Amanda Andreavich Elwyn CenterA generation after the Americans with Disabilities Act, states are facing federal demands to rethink their approach to helping disabled people find work. But could the policy shift worsen their prospects?

When Rita Landgraf ran Delaware’s main disability rights organization in the mid-1980s, there was an effort to get clients into the workplace, but that rarely meant an ordinary workplace. It typically was an out-of-the-way facility where they’d be grouped together performing menial tasks -- putting arms into the plastic torsos of toy soldiers, placing bows on boxes or performing other repetitive work, all at a pay well below the minimum wage. It was an improvement on the sterile residential facilities to which these people had once been confined. But in Landgraf’s view, it was nowhere near enough. She believed that, with some help, even those with severe disabilities could work right alongside the rest of the labor force. She wasn’t the first in the country to focus on placing clients in integrated workplaces instead of what are commonly known as “sheltered workshops,” but she was out in front of the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), which banned discrimination and promised better access to public and private places.

This year, as the Disabilities Act marks its 25th anniversary, proponents such as Landgraf point to all it has accomplished in the way of access, opportunity and inclusion. But in one respect, the law has mostly failed: It has not led to more jobs. The employment rate for the disabled remains basically unchanged after a quarter-century, and many of the 34 percent of Americans with disabilities who do have jobs are in sheltered workshops earning around $2 an hour.

That’s about to change. The federal agencies that oversee Medicaid and labor laws are demanding that states do more to offer employment opportunities to people with disabilities. The Justice Department is also threatening to sue states to open up the work system. These moves amount to a dramatic shift in disability policy and could spell the end for sheltered workshops that don’t adapt. “From my lens, not much has changed since the ADA with employment,” says Landgraf, now Delaware’s secretary of health and social services. On the other hand, she says, “not only are those federal programs starting to align themselves across the board, but stateside there’s so much interest. I’m starting to feel that for the first time.”

The push for integrated employment isn’t without critics. Some parents of the disabled and the nonprofits that run sheltered workshops and other services fear the shift will neglect people who depend on the workshops as a social outlet and for employment as they try to find suitable outside jobs. But advocates of change, including some parents, insist that integrated employment is essential for people with disabilities to realize their full potential and that the benefits range from reduced reliance on social welfare to increased workplace diversity. Regardless of the controversy, change is coming. And states will be at the center of this next phase in a civil rights movement that has at its end a vision of greater community inclusion. As the situation stands now, they still have a long way to go.


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Rep. Glenn GothmanFond du lac, WI - Rep. Glenn Grothman (R-Wisconsin) commends Brooke Industries after his recent visit to their Fond du Lac location.

“Brooke Industries is a great example of providing employment opportunities and training to individuals with significant disabilities,” said Congressman Grothman. “Brooke Industries helps these individuals to lead more productive lives, support their families, gain important work experience, and share in the same pride that each of us has after a day’s work. Many of these individuals work in support of our men and women in uniform, doing their part to improve our country and ensure safety and security for us all.”

AbilityOne affiliated non-profit agencies, like Brooke Industries, offers people who are blind or who have significant disabilities the opportunity to acquire the job skills and training necessary to receive good wages and benefits and ultimately improve their quality of life.

U.S. Rep. Glenn Grothman is serving his first term representing Wisconsin’s 6th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives. Contact his Washington, D.C., office at (202) 225-2476, or online at grothman.house.gov.

Read the original Press Release here.

Brian Jacobson

The Board of Directors of Green Valley Enterprises, Inc. of Beaver Dam is pleased to announce the appointment of Brian Jacobson to succeed retiring Executive Director Jack Hankes. Jacobson was selected from a pool of three dozen applicants, and he will start in his new position on June 1.

He has spent the last 24 years in a director capacity at ADVOCAP, Inc., a large not for profit agency with a mission to eliminate poverty and barriers to employment. ADVOCAP operates in Fond du Lac, Winnebago and Green Lake Counties. Green Valley Board President Rich Zieman said "We are excited to bring Brian on board. He has the kind of resume' and experience we were seeking, the kind necessary to continue our tradition of care excellence while navigating a period of unprecedented regulatory change."

Green Valley serves individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities from Dodge and adjacent counties, in a variety of programs designed to foster independence. Established in 1968, it serves nearly 400 persons annually with a budget approaching $4 million. Green Valley has 85 full and part-time employees.

OppCtr ContinuUs Award

The Opportunity Center has been recognized with a quarterly Outstanding Service Provider award by ContinuUs, formerly Southwest Family Care Alliance, for the excellent quality of service it provides for adults with disabilities.

Since 1965, the Opportunity Center has been creating opportunities for people with disabilities to develop their full potential in society.

According to Ashley Trautsch, a Prairie du Chien area ContinuUs supervisor, the Opportunity Center was nominated and chosen for the award for many reasons.

“Their huge advantage is the advocation that comes from here. They do a great job of getting the clients out into the community. And their job development program has helped to get clients off the work floor and into community employment,” Trautsch said. “They have many staff who are long-term here, and they are great at troubleshooting what’s best for each individual member and his or guardians. They specifically include the members in decisions about their long-term plans. They do a great job overall.”

Sheila Swatek, a case manager who has worked at the Opportunity Center for 41 years, since the organization’s current facility was built on North State Street in Prairie du Chien, proudly spoke about why her employer is deserving of this recent award.

“We try to provide what they want us to provide, along with doing what’s best for our clients,” Swatek commented. “I really enjoy being around the clients. They work so hard and are so proud of what they do. We give them a reason to get up and get going every morning.”

VARC

"I like the way staff members are nice to us, and I like the good work that's here."

Sam Laxton is just one of hundreds of people who have found employment thanks to the Vernon Area Rehabilitation Center, or VARC.

"VARC provides primarily employment opportunities for individuals with varying abilities. We provide employment here at VARC, and also develop opportunities outside of VARC for people to engage in employment in the field that they would like to be in," explains Liz Filter, VARC's director of rehabilitation.

This year, the company is celebrating their 40th year in business.

"We started with just 6 individuals that we were providing services to out of our first location in Viroqua, which is now our corporate headquarters."

Now, they have served over 600 people- allowing them to flourish in the workplace and the community.

"It has taught me how to act in the community, and work really good in the community," says Sam Laxton, a VARC employee.

"It's a pretty unique opportunity that people in my position have and that all the employees that work for VARC have because they get to know that they have contributed towards the advancement of that population and provided those opportunities for people that they may not otherwise have," says Filter.

Their hope for the next 40 years?

"There's definitely a need in our communities to provide services to people and provide those opportunities, so growth and expansion is one of our primary goals and to continue to provide people a sense of contribution in their communities."

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