Workshop's And The Blind


Workshop's And The Blind

     “Hello, Mr. Patrick, I’m glad I caught you in today. We are going to establish a non-profit workshop for the visually impaired here in the city. We will be going after federal contracts that require a percentage of our production staff be legally blind. We’ll pursue private contracts too. We intend to offer the visually impaired an employment opportunity that they presently do not have here in this community.” said the man on the phone. “Let me give you some statistics from our research.”

     This guy had launched right into his message without introducing himself and it took me aback. First off, I figured he had called me because I worked at our state vocational commission for the blind as the Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor in charge of our employment unit. His words caused a rush of emotion and I could feel my fist clenching around the phone receiver. A sheltered shop! There has never been a workshop for the blind in this state so this type of employment within our mid-western city would indeed be new, and a bit scary with what I had heard about these facilities in some Eastern states, but what if…?

     I tentatively answered back, “Well, with employment for the blind being a high priority for us and the slow growth in commercial job openings around town, I’d be interested in talking to you about it and learning what you intend.”

     “That’s great! We are in the early stages of developing the program and are calling around the community researching interests and possibilities. When can we set up a meeting?”

     Appointment set, I hung up. I had their contact information and I knew I’d better find some time today to do some research on them, too.

     A little later, “RING!” Picking up the phone I found it to be the president of one of the local consumer groups for the blind. “Did you hear about the new company that intends to open a factory and offer us jobs? We’ve got several guys in our chapter that haven’t worked for years!” He mentioned several names, all of them I knew. One had a college degree and no professional work history, two had an employment history of office work, two others had never worked and with their lack of ordinary social graces and blindness skills, I wondered what it would take to make them employable. The president took a fairly long time to tell me how wonderful this was going to be and said he was calling everyone he knew to pass the word. He said I ought to recommend to the Director that our agency help this group get their factory going.

     I told the president I was researching the group’s corporate history and would get back to him with what I found. Meanwhile, I had these thoughts that I’d best keep to myself. Let me put it this way, this group had a philosophical reputation of…well, of lower expectations then what most of us in the blind community like to see.

     A little more later, “RING!” The next call was from the local Lions Club president. “I just had a call….” He went on to outline the basic info that the workshop guy had presented me, ending up in an excited voice, “Isn’t this wonderful?”

e-mail responses to

**1. I like your thought provokers because they usually deal with important philosophical issues. On this one I feel very passionately and strongly that the
option should be there for those who want to take advantage of it. Sheltered workshops for the blind are a useful tool but should not be the goal for
someone who has the ability to pursue competitive employment.

Why? Not all blind people can obtain competitive employment. I would also emphasize that not all sighted people can obtain competitive employment. Aren't
blind people "normal" like others who have vision? I know I put my pants on every day when I wake up, one leg at a time. I breathe the same air that
sighted people do. I even read books just like sighted people do. I just happen to use my hands and ears, not my eyes to read.

My point is that we all have unique abilities, skills and talents however, we are all not capable of achieving the same. It is a fact all of us in the
human race are unique. Some are highly intellectual, and others are not. Some of us have street smarts, and others don't. Let's celebrate our differences
and let's not try to make us all the same. I absolutely believe in high standards however, some people achieve at different levels. It is not good or
bad, people are just different. I think the "person centered approach" would advocate that the individual should be informed of this as an option, and
leave it up to the person. I also know the "strengths" approach would support choice for someone if they wanted to work at a sheltered workshop.

I choose not to work there because I have been blessed with a high skill level and I feel fortunate I have marketable abilities. Others are not as fortunate,
and it is okay to give them the same satisfaction of working, even if it is not a competitive work environment.

The Seattle Lighthouse for the blind does employ quite a few blind people. For some of them, it is the only option for socialization and a sense of pride
through work. I do admit, there are also some blind people who work there who could obtain competitive employment if the opportunity came along. Unfortunately,
the opportunities don't always come along.

Let's not fight to keep a place like this out because we don't want people to assume blind people are not capable. How about offering this opportunity
to those less fortunate then us so they can experience a certain quality of life. Just because you or I may not get satisfaction, lots of blind people
I know do get confidence and self worth from working at the Seattle Lighthouse for the Blind.

Mark Dixon USA

**2. The reason we ought to be nervous about these workshops can, in my mind,
be summed up in two words: "career path."

There is often no place to go in these shops for blind workers. There
simply isn't a clear and understandable career path that somebody could
follow that would lead to a living wage. Don't get me wrong. I don't
think that anybody necessarily deserves to make a living wage. I do
think they should be paid minimum wages which virtually all blind
workshops now do, but beyond that I don't care how much people are paid
so long as it's fair for the work performed.

I recently spoke to a large retailer about going to work there. This
retailer starts people out in some rather menial jobs for a very low
wage. I asked the HR person what she had to offer me should I decide to
make a career in their company. She began telling me what the career
path opportunities were. I could go to any number of jobs up a
continuing ladder of promotion provided that I had the initiative and
skills. It made sense to me. No, there was no guarantee that I would
ever make more than $9 per hour but there were plenty of opportunities
for me to do so.

