Days are numbered for ‘sheltered workshops’

DEPEW, N.Y. (WIVB)- For some, it’s the only job they’ve ever had, and only job they can get.

Every day, people with developmental disabilities show up for work at Southeast Works in Depew and prepare products to be sold in stores like WalMart or Office Depot. But what makes this ‘sheltered workshop’ different is that all the workers are disabled in some way. they don’t work along side the non-disabled.

NY Governor Andrew Cuomo has announced a plan to phase out sheltered workshops like this to comply with a Supreme Court ruling that ensures everyone the right to work in an integrated setting.

NY State Senator Robert Ortt, (R) -North Tonawanda hosted a public hearing about the issue Monday evening at the University at Buffalo’s Center for Tomorrow.

Speaker after speaker tried answer the big question about what will happen to most of the clients if the State actually does close sheltered workshops, like Southeast Works in Depew, where people with developmental disabilities prepare products to be sold at WalMArt of Office Depot, but they do it for less than minimum wage.

“We should give them the opportunity to advance competitive employment elsewhere so that they can not just sustain themselves, but flourish.” said Jennifer Monthie of Disability Rights New York. She would rather the State programs work individually wit5h each client to help them get jobs that are suited for them in the traditional workplace.

“You’re gonna find people that are gonna stay employed longer, they’re gonna advance in the their employment because they’re in an area where they can shine.” said Monthie.

But not all of these clients can flourish outside, like Tim Powers, who disabled at age 56 has found his niche at Southeast works.

“If you offered him a one dollar bill and a five dollar bill, he wouldn’t know which one is worth more.” said his father Martin Powers. “He lives in a group home because we’re gonna die, and he has to have a place to live, and he now has a place to live and a place to work and we’ve spent our entire life working this whole process out and now you wanna say, “Nope that’s not good.” well how are we going to deal with this in the future, I don’t know.”

The State Office of People With Developmental Disabilities plans to put out guidelines in late October that will give these families a better idea of what the transition will be like as the sheltered workshops are phased out by the year 2020.

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