NCSA Position Statement

Vocational Options

The NCSA supports implementation of a full range of vocational settings reflecting the diverse needs, competencies, and preferences of this population.

The idea that everyone with autism can achieve competitive, minimum-wage employment given the proper training and supports is pervasive in the disability community, and has resulted in the defunding and closure of alternative forms of employment and more structured settings, such as sheltered workshops and specialized day programs. 

Although the chief objection to sheltered workshops is financial exploitation, wage-earning is not the primary purpose of many of these ventures. Importantly, workshop compensation typically represents just a small fraction of the benefits conferred on the disabled individual: the full support package may include Social Security Income (which can be reduced as wage increase), Medicaid-funded supports, in-home assistance, residential care, behavioral support, respite, recreation, and other therapeutic services. This does not even include the money paid to workshops for providing training and supervision in safe, structured environments – necessary structural fees that often dwarf the compensation paid directly to participants. 

Data from states that have closed their sheltered workshops do not necessarily demonstrate a correlated increase in competitive, minimum-wage employment. In Maine, two-thirds of former workshop participants are now unemployed. Those adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities that do have jobs work only an average of twelve hours a week, which is the lowest average in the country (https://docplayer.net/33593240-Transitions-a-case-study-of-the-conversion-from-sheltered-workshops-to-integrated-employment-in-maine.html). In Washington state, more than 80% of those with severe cognitive impairments remain unemployed (http://www.chcs.org/media/IDD_Service_Delivery_Systems_082812.pdf). Even Vermont – whose push for inclusive employment has been celebrated as a tremendous success – reports fewer adults with I/DD in supported employment since closing its sheltered workshops in 2002 (http://cfi.ucp.org/state-scorecards/). In short, when sheltered workshops close, participants often end up idle at home, not in competitive, minimum-wage jobs.

Of course, no one should be forced into a sheltered workshop, either. NCSA strongly supports a full range of vocational services to allow autistic adults to pursue competitive, minimum-wage employment. But any coherent vocational policy must acknowledge those whose severe cognitive and behavioral impairments preclude their participation in these settings. This requires accepting diverse definitions of “work.” When critics dismiss workshops as “not real work” and offer day programs as alternatives to severely impaired individuals, they completely disregard the meaning many participants find in their jobs. 

As with residential services, the NCSA emphasizes the importance of choice in vocational settings. This includes preserving the critical option of non-competitive employment.

Adopted by NCSA Board of Directors December 10, 2018

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