Far to often in these workshops there isn't a clear career path. Yes,
if a blind person has the ware-with-all to become part of management
then he or she can move up but let's be honest and acknowledge that
jumping from factory assembly work to management is probably a far
bigger step than most of us could make. What is needed are mid-level
manufacturing jobs and service jobs that pay from $12 to $20 per hour.
That fills in the gap between starting wages and a living wage. If
somebody never makes it then that's their problem but the path needs to
be there and it isn't in most shops.

The other problem is in the structure of the federal law itself. In
order to promote maximum employment for people who are blind there are
requirements of 75 percent blind labor on many federal contracts. This
often results in qualified blind people being kept in the manufacturing
workforce in order to meet the 75 percent requirements. More mid-level
service and manufacturing contracts would help resolve this problem
because the workers would still be considered as part of the 75

Well, the issues are complex but if we're going to bring these programs
into the 21st century they need to be viewed as respectable places to
work by blind adults and that isn't the case right now. There is
progress being made and we should welcome it, however, we have a long
way to go.

Mike Bullis
Baltimore MD

**3. Sheltered workshops is one of my greatest pet peeves, so this answer may be a long one.

First off, living in a country where for many years the sheltered workshop was the only alternative to staying at home for the blind, I'm sure I don't have
to tell those of you who have shared experiences that they can be one of the most degrading situations.
Currently, there is a guy working in one of the workshops whose been there for the past 33 years. He has such low self esteem and 90% of his friends are
workers within the same environment.
For me, the Workshop engenders what I like to refer to as the "zombie" mentality. You go in a human and within a matter of months you become transformed
in to the likeness of the others zombies strolling around the unit.
Now, specific to the short story under question, as usual, people start these things from their charity mentality point of view. They institute plans and
then somewhere along the line remember to include the people for whom they are panning.

Secondly, I think the individual in the scenario was doing right by investigating. The trouble with sheltered workshops is that people become shunted in
to them and are forgotten there and years later are still fitting slot a in to slot be with no future prospects of moving up. They are taught to be contented
or they become anti-social.

Another problem with them, which does present some challenges in this scenario is the sometimes lacking of training. The two unemployable individuals
mentioned would - I am sure - benefit from being placed in a sheltered environment. They need the security to be themselves in order to adjust. However,
such an environment would do them more harm I the long run if they are not trained for regular employment.
What I mean is, more often than not, people are trained to the specific tasks they are required to perform in these shops and nothing else. They're work
schedule is somewhat different from the norm for a comparable institution in the "normal" world. In our local shop, individuals are given a communal lunch
hour, they're provided with transportation to the local bus terminals and they're let of work at 2:30 in the afternoon.
Reality check though, there are some members of our community that may never be able to operate I a normal work situation and so for these, the sheltered
workshop is the better solution.
However this is providing a few things:
The workshop must we simulate wherever possible (and within reason) regular job standards
Blind/visually impaired individuals should be seen in top management and decision making roles as this will act as a source of inspiration to others
There should be ongoing programs to enhance the skills of workers and offer them opportunities (even within the workshop) of working in we areas
I could go on about it, but in essence, my opinion is that sheltered workshops (like marriage) are a state not to be entered in to lightly or ill advisedly.
Always set standards high and keep them high or in the end, we'll simply be hurting those for whom we should be helping.
Most importantly, ensure that at all levels, we have a say in how our organization is run. Nobody but ourselves can fully appreciate what we go through.
Others may try to understand some may even come very close, but we must still retain the power to choose and direct our own paths.

Kerryann Ifill
West Indies

**4. This sounds like non-disabled got together decided to "help" Went ahead
without seeking input from the disabled community a look what we did for you
project! I get so tired of those who who think they "know" what we need &
want, making decisions in our name. Assuming that the blind will go along
with there decision. A sheltered workshop is neither a job or training for a real job.

Diane ,Victoria Canada

**5. Everyone talks about the high unemployment rate among the blind, but nobody seems to be able to do anything about it. I would think that if the
factory offered minimum wage or better, that it would be of benefit to a
lot of people who are just sitting around the house.

Andy Baracco

**6. The first thought that comes to mind is "piece work" pay. No one can live on this type of pay, disabled or not. I've been through a similar program and
was the top paid "piece" worker for a highly recognized bank. My paycheck was in the amount of $42 for two weeks of work, 5 days a week, 8 hours per day.
I disagree with this type of program and feel that giving a person an education will better help them in being competitive, fairly, in the job market.

Phoenix, AZ

**7. Hi Robert
Having gotten two of our people out of sheltered workshops practically with a mechanical hoist, I am not in favor of them as places of employment for able

Lori Stayer Merrick, NY USA

**8. The topic of Workshops for the blind is a very touchy one. Particularly
with the history involved.

First I would have to say the Vocational Rehab counselor is a bit more
proactive than most which is great.

Second I wonder if the consumer organization doesn't have "lower" but more
"realistic" expectations. After all having the skills and the personality
for a job is only half the battle. A lot of Agencies think that a college
education guarantees employment but it isn't true.

