"Seeing" things a little differently
As I look around the spacious area that surrounds my desk at work I see men and women stacking wood, sanding, drilling, building and cleaning. it is one big building that has a wide open area with no walls. The different areas are divided by desks or shelves filled with wood components.
In each area I see people busy doing their tasks and following instructions given to them by their supervisors. I can hear the constant hum of electric sanders, drills and machines cutting wood to the different sizes and shapes needed. I hear the different voices of the instructors giving orders or explaining to the employees what they should be doing.
We have thirteen staff and eighty five consumers at our facility daily to work, learn and build social relationships. You see…..I work at a sheltered workshop for intellectually challenged adults. We provide vocational training, jobs, learning opportunities, social skills and behavioral management. The consumers we support come from all walks of life, from the very wealthy to the poorest of the poor. Some live in government group homes scattered throughout our community and some live with their families.
All of our consumers are diagnosed with some form of mental retardation, mental illness, autism, Down’s syndrome or Cerebral palsy just to mention a few. Each person has their own individual barriers that we work on daily to assist them to overcome or support. Our goal is to give the supports needed so each individual can live as independently as they are able to.
I have worked here for almost eleven years and I have learned more than I have taught to these fine people. I have been an instructor– working directly with them, Program Specialist – creating yearly plans, meeting with care providers and psychologists facilitating meetings, overcoming issues. Program support – working with the staff and assisting with the daily routine of the program.
Our government is considering closing all of the sheltered workshops, the goal is to have everyone out in the community working making full wages. The lack of governmental funds is to the minimum and these types of programs are scheduled to be closed by the year 2015.
Where will this leave the people who need these types of supports? Most of them cannot work in the community because of behavioral or medical issues, what will happen? They will not have places to go to learn independent living skills, instead they will be roaming the streets, watching TV, crimes will rise, jails will be fuller. Families will have to furnish their own supervision, but what happens to the ones with no families? Churches will have to step up and provide for individuals like they did before the government stepped in.
I have grown to love everyone here and I have seen some wonderful strides being made for people who want to live independently and work but just need more supports than the average employee. I have also seen the down side, I’ve seen people using the system and behavioral issues not being managed correctly. The pay scale for staff to care for these people is embarrassing and there is not enough good professionals that will work for less.
It is a difficult topic with no clear answers. Will our staff have jobs in two years? Will we all really be created equal with equal opportunities?