In The Politics of Autism, I discuss the employment of adults with autism and other developmental disabilities. Many posts have discussed programs to provide them with training and experience.
“It’s a human rights issue,” said Coleman Nee, chief executive of Triangle, who was the state’s Secretary of Veterans’ Services during the Deval Patrick administration. “Everybody has the ability to be competitively placed if that’s what they want, regardless of the nature of their disability and how much work it might take to get them there.”
Slightly more than one in four working-age people with disabilities is employed, according to the Department of Labor. But the movement to get more of them into the workforce is growing, part of a shift toward inclusion and self-advocacy by people with disabilities, said Margaret Van Gelder, director of employment and family support at the state’s Department of Developmental Services.
“They’re coming into their own, speaking up for themselves, pushing for opportunities they want,” she said.
A decade ago, about 6,000 people with disabilities toiled in 90 such sheltered workshops in Massachusetts, according to the state. In response to federal policy changes, the agency unveiled a plan two years ago to close all such workshops and get everyone into day programs or jobs in the community, a goal it says it will hit by the end of June.
Nationwide, the number of sheltered workshops with sub-minimum-wage certification has dropped by almost half since 2001, from 4,724 to 2,417, according to the Institute for Community Inclusion at the University of Massachusetts Boston. Recent federal lawsuits over sheltered workshops in Oregon and Rhode Island accused the states of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act, and Rhode Island is facing a $1 million annual fine for not taking steps to move people out of these workshops.