Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Ending Sheltered Workshops: It Can Work

Halle Stockton, Publicsource / Disability Scoop - September 30, 2014

This is a tremendously encoraging article on how Vermont transitioned from sheltered workshops (and closing them), to community employment, while raising the rate of employment for people with developmental disabilities. Cheers to my neighboring state across the lake!

As with all reforms, the keys to success are good followthrough and reforming for the right reasons. One reason why significant numbers of people still oppose phasing out sheltered workshops is that they have seen poor followthrough on disability policy before, and they don’t trust the legislators and bureaucrats who actually have to carry out disability policy reforms.

For one thing, state Developmental Disability service systems have spotty track records, sometimes championing progressive change, but just as often presiding over outdated, neglectful, even barbaric programs and institutions.

Meanwhile even some of the best reforms end up looking a lot like plain old budget cuts. In fact, disability advocates often “sell” progressive change to lawmakers by telling them the changes will save taxpayer’s money. And it’s true! However, many families fought very hard for what little they get, and they view with suspicion anything that looks like economizing.

Finally, similar reforms of other systems show mixed results. Special Education still splits meagre resources between self-contained and inclusive classrooms, and it often seems like schools only embrace inclusion when it suits their need to save money. The widespread closure of mental institutions in the 1980s is a horror story social work professors tell their students … about how the Reagan Administration capitalized on desires for a more humane, liberating mental health system, by shutting places down and then forgetting to reinvest the money saved into community services.

Well-meaning advocates have a noble idea, politicians and policy wonks get ahold if it, ram it through, and vulnerable people suffer. That’s the story I hear starting to be told about the move away from sheltered workshops. It is a potent story that has got to be countered with facts, and with a genuinely careful implementation as seems to have been done in Vermont.

Change is scary, but so is the status quo.