Workshops serve a valuable purpose, just as the Venders under the Randolph
Shepherd act do. Not all, in fact less than thirty percent of people in the
United States are "vanilla" blind, which means they have no other
disabilities besides blindness. This is a minority within a minority. A
lot of people who are blind, also have Mental retardation, learning
disabilities, other physical disabilities, deafness, and the list goes on.
For people with multiple disabilities the job market shrinks much more than
it does for even those who are just blind. I worked with a class of Middle
schoolers where every one of them had additional disabilities besides
Blindness. Two had ADD or Aspersers along with blindness, one had CP and
was unable to grip most things, one had MR and CP plus blindness. For some
of the students, preparing them "functionally" for the world of work is our
only option. These students won't be going to college, in fact the students
I worked with will be earning a "certificate" not a diploma from High
School. For some of them, "sheltered" employment might be the best option.

I find it interesting that the main consumer groups in the United States are
ran by people who are above average intelligence, having successful jobs,
and high degrees doctorates or masters. I have not yet met someone in the
higher level of these organizations who is a "average" blind person. With
say a high school diploma or one with multiple disabilities. Sometimes I
have to wonder where our Expectations are coming from, if we aren't part of
the true blind community. Just my thoughts of course. Being blind and
"vanilla" requires a lot of work, if you won't admit it or not, and piling
on other disabilities on top of that takes even more work and concentration
to succeed. Some do make it into college and into employment... but we are
a minority, a very small minority.

I think that if the work shop offers decent wages and follows all fair labor
laws, and provides meaningful employment then I say let it come. What can
it hurt. There will be people in work that would not have had a chance to
work before, and it will boost the local economy, by providing jobs, and
people to spend money.

Just my thoughts.

Shelley L. Rhodes

**9. I know very little about the running of these workshops and realize that each is no doubt different from another. It seems to me that if the Blind are treated
like significant individuals and yet taught how to deport themselves in a workplace, this could be a great thing. However, if one is experienced, educated
and not expecting entitlement, one should babe allowed one's dignity in the workplace. I see little of this, however.

Pam McVeigh
Ruston, LA.

**10. I used to work as a newspaper sub-editor and I now have a menial supermarket job due to vision loss. I take all the positives I can out of this job while
studying part-time in order to embark on a new professional career. It is far better to do even this low-status job than to work in a sheltered workshop.
I get fair pay for what I do, and most importantly I am not ghettoised. I mix with a wide variety of people, enhancing my social and future work possibilities.
I am not hidden away in a sheltered setting and my work colleagues get to see how "normal" a visually impaired person can be.
Workshops may promote a work ethic in people who have never worked before, but they often do not promote skills that are transferable to the general workplace.
They limit job prospects, aspirations and expectations. Visually impaired people are capable of doing most typical jobs given the right education, motivation
and opportunities.
In my country, sheltered workshops have typically been available for people who have mental disabilities. Here, a visually impaired person attending a
sheltered workshop could be further prejudiced against because of a perceived mental disability.

Regards, Cheryl Robertson
Wellington, New Zealand.

**11. Robert,
This is a great thought provoker even for those cities or communities that
do have such workshops. I agree that groups like the one mentioned in your
thought provoker need to be thoroughly > researched so that we who work with
the blind can better advise our clients or students as to the pros and cons
of such workshops.
However, I think there is an equally big question here. You have mentioned
things like groups having lower expectations or other groups who don't work
with the blind highly encouraging such organizations to go forward with the
project. However, say they do have the lower expectations and totally wrong
ideas and philosophies, and we as the folks encouraging our consumers to
strive for the best see that this is not the best idea. How do we take the
lead and explain to our consumers what is going on or why we are so focused
on the philosophical ideas behind these employments without them (who
probably don't understand a lot of the ramifications) coming back and
attacking us? It would be easy for the consumers or the Lions club or even
the groups themselves to come back and blame us for the fact that we add to
the unemployment rate by not conforming or by being steadfast on what we
know is a high belief and expectation for the blind.
I personally feel it is very important to try and promote a very positive
belief in the people with whom we work and that we need to not capitulate
and go with lower expectations or throw a good philosophy out. However, I
also recognize that those working with blind folks are in tough positions at
Then again, I will also put a lot of the responsibility on the blind person
himself who is seeking the employment. How does he see a
capable person who is able to compete on terms of equality, or as someone
who might be able to work in any type of job as long as he earns a little
bit of money, or as someone who doesn't care because he knows the government
will support him?

Jim Portillo

**12. At what price jobs? That's the first thought which comes to my mind. Yes,
over 70% of working age blind people are un-employed; but, even if a
workshop comes in and offers more jobs, is it worth having one's
expectations lowered as a blind employee? In the long run, I think not.

IF, however, we take that position, are we helping to create our own
monster? I still say, "no".

Ray Forit NFBtalk list

**13. Hello Ray

Some economists have stated that the labor market is divided into two
sectors, the primary and secondary labor markets. The first being
referred to as the food and the second as the filth. Unfortunately,
becoming stuck in the secondary labor market for a few years may cause an
employer to look negatively on the applicant and transition from the secondary to the primary labor market is not easy nor inevitable.

In addition, the accessibility to primary labor market jobs is a result of
personal connections and networking. Often times, this is directly
related to one's geographical location. Thus, bad geographical areas,
neighborhoods, are much less apt to make those important contacts.
Obviously, "good" neighborhoods are more connected with the primary labor
market jobs.

