even like terms such as “special” because it implies putting somebody on a pedastal, and you can’t have that. But what you CAN have, is putting people with intellectual disabilities as board of directors in their disability agency, even though they clearly have no idea what is going on. But in this day and age, we are supposed to be completely transparent towards disability, and ignore the limitations that are caused by disability. Doing otherwise would be discrimination and an attack on human rights.

Useless trivia: Terms like “normal” people and “able bodied person” are now also considered antiquated. The term now is TAB, an acronym for Temporarily Able Bodied person. Because everybody’s health will break down over time, and society needs to be disability centric in its language.
commented 2015-11-13 12:52:45 -0500
Nov 13/2015
Thank you for your kind comments Brian. I worked many years in an industry & for a people a cared deeply about. I always treated my fellow workers, if that is a better word with the utmost respect.
While many may not agree with my position and certainly that is their right at the very least they should bear in mind that like many that work in the industry, I am trying very hard to continue to advocate on their behalf.
Indeed there is always more than one solution to any problem & not a single one solution that works for everyone. The trick is to make changes when necessary & if possible, but you need to also be practical.
When you speak plainly and honestly, then there will always be someone who dislikes or is offended by what you have to say.
I can pretty much promise that 20 years from now someone will be scolding Mr. Smith for his poor terminology.

I wonder if Shakspere was correct when he said “What we call a Rose by any other name shall not smell as sweet”?

Thomas Pratt
commented 2015-11-13 11:12:07 -0500
A very enlightening article Thomas, and you have no need to apologize to Sam. If the term “slow learner” is a language crime then how should the Toronto Star’s poorly researched and politically motivated article be judged. Instead, your comments were scanned for tripwire words that you could be taken to task for and the authentic content of your article was ignored.
Journalism is dead in this Country and all that is left are sound bites from slow learners.
commented 2015-11-13 10:41:52 -0500
Hi Sam:

I am indeed very sorry if my terminology was deemed offensive. As I mentioned in my article I last worked in the industry in 1996.
Socialists constantly redefine terminology as one term becomes antiquated. No offence should be taken if no offence was intended. If my terminology was offensive, my message was not. My message was about protecting & safe guarding individuals that may end up without a safety net if the Liberal Socialists have their way. They would like to close down the sheltered workshops. This would be a great mistake.
While I am not opposed to integration, I am opposed to this notion that integration is the only answer. It is always best to have a back up plan. While it is very nice to think we can fully integrate people with special needs, it may not be practical.
By all means work towards it. Experiment with it. Everyone, has something to contribute to society, but don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. Don’t condemn the sheltered work shop as being evil. It is out there as a safety net.
What the Star would have us do is close down institutions which are preparing & protecting those individuals with special needs.

Kindest regards

Thomas Pratt
commented 2015-11-13 03:51:35 -0500
I write this on behalf of the modern day disability rights activists. Your terminology is antiquated and offensive. You should be using person first terms, such as “person with a disability,” as to show that the individual is a person more than their disability. In addition, terms like “slow learner” stigmatizes people with disabilities, and de-values them based on their abilities. Failure to use respectful language will get you fired from a disability agency.

Useless trivia. The little plastic bag you get at KFC that contains a fork, a napkin, and a wetnap, was put together by people with intellectual disabilities.

Aren’t you glad you read my comments?
commented 2015-11-12 19:24:01 -0500
There was a Harveys where i used to live who employed a man with Down Syndrome, he was the best employee they had by a mile, prompt , courteous , he acknowledged you while serving others at the till, always made you feel welcome as well.
commented 2015-11-12 19:20:55 -0500
Deborah if they have esteem and self worth then the lefties cannot selfishly make themselves feel better by helping them even if they did not ask to be helped.
commented 2015-11-12 19:16:04 -0500
@ Thomas Pratt – truth – common sense and logic do even come close to being found in the star – anyone reading it probably has the intellect of one of those slow learner in the “sweat shop” (sarc)
commented 2015-11-12 14:26:39 -0500
Leave these handicapped adults alone and let them contribute to society without the lefties crying that something isn’t fair. If I had a handicapped adult child, I would be thrilled that they could work, and be productive. The key is that these people feel productive and that they belong, they don’t care if they get rich, they want to be useful. I say stay out of it, and leave them alone.