Academic journal article The Journal of Rehabilitation

Sheltered Employment and the Second Generation Workshop

Academic journal article The Journal of Rehabilitation

Sheltered Employment and the Second Generation Workshop

Article excerpt

Historical Overview

Sheltered workshops for persons with disabilities have a long history in the United States. Tracing the first workshops back to the Perkins Institution for the Blind in 1840 and the Pennsylvania Home for Working Men (Philadelphia) in 1874, Wallin (1967) outlined the objectives of workshops to include the development of vocational competence; training for competitive employment; providing academic remediation; treating personality maladjustments; and providing appropriate job placement and follow-up.

The critical component of workshops is related to the meaning attached to "sheltered." The original concept promoted a protected environment where the person with disabilities could experience the stimulation and learning required for work without the competitive factor adding to the psychological trauma already experienced in normal settings. Thus, the sheltered workshop was an effort to allow the individual the opportunity to work without having to risk competition and failure experiences which, it was assumed, would occur in normal work environments. Rather than provide normalization, it was intended to shelter the individual from normal frustrations, problems, and risks while allowing him to experience an attenuated form of normal task requirements on the job (e.g., paychecks, time clocks, work hours, supervision, production schedules). The sheltering imposed many constraints and limitations but these were judged as beneficial or even necessary to protect self-esteem. In many instances it was assumed that the workshop represented the limit of the potential for the individual client so that constraints imposed by the program itself were not assumed to be detrimental.

Doll (1967) emphasized that the sheltered workshop is a means rather than an end, and should be used to effect productive and competitive employment. He focused on the "work" rather than the "shop" that is designed to promote self-adequacy rather than provide bench-work. Doll argued for more effective evaluation procedures to distinguish between socially adequate mentally retarded, capable of self-direction, and those requiring a substantial degree of guardianship. This distinction would allow the setting of realistic aspirations for clients whom he judged capable of improvement. Doll was concerned that sheltered workshops not be limited to providing "baby-sitting" to those "mentally deficient" who cannot learn. Dubrow (1967), on the other hand, argued for the abandonment of traditional methods of classification of mentally retarded persons in favor of classification consistent with dimensions of employment and work adjustment.

Progress in serving people with mental disability in sheltered workshops by the 1970s is most apparent in the work of those using behavior analysis techniques to teach persons with severe retardation to handle relatively complex workshop tasks (Bellamy et al., 1970; Gold, 1973, 1975). Whereas Doll cautioned against trying to improve the capacity of the severely retarded individual, Gold cautioned against closing our minds to what any client might produce under appropriate conditions of training.

Criticisms of Workshops

In recent years, workshops have encountered a considerable degree of criticism, both in terms of their operations and philosophy. Surprisingly, such criticism has been generated internally from the rehabilitation field itself, rather than from external community or business sources.

Mallas (1976), reviewing workshop practices, observed that the image of the workshop, both from within and without, was negative, "a place where society relegates its unwanted cast-off goods and people..." Mallas attributed this image to the workshops themselves, whose Boards of Directors, staff, and clients were confused about the differentiation between rehabilitation and productivity roles. Boards were reluctant to apply sound business procedures to workshops and many workshop directors and managers were poorly trained to do so. …

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