Robert NFBtalk list

**14. Well, I'm finally getting around to responding to this... I have been away
from my email only a day and it has really piled up!

Anyway, I am confused by Ray's comment as he seems to be objecting to the
program in one paragraph then saying it isn't a "monster" in the next. But
perhaps we are strangely in agreement!

I personally have always had ambivalent feelings about such programs -- on
the one hand, there are some who for various reasons not necessarily but
possibly related to their blindness, don't have the ability to get or hold
down a "regular" job -- either because of lack of training, family and
community support, social skills, other unrelated disabilities, or whatever.
There has to be something available for them to either improve their skills
or at least make a modest living.
But that's the point: It should, wherever possible, be a stepping stone and
not a dead-end charity. There has to be some dignity in working there.

I guess the segregation bothers me -- like the thing about different
neighborhoods having different standards and ratings as far as skills and
But as I said, even though my circumstances made it possible and even
necessary for me to be mainstreamed when I was in school (I couldn't attend
a blind school because of my other disabilities), after I got to college I
did meet people who had gone to blind schools, and saw the advantages as
well as the disadvantages of going to one.
(I confess when I was a child I thought there was some kind of negative
"stigma" attached to going to a blind school -- but that obviously isn't the
case, I see now -- but I do still think that providing resource centers in
the community for blindness-related training, or else a special class in a
school, while having a blind student attend other classes with sighted kids
is the best solution. This is both for the blind student and the other
kids, who probably have misconceptions about blindness...)

Anyway, I think it is great to have some kind of work available for blind or
any other person with a physical disadvantage, but it has to be an
opportunity to train for something better, not just a place to put people so
they can do something productive but never grow. I think it is really sad
to hear even blind persons say "I can't do this because I'm blind", just
because he/she hasn't had a good opportunity to try it, or else someone else
has conditioned them to think that way. Also, it is also very judgmental to
condemn a blind person for not doing something without knowing their
background and talents. (That is true for anyone.) A more successful blind
person shouldn't place blame on another person for being unskilled.

I really have thought a lot more about rehab issues since leaving work. I
actually am glad for the disabling circumstances that made me leave my last
job as it gave me an opportunity to think life over without the constant
career pressure that I had placed on myself. I would like to get more
involved in blind groups and issues and training, especially in math and
computer science which were my majors in college.
Recently I have been amazed not only at the explosive advancement in
adaptive technology to handle all the changes in the workplace, but also the
large number of blind students going into technical fields. There were very
few when I was in school, although there were some Icons like Nemeth and
others to look up to and I corresponded with a blind math professor at a
university once, but I don't remember his name. Since leaving work and
getting on the various blind computer-related lists, I have also met and
corresponded with a fellow NFB member who may be known to some -- he is deaf
blind, and he is an older man who actually got BS and MS degrees in math and
computer science in the late 50s, 60s and early 70s and now owns a company that does automated Braille transcriptions of advanced math and
other technical textbooks, music, and other books, and also develops Braille
translation software.
In fact, if you are a Braille reader and would like to try the xml to
Braille translator he is writing, you can download it from his site:
It is only in alpha (just a prototype) but he would love feedback.
Oh, his name is John Boyer.
Anyway, sorry for the digression. It's just that having worked in industry
in a highly technical job for 12 years, it is really gratifying to see all
the up and coming blind students going into technical fields, and also the
many that have good jobs and are subscribed to ask blindness-related
programming questions.
Since I had partial sight up until recently, I also am enjoying the lists,
both so I can help others learning the stuff I am experienced, and also for
me to get up to date on new technology and adaptive software.

Anyway, take care, and I have to get on to my other mail!

Laura Eaves NFBtalk

**15. If products could be sold in the community then I don't see a problem.
And the first thing I would ask is the five dollars fifteen cents going to
be used?
This is the wage now.

Dmgena NFBtalk

**16. If the person is able to do the job, blind or not should have the job.

Tandy Madden NOBE-L list

**17. Well-meaning rehab specialists, in the name of choice, develop and
encourage segregated workshops for their clients who lack the skills
necessary for competitive employment. My fear is that, rather than the
exception, segregated workshops will become the norm. Job developers and
employers need not create new jobs for blind workers because there is
already employment at the segregated workshops.

Abby Vincent

**18. Let's replace the word Blind with the word Chinese, or Black, or Jewish.
While Mr. Patrick, as Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor for Job
Development, has an obligation to consider all proposals for employment for
blind people in his community, signing onto the establishment of a
segregated work shop for the blind would be a giant step backward.
Certainly there are blind people whose work and social skills are at a level
that they might never hold competitive employment, why are they not being
directed toward work in sheltered employment with other disabled people?
Most communities of any size already have such Centers for the disabled and
disadvantaged. Why has Mr. Patrick not developed relations with these
Further, the establishment of a segregated sheltered work shop for the blind
creates an attitude within the community. It becomes more expedient to
place clients in such jobs rather than strain resources trying to develop
competitive employment. Employers are more apt to point down the road to
the sheltered shop rather than feel an obligation to employ a blind person.
The segregated work shop becomes the community expert on what kinds of
jobs blind people can do, and how best to train them.
A quick glance at history reminds us of what happens when a particular
people are brought together for their common "protection". During World War
II, Japanese Americans(American Citizens) were put in "safe concentration
camps" for their safe keeping. While being "protected" their lands, homes
bank accounts and, most of all, their dignity and freedom were stolen from
My experience has been that most people eager to help create jobs for the
blind, are also interested in creating jobs for themselves. And guess who
winds up with the best jobs?

