How do you view yourself? Perceptions of sheltered workshop

What do you think other peoples’ perception of you is? 


You are an important person, the result of a complex mixture of characteristics that combine to form your personality. You have both positive and negative qualities – strengths and weaknesses – as well as personal likes and dislikes. This makes you totally unique and different from everyone else. You belong to the human family and yet you are an individual. You defy simple descriptions and labels because you are more than just a “type of person”. Each of us is convinced of our own worth. We each believe that the world would be changed forever if we were not present, and that is certainly true. We all play our respective roles in life, and without us things could not possibly be the same. These are the perceptions we embrace concerning our own lives.

This is the opening paragraph to blog post by Michael Crawley – Saturday, March 22, 2014.  The article goes on to talk about perceptions of people with developmental disabilities:

Do we believe they are different?
Do we believe they make others feel uneasy?
Do we believe they can’t be understood?
Do we believe they are childlike?
Do we believe they should be avoided?
Do we believe they can’t be employed?
Do we believe they are limited?
Do we believe they can’t express themselves?
Do we believe they can’t be independent?
Do we believe they are less than equal?

It’s a really great article and I’d recommend everyone read the whole thing.   I found it on a day when a young person I care deeply about made a comment that led me to believe that she had doubts about her own worth, and the words really hit home.   How much do we allow other people to define us?  How do social constructs like IQ scores, grades, and even “loaded words” like “sheltered workshops” influence our thinking without our even knowing it?

As I glanced at the site to see where these inspiring words came from I found something totally unexpected – the site is operated by the owners of a sheltered workshop! Seventy percent of the workforce at The Meadows has a developmental disability and one of their business services is data destruction.   So, the wheels started spinning in my head.

Why was I shocked to see that a piece about perceptions and breaking down stereotypes was written by someone who works for a sheltered workshop?

Recent comments I’ve seen about sheltered workshops reflect the many perceptions that float around in our society:

“Sheltered workshops are nothing but giant understaffed day cares”
“Sheltered and segregated day programs are like prisons”
“end slavery now”
“The very definition of segregation denotes discrimination.”

What’s interesting is the MANY people who have come forward to disagree with those perceptions!

There was even a petition to STOP the movement in Missouri!

Check out some of the comments on recent articles by big disability groups like Disability Scoop, and in states like Oklahoma where a poll was published in on online newspaper:

We’ve even started our own survey here on The Road and the results so far are mixed.
Questions about sheltered workshops
So if I, and many others already have doubts about the perception of sheltered workshops, why was I surprised that an employee who works there could/would write such a beautiful piece?
The fact is – perceptions seep into our subconscious and surface in unexpected ways.  If someone asked me point blank what I thought, I could tell them.  It’s only when something like this happens, that I’m able to see that even those of us who call ourselves “informed,” “unbiased,” and “accepting,” can sometimes fall prey to powerful social pressures.

I’ll work harder to make sure this particular issue gets resolved in my own head but how can we help others see that this is happening?   Maybe more comments, petitions, and voices of the people who are currently benefiting for such places will help.

The Meadows also has a Testimonial page:

“She has worked at The Meadows for almost 16 years and looks forward to it every day. “

“The Meadows has been a wonderful, safe work place for our son Jeff. He has worked at The Meadows nine years this July 2008.”

“Our daughter, Leah, has worked at The Meadows for nearly twenty (20) years. She enjoys her work and looks forward to paydays.”

I worry now about two things:

Are we and the “people in charge” actually asking and listening to the people who are affected or just basing our perceptions on what gets into the media?

Where is the balance between using segregation as the first and only option, and making sure that people who want and deserve different options are given the appropriate support ?

Defining Sheltered Workshops

Don’t miss the section of The Meadows site called What is a Sheltered Workshop?  It gives a specific outline as to what qualifies in the eyes of Oklahoma law.

What are your perceptions?  Do you think the media has influenced them or are you basing them on specific (or isolated) examples?  Would appreciate any feedback.