NYS – March was Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month, and in support of the disability community and sheltered workshops in his district, Senator Rob Ortt is urging the governor and the OPWDD to protect the workshops from closure. He wanted to share his letter with his constituents:
In recognition of Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month, I’d like to renew the push to keep sheltered workshops serving individuals in need open across the state. As an advocate for the intellectual and developmental disability community, and as a supporter of work centers in my Senate District, I’m asking the Office for People With Developmental Disabilities, OPWDD, and the governor, to reconsider its plan to phase out these vital workshops in the coming years.
As chairman of the Senate Committee on Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities, I have heard from those with disabilities, their families, their supporters and their health care professionals. These individuals all share a deep concern regarding what might happen if these workshops were to close. This is especially troubling due to insufficient information provided by the state and an enormous amount of uncertainty surrounding what the future holds for those facing disabilities, or their caregivers. Without a plan, we fear that many of these individuals will end up at home, unemployed.
The Arc of Orleans County in Albion is one of many sheltered workshops in Western New York that touts the freedom of choice and inclusion. These foundations have proven to be successful for employees in the shop. I’ve worked with Arc’s executive director, Patty Kepner. Patty and the Arc foster an environment of freedom and safety. We cannot afford to replace this secure environment for disabled workers with an unfamiliar employment setting filled with uncertainty and lacking support structures.
Duane Smith tells the story of so many sheltered workshop employees. Duane, an elderly employee with Down Syndrome, has been working in shops for most of his adult life. He works five days a week and his paycheck provides him something beyond take-home pay. It fills Duane with self-respect, knowing that he can work like his peers and contemporaries. For Duane, and so many sheltered workshop employees, being in a work center cultivates a sense of pride, fulfillment and accomplishment.
Employees like Tom Popowych like the work and particularly the social aspect of the job. Tom is one of Arc’s non-verbal employees, and would have an extremely difficult time adjusting to an integrated setting in a competitive workplace. Changing Tom’s, along with countless others’, daily routine could be disruptive and have significant negative consequences. I believe we should keep Tom alongside the friends and co-workers he’s had for years and continue to foster his sense of belonging.
A clear plan from the state remains to be articulated for disabled workers like Tom and Duane. As someone who fought overseas to defend our freedoms, I’m urging OPWDD and the governor to allow those in the disability community to keep their voices and their freedoms. We need to protect the employment and lifestyle opportunities that sheltered workshops provide for individuals with disabilities. Together, we can make this happen.