Carl Jarvis

**19. It is nearly impossible for me to respond objectively, even rationally to
this, but this scenario deserves something considered, thoughtful, perhaps

As I consider how much I, as well as many blind people, hate sheltered
workshops, with their incessant shut-downs, lay-offs, and patronizing
sighted supervisors, I am tempted to hope that the rehab counselor gets a restraining order for this workshop, and maybe the lions club as well.
However, I'm equally aware that many blind people love sheltered workshops,
with their security, safe or risk-free environment in which to work, earn a
livelihood, sometimes even the chance to obtain other help such as
transportation and health care. Friendship, meaningful days, purposeful
work all help make many people feel they indeed are making full
contributions to society.
If, to take it further, the blindness community subscribes to the self
determination concept so much in use for the developmentally disabled, it
should be everyone's right to get to the work they want in the way they
want - sheltered or not.

I live in a part of the world many Americans never see. Clothing
manufacturers, many designers names you all know, set up work settings for
Chinese and Micronesian or Filipino workers to sew the clothing that people
buy for its labels. The conditions under which the people work make
sheltered workshops look like a holiday.
Well, that justifies nothing, I know. In America we've been taught we have
the right to employment, or leisure, or standing in line for the dole, or
whatever. I am very afraid that the lions club president's sentiments will
win the day. Projecting the scene ahead several months, we can all see the
happy folks going to "work", met at the gates by their kindly overseers - or
And who am I to say it's wrong? I've worked in a sheltered workshop, many
years ago. I earned about 39 cents an hour and I really had fun.
But if changing what it means to be blind, or know blindness, or hang around
with blind people is any kind of an equally effective choice, I think we'd
all best cross our fingers we don't end up like so many countries. In those
places, blind people have no choice, and are grateful the government makes
certain kinds of work available. I've heard rehab counselors say things to
the effect that there was no purpose in looking for work when the workshop
was just down the street.
When the walls of the shelter become prison walls, it's usually too late for
the warnings to be heard.
Thank you for reading,


**20. Robert, that is certainly an interesting account. Unfortunately, it
demonstrates the attitudes that are still all too common. Thanks for
standing up for blind people with all you do.

Darrell Walla NFB National

**21. I think that the workshop can be good for those blind people who have very little skills, but these workshops should only be used as a stepping off
point for future more advanced employment. In the working-at-workshops stage, the ones doing these low-skilled jobs would gain some kind of idea as to
whether or not they would like to continue this kind of work or advance to something more challenging--being a lawyer, professor, computer programmer,
etc. Those who already have a college degree could also be employed to run the workshop--doing interviews and inventory of people's skills, and helping
those who want to advance get into college for further schooling and/or employment at the level clients desire.


I understand the significance of your point. It highlights the possibility
of employees with greater potential being dead-ended in a work situation that
is not competitive nor mainstreamed. Employees who have the ability to rise
to a competitive work position should definitely have the chance to pursue
those positions. However, I wonder about those of us with particular needs
and issues that would not allow them to pursue such work positions. Is
there a system that would require an outside, objective party to evaluate
the employee and the position (a QA for the placement and the employee?)?
Most companies would probably be less objective and, based on the principals
and standards of the rehab. and counseling, together with the constraints of
time and numbers of clients may not be the "objective" party. Are there any
client or employee counselors that could take on such a role?

I feel strongly that the sheltered work environment has a place in society
to meet the needs of a fair percentage of disabled. I also understand that
to limit the futures of the disabled because of a counselor's thoughts or
attitudes is omission, abuse and neglect. Those clients who can rise to a
work situation allowing them the opportunities and financial future of a
competitive or open position certainly should have that opportunity.

Everyone in this world should have the opportunity to be, as they say in the
Army, "Be all you can be"! How could or would a standard for review or
evaluation be established so that the potential of the disabled could be
evaluated and keep that client or employee moving up as their needs,
abilities or desires would indicate? Could this be placed in the federal or
state audits of programs and workshops?

Somehow, there should be opportunities for everyone to work and learn and
reach their potential.

I know, I KNOW!, I'll take my rose colored glasses off now! (smile).

Max ACB-L list

**23. As a sighted outsider looking at the newest Thought Provoker, I am torn
between two ideas:

1. The thought that so many minorities have such a fear of failure that
the referring group will avoid trying, though they wrap their denial in
pretty phrases - need more time to study the issue, must appoint a
subcommittee to make recommendations and referrals, will require more
research to determine qualifications needed, etc. When enough time passes
and someone else is hired, they will say they weren't given time enough to
make a thorough determination.

and 2. Will so many accommodations have to be made that our people will be
considered unemployable anyway? Will the companies try to get away with
paying our people less than they would pay other inexperienced workers doing
the same job? and worst of all - what if we send them our best people, and
they can't come up to snuff? Will they stereotype all blind people as
inferior in the workplace? What will that mean to future employability?

