Parents and Guardians: Please Don’t Close Our Workshops
For parents and others who have found workshops a miracle for their adult children with disabilities, the possibility that workshops would be removed represents a nightmare. Some of these parents, guardians and others remember the dark days before workshops were created. They know from experience that idealistic plans for widespread community employment or expensive alternatives won’t work, at least not to the extent needed to provide for nearly 8,000 people in Missouri and hundreds of thousands nationally.
“I ask that you please reconsider your support of any policies that negatively affect individuals like Tara, who have disabilities and work at the sheltered workshop,” wrote Tanya Ellwood, whose daughter works at Pulaski County Sheltered Workshop. “So please don’t take away their jobs and happiness. I’ve seen firsthand how this wonderful place is a good thing for all of them.”
In St. Louis, a woman is guardian for her sister who works at Empac. She stressed that safety for people with disabilities cannot be ensured in many environments, one of the reasons workshops were created in the first place. “People like my sister need somewhere to go that they feel safe and feel they are making a contribution,” she said. “She comes home each day and is anxious to tell me about the jobs she has worked on, especially new jobs she has done. I hope that programs like EMPAC will be able to continue. They serve an important part in giving people like my sister a sense of worth.”
Becki Long-Ruggles, M.Ed. LPC, has consulted with workshops and is also guardian for her nephew, who works at a Missouri workshop. “I want him to be able to have a place to go each day, a place to be proud of his work and the new skills that he is learning.” She noted that the alternative would be a few hours a day in a job that wouldn’t challenge him.
Just in Missouri, thousands of families face these nightmarish issues if workshops are closed. In states where workshops have closed, up to three-fourths of those with disabilities, usually those with the most severe disabilities, are unable to find alternatives and often end up returning to home, which causes a cascade of other problems for families that support them.
U.S. Congressman Bill Long (R-7), who cited several successes at Southwest Industries workshop in Springfield, recently shared dramatic parent testimony. Congressman Long concluded that well-meaning proposals to eliminate workshops are ill considered.
“They told me the story of a young woman named Mary who had never held a competitive job but began helping SWI employees with small tasks in production and janitorial services,” he reported. “As she improved in the workplace, her SWI Job Developer was able to help her find employment at her dream job of working with animals, and she now lives in her own apartment and has worked at a veterinarian clinic for over four years.”
Debbie Huitt’s son is 26 years old and has been working at Valley Industries in Hazelwood for almost five years. “This company has been good for my son and I don't know where he would work if this Sheltered Workshop would close,” she said. “My husband and I both work and could not be home with my son. He can't work in a competitive job. He has autism. Please don't close the workshop.”