Challenges in Transition from Sheltered Workshop to Competitive Employment: Perspectives of Taiwan Social Enterprise Transition Specialists

Article excerpt

To better understand employment options for persons with mental retardation, sheltered workshops must be discussed. In theory, sheltered workshops provide persons with mental retardation employment opportunities in a segregated environment. Through these opportunities it is held that persons with disabilities will build their vocational and social skills, thus making them better able to enter the competitive work place (Callahan & Garner, 1997; Nelson, 1971).

According to Nelson (1971), "the definitions of sheltered workshops [in the United States] were made by two groups: by workshop operators and rehabilitation personnel, and by Congress and government agencies [who were] making definitions for legal purposes" (p. 145). Nelson (1971) stated that the definition of a sheltered workshop was from the National Association of Sheltered Workshops and Homebound programs, which adopted a definition of a sheltered workshop:

"A sheltered workshop is a nonprofit rehabilitation facility utilizing individual goals, wages, supportive services, and a controlled work environment to help vocationally handicapped persons achieve or maintain their maximum potential as workers" (p. 127).

Sheltered Workshops in the United States and Taiwan

The concept of establishing sheltered workshops is to provide employment opportunities for persons who are not yet capable of independent community employment due to their physical or cognitive disabilities. To meet the vocational needs of people who are classified as having disabilities, sheltered workshops have been divided by their functions into two major types: transitional sheltered workshops and extended sheltered workshops (Kregel & Dean, n.d.; Lin, 1997; Murphy & Rogan, 1995; Nelson, 1971). Transitional sheltered workshop programs are intended to provide job training and work experience to individuals in segregated working environments. It is hoped that this training will assist the trainee to acquire the skills necessary for competitive employment. Extended sheltered workshop programs, on the other hand, are typically designed to be long-term or permanent placements for individuals who may not be able to work in the community.

Unlike the above definitions from the United States, definitions of sheltered workshops or sheltered factories in Taiwan remained unclear until the passing of the Regulations of Establishment of Shelter Factories and Rewards for the Disabled on December 30th, 2002 (Bureau of Employment and Vocational Training, Taiwan, 2008). Now, according to Article 3 of this law, sheltered workshops are defined as:

"[Places] that provide sheltering types of jobs for those handicapped who are fifteen years of age, willing and capable to work, who can improve their working skills in different places, including factories, shops, farms, working stations (rooms), etc."

Based on the above definitions, it is clear that sheltered workshops/factories are specifically designed to meet the needs for employment of persons with disabilities in Taiwan. In addition, from the title Regulations of Establishment of Shelter Factories and Rewards for the Disabled, it seems obvious that the Taiwan government is willing to provide financial assistance and awards to help the public sector and private organizations establish sheltered factories for persons with disabilities.

Supported employment in the United States and Taiwan

Another type of employment option for individuals with disabilities in the United States is supported employment. The goal of supported employment is to provide paid job opportunities in integrated settings for individuals with disabilities (Wehman, Inge, Revell, & Brooke, 2007). Unlike sheltered employment which provides job trainings first for individuals with disabilities in segregated settings, most supported employment services, such as job coaching and training, are provided after placement in the community of individuals with disabilities (Gilbride & Hagner, 2005; Parent, Cone, Turner, & Wehman, 1998)). …