I'm sure there are heaps more questions and issues to address, but these two
came immediately to mind.

Carolyn RPlist
Clearwater, FL

**24. At the risk of list-Spam, but since this has come across my mailbox with my
morning coffee, I will add my $0.02 worth:
I think that the place for sheltered workshops in the life of any blind
person with a basis in mainstream reality is vanishingly small. I think
there are rare cases in which a workshop environment might be more of a
benefit to a certain type of individual, but I believe that individual
comprises a very small minority. Said individual would have to be so
physically or cognitively disabled that there would be, at this time in our
development, no feasible way of integrating them into mainstream society.
In this instance, there may be a place for such an infrastructure to support
and guide and safeguard a person, such as a sheltered shop does. However,
in this instance, I believe such shops would be best run by taking them OUT
of the hands of charities such as the Lion's Club and similar organizations.
I feel it is charity, rather than the sheltered shops themselves, that is
our greatest enemy. It leads to the perpetuation of the system which
results in large state agencies and other charitable organizations being
responsible for services and equipment which is far too expensive for even
those of us with "regular," "normal," jobs to afford. I believe that
EVERYONE has an honorable contribution to provide, and while some may need
more assistance than others, the goal should be to streamline that
assistance and, by constant use of Occum's Razor and creative thinking,
minimize it and make it as dignified as possible. Thus, while a certain
level of disability might necessitate more supervision, it does not mandate
that these persons or any other become the powerless recipients of endless
charity, with no chance of achieving the satisfaction and gaining the respect
that comes with honorable social inclusion. So, while there may be a need
for sheltered workshops and all their unfortunate side effects and pitfalls,
they should be run not by charitable organizations but by blind people
themselves, from the top down.

Everyone deserves to be given a chance to, through following a path of
Honor, gain the respect of their peers. This should be the primary
objective of any employment setting, most importantly that of a sheltered
workshop type environment. Once taken out of the hands of charities and put
back into the hands of those who can most closely understand the disabled
and what they need--the hands of the blind themselves whose secondary
disabilities are either nonexistent or insignificant--one level of
"shelter," is removed, and what is left is honorable contribution rather
than just work.

Mark Baxter blindlaw mailing list

**25. Mark, I couldn't agree more. You have brought up some very interesting and
powerful points on this matter. Why shouldn't the Blind be able to run
these sheltered workshops, since they were supposed to be designed and
operated with the blind in mind. We are more than capable of understanding
how to cope with our own disabilities than that of those who have never even
experienced this themselves. I think it's high time someone else besides
myself has finally caught on. This means their is still hope after all. We
are all only as handicapped as the mind will allow us to be.

Michael Evers, MPA BlindLaw mailing list

**26. I was drafting my email when this thoughtful message came across my
desk. I could not agree more. I am a big proponent of mainstreaming,
and sheltered workshops are anti-thetical to this notion. As a blind
professional, I view sheltered workshops as, essentially, the problem
itself. Granted, people all have different abilities, and some require
more aggressive accommodations, but most disabled individuals, given
reasonable accommodations, can work in a sighted environment. Thus, the
sheltered workshops should be reserved for those with severe
multi-disabilities. I believe that the goal should be inclusion in
society, and not segregation of society. There are certainly opponents,
driven by their fears and ignorance, of a fully inclusive society, but
we further this fear and ignorance by finding ways to segregate

I would, however, argue that by insisting that sheltered workshops
be completely run by the blind from the top down, we partake in what the
sighted community does- stick to their own kind. I also believe that
people can comprehend what it is a blind person may need, and that by
saying that only the blind know the blind, we are saying that, in fact,
we are seriously different from our sighted counterparts. We can't say
on the one hand that we are very similar and should be accepted into the
sighted community, and on the other hand say, you can't possibly
understand what it is like to be blind. I think this hurts our cause.
The argument is, we are not freaks from outer space, we only have a
visual disability. So then to say that no sighted person can possibly
comprehend what we go through, is like saying that they won't know or
understand us, and we are so different from you that you are right to
exclude us from your society. I realize that this likely runs in the
face of what many in the NFB community posit, but I hope that we one day
accept both sides of the argument, and open our doors, so they can open

Peter Callahan

**27. Peter:
This is a really good point. Thank you for giving me an opportunity to
clarify my thinking on this.

You're right; self-imposed segregation is no more the answer for the blind
than it would be for another race. It first occurs to me to refine this
point by saying that only those of the sighted who have an accurate empathy
with blind persons should be involved in the decision-making and
administration of the shop. What I'm describing is starting to sound like a
more communal arrangement than a "work" arrangement, and perhaps the more
fundamental flaw in the ointment lies in the work ethic itself as applied to
anyone other than the dominant social group, but I don't think that any of
us is willing to go there. However, I firmly believe that only those who
empathize with, and not those who pity them, should be involved. It's
pity/charity I’m railing against here. :)

Mark Baxter BlindLaw mailing list

**28. Wow! I have read every response and they are interesting. I have always had
mixed feelings about sheltered workshops. They definitely are good for those
who don't have--and clearly will never have--the necessary skills for
mainstream employment. I like the idea of them being a stepping stone for
others who can be trained for more advanced employment. I myself attended a
clerical training program in a facility whose main function seemed to be
these type of workshops. My program had clients who had psychiatric
disabilities. Many of the workshop folks had developmental disabilities; one
girl was blind. Luckily, this program also offered services for those who
were able to go out into competitive employment after a period of "work
adjustment training".

