Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Hoffman on Sheltered Workshops

Just out: Laura C. Hoffman, An Employment Opportunity or a Discrimination Dilemma? Sheltered Workshops and the Employment of the Disabled, 16 U. Pa. J. L. & Soc. Change 151 (2013).  From the introduction:
In January 2011, a U.S. disability rights organization, National Disability Rights Network (NDRN), published a report that criticizes the use of certain employment practices involving people with disabilities. Within the report, NDRN argues that the continued use of these practices amounts to the systemic discrimination of the disabled in employment, rather than to the assured provision of civil rights protections for the disabled. One of these practices is the use of sheltered workshops, which are “facility-based day programs attended by adults with disabilities as an alternative to working in the open labor market.” By providing relatively simple work activities and customized educational programs, these workshops may be designed to assist the disabled with finding long-term employment or transitioning into the open labor market. However, according to the Executive Director of NDRN, “[s]heltered workshops are not what they promise to be, and sometimes serve as an unsettling example of how good intentions can lead to terrible outcomes.” This report was only the beginning for NDRN on this issue; the organization released another report in April 2012 containing even more criticism for the use of sheltered workshops as an employment option for people with disabilities, bringing even greater attention to this issue both within the disability community and across the United States.  
The U.S. also has a number of federal laws designed to ensure equal opportunity in employment for people with disabilities. Most notably, Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination against the disabled in all aspects of employment for covered entities. Despite these protections, many of the employment practices implemented for the benefit of the disabled do not actually result in additional equal employment opportunities. Recent statistics released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) at the U.S. Department of Labor paint a dismal picture for the overall employment prospects of people with disabilities. According to the BLS report, “[i]n 2011, 17.8 percent of persons with a disability were employed . . . . [i]n contrast, the employment-population ratio for persons without a disability was 63.6 percent.” Moreover, the disabled population continued to show greater joblessness than the non-disabled population through June 2012, according to statistics compiled on a monthly basis for U.S. employment overall.  
Given these troubling statistics, it is necessary to ask whether sheltered workshops are a relevant and successful means of encouraging the employment for the disabled today. Do sheltered workshops represent an antiquated view of people with disabilities and continue what was thought to be an outdated mentality concerning those with disabilities and their ability to participate in society, especially in terms of employment? Or, do sheltered workshops provide something of value and worth to the disabled, by at least providing the opportunity for employment? This Article reexamines the use of sheltered workshops for the employment of the disabled and what this use means for the current legal protections in employment available to individuals with disabilities.

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