Disability Scoop has a great article on What Happens When Sheltered Workshops Close?
Vermont shut down sheltered workshops more than a decade ago. And guess what? The employment rate for people with developmental disabilities in VT is twice the national average.
That's what happens when you shut down sheltered workshops. People with disabilities have a greater opportunity of being employed and included in their communities.
One individual who benefited from this change says that with his paycheck he's able to try out new restaurants and buy Christmas gifts. "My life has taken a turn for the better." He said. Is there any greater testimonial for employing people with disabilities than to hear from someone who has a disability?
Policymakers in VT "...eventually decided sheltered workshops no longer fit the state’s values on the treatment of people with disabilities." How powerful is that statement? Sheltered workshops don't fit their state's values on the treatment of people with disabilities.
There were families who had adult children working in sheltered workshops that couldn't imagine a job in the community that their child would fill.
Many people who had been labeled unemployable were placed in jobs.
One woman began work at a daycare helping supervise children and preparing lunches. She had been nonverbal in the workshop. She started talking in her new job and now "has great communication with her employer and her community."
The future looks promising for other states to follow suit as 39 states participated in Conversion Institutes to find out Vermont did away with sheltered workshops and how the state changed it's policy and culture.
Culture. I think that is a key word. It's not just enough to change the policy, but the culture has to change too. The culture of shutting away individuals with disabilities in sheltered workshops. The culture of not giving people with disabilities a chance. The culture of not presuming competence.
We are all part of our society and that includes people with all sorts of differences and different abilities. People with disabilities can contribute to society, to their own happiness and well-being, to hold meaningful employment, to participate in their community ... to be included.
I can only hope we, as a society, continue to move forward in this direction and who knows what opportunities will be available to Kayla when she is an adult.
I can see her like that one lady working in a daycare or preschool or Kindergarten classroom assisting the teachers.
Or maybe Kayla will be a hostess at a restaurant. She already has experience with that.
Or maybe she will join an acting troupe and be involved in acting.
Only time will tell what the future holds for Kayla, and the future looks bright indeed.