Anyway, if one needs to be placed in a workshop, they definitely should be
treated with the dignity they deserve, no matter how lacking their
competitive skills may be.

Christine NFB humanser mailing list

**29. I have been reading through several responses regarding the sheltered
workshops. As a Resource Teacher who has been part of transitioning several
students with learning disabilities and mental disabilities into the world
of work, I feel that I can speak to the issue of these workshops. In almost
every situation, I find the workshop idea very disconcerting. First of all,
with sighted individuals, the workshops are only used for people who cannot
take care of themselves. Without these workshops, group homes, etc, these
individuals might hurt someone else or themselves. This group is very

Secondly, with the help of proper transition most students who have mental
disabilities find meaningful employment outside of the workshop situation.
Therefore, someone who is blind should only attend a workshop situation if
there is some mental disability that causes severe problems for the

3. The key is education. Our training center at the Commission for the
Blind in Lincoln, NE trains blind individuals who have a variety of
abilities. Most of these adults find meaningful employment, and not in the
sheltered workshop situation. For the past 20 years or so, we have been
warned by experts in education that we need to get off of the manufacturing
mentality and move towards education that leads all students opportunities
for thinking. We can no longer spoon feed or teach activities in a
classroom setting and expect students to internalize these ideas as adults.
Schools must adopt Structure Discovery methods of teaching. As a teacher in
my 25th year, I unfortunately see too much memorization and meaningless
activities in our classrooms. If we raise our expectations, and make the
necessary changes that researchers in education suggest, we can prepare all
students for meaningful employment (probably not in workshops). Many public
schools won't even consider hiring blind individuals to teach the blind
because they have all of the answers. Most schools set their schedule
around the sports calendar. There is not time for adequate planning with
other professionals. The list goes on. Until we change the system. Our
children will always be left behind, including many blind kids. That is why
the NFB is so important. We are blind people who know what is best for us,
and we are willing to look at what needs to be done. As a teacher, I know
that much of what is done in training centers with an NFB philosophy can be
used in settings with other individuals. We believe in each person and
expose them to what they need to know in the world. Then it is up to them
to decide what they want to make of their lives.

Darrell Walla NFB National Organization of Blind educators list

**30. that's what I've been saying as well, but it seems as though too many
blind people put limits on themselves. I have an acquaintance who is 58
years old. She had several jobs as a customer service representative and
both jobs she made more money than she ever made in her life. It was after
she lost her last job, she had to go back to the sheltered workshop and she
believes that because they have to pay blind employees at least minimum
wage, that this is as good as it gets and people shouldn't try asking for
much more than that, because she is afraid that the director of the
sheltered workshop and the Lions Clubs of which we are both members will
think of us as "ungrateful" and we will have ruined a good thing.
Now I agree that things at our plant are much better than they were 5 or
10 years ago. People where we work use to make $4.25 per hour and they
would have been lucky to make $5.00 per hour. When I started working there
a year ago, I started out at $6.00 an hour, buy march, I got a raise to
$6.50 an hour. Then in June I got a raise to $7.00 an hour. In August I
was moved to a brand new department working on a Sonic Hole Punching Machine
and our department as a result of our current quotas in production, receive
one of the highest incentive pays amounting to around $200 per month extra.
So I agree with this person when she did say that it has gotten a lot
better. The problem I have, is that I still must rely on Social Security to
help make ends meet and if I lose it because I make too much money, I will
be in danger of losing my Medicaid Health coverage. So we have to take time
off almost every month so we won't go over what social Security says we are
allowed to make. I really don't think that's right and I for one want to
contribute my energy and efforts in to changing that. IN Florida, a blind
or disabled person working for any department or agency in the Florida State
government can obtain a waiver until they make enough money to sustain
themselves. Right now I cannot afford Health Insurance.
Our boss had told all of the blind employees, that his goal is to get us
Health Coverage at a "reasonable price," but the problem, is that these
shops with a high turn-over ratio of blind employees have other health
problems, such as Diabetes, Heart Disease, other health problems due to
employees with multiple disabilities, and blind employees with chronic
health problems. These companies our boss had looked in too had told him,
if people have to go to the doctor more often than once or twice a month,
that everyone's premiums will go up, which means we pay more for health
coverage. For those of us who might not be eligible for Medicare or
Medicaid, we would be screwed. so we are back where we started. This is
one of the main reasons I believe the blind working in many of these shops
will be forced to remain dependent on Social Security and Medicare or
The one thing I cannot figure out, is how the shop in Winston Salem was
able to get health coverage for their blind employees? Some friends of mine
who work their had said there premium is higher than what I may have if I
decided to work in Winston Salem, but that's assuming I never contract
diabetes or chronic heart disease in the future. By the way I am going to
do everything in my power not to let that happen. We really need to reform
the health care system in this country. I know it is largely this way for
many sighted people as well. I just don't know how the people who made the
health care system can sleep at night for allowing this to get out of hand
the way it has. the sad fact, is I believe that many health insurance
providers don't want to take any risks on blind people in general.
So does this mean we the blind and visually impaired shouldn't "rock the
boat" and try to fight for equal rights in this country. when I asked this
person this question, she acted as though I was nothing more than a
"trouble-maker." What would you suggest I say to this person or someone
else who believes the same way she does on this issue? she tried to say all
I do is complain and do nothing, but I think all she does is complain and
think of reasons why we shouldn't fight for equality. I think like you do,
the blind should not have this mentality of "the world owes me something,"
but at the same time, we don't need to allow ourselves to be doormats
either. I'm willing to work hard, better myself and stay focused on the
prize. Other blind people like ourselves have done it before and one day if
I have anything to do with it, I can honestly say many more will long after
we are gone.

