Sheltered Workshops: A Viable
Alternative for Post-High School
The history, the research, the
Historical Perspective
Sheltered Workshops in the U. S. can be traced
to the Perkins Institution for the Blind in 1840.
The critical component in the early years was
the meaning attached to the word “sheltered.”
The workshop was not created to provide
normalization, but to shelter the individual from
frustrations, problems, and risks associated with
competitive employment. (Rosen, Bussone,
Dakunchak, & Cramp, 1993)
Historical Perspective
Acrimonious disagreements exist
concerning the proper role and function of
sheltered workshops within our systems.
“Do they distinguish among or do they merely
confuse and commingle the separate
functions of (1) a vocational evaluation,
adjustment, and training center; (2) a
therapeutic facility; and (3) a place of
remunerative employment?” Jacobus
Historical Perspective
Today, approximately 1.6 million
individuals receive services in over 5500
sheltered workshops and 2000 work
activity centers.
Approximately 250,000 students graduate
from special education programs annually,
and many of those end up in workshops
(or on waiting lists).
Criticisms from the research
Low Pay:
A 1998 report indicated that, overall, sheltered
workshop clients earn an average of $65 per week,
while rehabilitation clients who are competitively
employed earn an average of $272.
Clients who have severe disabilities earn an average
of $37 per week in a workshop setting compared to
$110 in competitive employment. (Taylor, 2002)
Criticisms from the research
Dead-end placement:
Studies have consistently shown that
sheltered environments do not prepare people
to live, work, or participate in integrated
Only 3.5% of sheltered workshop clients ever
move into competitive employment. (Lutfiyya,
Rogan, Shoultz, 1988)
Criticisms from the research
Disincentives to Placement:
Sheltered workshops must produce an
acceptable amount of output, which is of
acceptable quality, if they are to survive and
continue to receive contracts.
This results in a built-in incentive to retain the
most productive clients,“…those most likely to
succeed in the competitive labor market with
the fewest supports.” (Taylor, 2002)
Criticisms from the research
Failure to serve those most in need
Ironically, according to Taylor, sheltered
workshops seldom serve the most severely
disabled individuals because they are deemed
unproductive and not able to work.
Criticisms from the research
Decline of mass production/blue
collar industry in U.S.
Result: Continuing decline in subcontract
opportunities that provide connection to real
work possibilities in the workforce. (Rosen,
Bussone, Dakunchak, & Cramp, 1993)
Criticisms from the research
Economic burden on society
Taxes paid by clients are minimal.
With few exceptions, sheltered workshops do
not pay for unemployment compensation,
worker compensation, or Social Security
(National Federation for the Blind)
Cost of placement in sheltered workshop:
Average of $7,400 annually. (American
Association of Mental Retardation [AAMR])
The End of Subminimum Wage?
“Even so, some xxxxxxx employees earn pennies
on the hour while the company spends millions
of dollars per year on executive compensation.
Those who utilize the subminimum wage
generally enjoy nonprofit, tax-free status, and
have guaranteed access to government
contracts. This model may have provided
opportunities to disabled workers in 1938. But in
2014, it is simply not the most appropriate
strategy for creating real training and
employment scenarios.” Editorial,
Future Directions
Supported Employment:
Over 105,000 individuals with multiple and profound
disabilities participating in SE earn “nearly $600
million” annually and pay over $100 million in federal,
state, and local taxes (AAMR, 2000)
Individuals participating in SE increased their annual
earnings by 490%, with average hourly wages
increasing from $.84 to $4.13
For 52% of SE participants, the primary income is
their paycheck instead of public assistance or
disability benefits (AAMR).
Future Directions
Supported Employment
“Supported employment is a way to move people
from dependence on a service delivery system to
independent competitive employment” (Department
of Labor, 2004).
Cost-benefit analysis: Average cost of a placement is
estimated at $4,000, with half of all placements
costing less than $3,000.
The average annual cost of maintaining an individual
in competitive employment with supports is estimated
at $4,200, compared to the $7,400 annual cost of
placement in a day program
Future Directions
Supported Employment—The down
In a seven-year study, SE participants’
earnings were documented as being 250%
greater than the sheltered workshop clients
These earnings, while twice that of sheltered
workshop participants, was still quite low.
The study also noted a decline in the rate of
employment for supported employees over
the seven year period.
Future Directions
Supported Employment—The down side:
A disproportionate inclusion of females with mild
cognitive disabilities in sheltered employment
Disincentives to increased earnings that exist in the
SSI and SSDI programs are cited as reasons for the
apparently intentional restriction in earnings (Kregel &
Dean (2003).
States have not historically funded the cost of ongoing supports.
Future Directions
Other options:
Entrepreneurship/business ownership (selfemployment)
“Semi-integrated employment” (work crews)
Workshop “Co-ops”
Development of agency owned/sponsored
business ventures
This is not a case of “if it’s not broke,
don’t fix it.” The current system doesn’t
work for a majority of those individuals
who are leaving special education
programs in our public schools each year.

SE Session Sheltered Workshops Vire