Michael Evers, MPA
Email/MSN Messenger:

**31. Over the years, I have found a need to change the way I feel
about these employment "opportunities." Our problem has always been that
many shops, run by non-profit organizations, exploit their employees by
calling years of work "training" and manipulating their systems so that
those employees can not earn a minimum wage.
Now, everyone ready for fishing? I'm opening the perverbial can. First,
believe strongly that everyone should earn a minimum wage. Second, I know
there are those who will not, for many reasons, produce a product which
support such a wage, due to disabilities, lack of training, lack of
motivation, or inability. I work in a town which has what I believe (I
haven't had the time to spend time in either of them" two separate shops.
One pays minimum wage, and piece work in addition to it; one pays only
piecework. Hence, in short form, my re-examination of whether sheltered
shops are enherently bad, since folks in the minimum wage shop earn as
as twelve per hour, and the other shop takes folks who, had there not been
sheltered shop, would not work.

All right. Enough background. Now, we believe, as a group that blind
people should get minimum wage. If we are blind, and have no other
disabilities, we can earn it, and in many cases, do. If, however, we are
blind and have developmental disabilities, e.g. mrdd, mdsi, adhd, cvi, (1) should we expect to earn at least minimum wage; (2) should we
expect our organization to fight for such wages, and (3) how should we be

I give these questions to you for thought. Some of you know me. Was Dick
Edlund who fought for minimum wages for blind people in the seventies and
eighties (If you haven't read Dick's articles, you should, and if you
haven't met him, right? How do most blind people fit into the
multi disabled community?

Thanks folks. I'm most interested in your responses. We are an human
rights organization. Now working in the school (k12) system, I see more
children who are less like me, when I was young, and large reptiles roamed
world. Anyone with a paper on this area?

Dave NFB Human Service Workers list

**32. I very much agree with you. There are those with multiple disabilities who
cannot (for whatever reason) accomplish tasks in most employment settings.
However they deserve opportunities and these shops give them a feeling of
accomplishment and reinforce their dignity. We must remember that we do not
all function at the same level.

Judyth A. Leavitt, MSW NFB Human Service Workers list

**33. Workshops for the blind is an "interesting
concept", I guess. The real question in my mind
would be if it is REAL work with REAL pay? As
opposed to some of those "busywork" type
sheltered workshops you hear about for
developmentally challenged people that pay a
token few dollars.

Just a bit of musing here...


**34. I am relatively confused on the specifics of a "sheltered workshop." Having said this, I take the viewpoint of those who say
that sheltered workshops are okay. We are all different in terms of our abilities. However, I do have a question. If one were to work in a sheltered workshop,
would he/she still be eligible to receive VR services? I've been told by a few anonymous people that the nonprofit organization at which I worked was a
sheltered workshop. I was never given a definite answer though. This organization was disability-related. The mission was to increase awareness of people
with various disabilities. This was done by matching a disabled person with a non-disabled person, usually a college student or higher. These people were
paired up to go out in the community and hang out together for various activities. We had several chapters, mainly on college campuses but two were more
centered in the community. The organization had various fundraisers as well. I was a receptionist for a while in the national office, which was conveniently
located just a few minutes by cab from my parents' house. For a time I worked on my own, with tactile adaptations being made to the phone at the front
desk. I also used Window-Eyes a little bit, and then JAWS. During most of that time I was supported by the VR agency. However, some structural changes
were made which included a more fast-paced receptionist position. These changes led to me being given a volunteer position again. A high-school student
with a physical disability, who had been a participant in the organization for a short time, was assigned to dictate things for me to type. I was not supported
by my state VR agency at that time, which made it rather hard for me to obtain transportation to and from work. Fortunately, my co-workers and my mother
were very aware of this problem and helped out whenever possible. But I guess I find the notion of a VR client being required to have a paying job in order
to receive services somewhat disturbing. If this is the case in every state, I should think that changes would be necessary in order to ensure adequate
opportunities for everyone. This is why I get so peeved whenever anyone confronts me with the subject of vocational rehabilitation! It would be so nice
if these overbearing and mostly incompetent VR agencies would just back down and let us find our own way. Or is that just a futuristic dream? Take care.

Jake Joehl, Evanston, Illinois