Yesterday I was listening to a press release by ARC of Illinois applauding the decision made in Massachusetts that day training centers in that state will close down.  Their release used the words “sheltered workshops” as the term is more polarizing, but the effect is the same; vocational training services for those with cognitive disabilities is scheduled to end in that state.

As many of you know I work in one of these settings, though not in Massachusetts.  I will be the first to say that any effort to get individuals who want to have community employment and benefit from it is to be applauded.  Where I work I have, with my colleagues, labored tirelessly to get as many individuals out of the door of our day training center as possible.   For too long public policy and the labor market gave little worth to those who have intellectual disabilities.  Advocacy groups such as ARC rightfully challenged this and we are finally seeing the fruit of this labor.  Much of that is a good thing.

But there is a problem here.  Systematic approaches to anything will always ignore the individual and vilify any approach, even the good ones, that does not mesh with its “philosophy.”  In the case of day training centers as well as residential facilities (I mention residential facilities as they are being attacked as well), advocates saw the terrible warehousing of individuals and challenged the justice of the matter.  They were and are right to do so.

Unfortunately in doing this they ignore the wishes of families and individuals who call for what is known as a continuum of care that argues that there is no such thing as a single approach as to how to better the lives of those with cognitive disabilities.   It is not entirely their fault.  There are places that do not take seriously the righteous call of dignity that need to be shut down.  I have seen a few of these and they are not pretty.  These are the same places that advocates have seen and have given them their battle cry.

However….seeing a particular place is not the same as seeing the whole picture and making a policy that attaches the horrendousness of certain work centers and residential facilities, especially those of the past, to all such places is wrong headed and even prejudicial as it assumes policy makers, governments, think tanks, and angry advocates know what is better for an individual than that person or their family does.

This is advocacy done with blinders on.  It chastises all approaches that is not part of its vision including the place I work.  It is unfortunate in that this does little to benefit those being served.  Rather it sets up the classic us vs. them mentality where the good we do is ignored and their words loose value to us in the face of being attacked.

Much better would be an approach where all places of residence and work for those with disabilities would be perpetually challenged by advocates to always improve their services and see to a society where these facilities, regardless of size or the services they offer, are part of a community rather than perpetuating a myth that certain residential and work facilities for those with disabilities can never be part of the community.

If this were the case than those of us who work in those facilities attacked by the likes of ARC would listen to the forceful and righteous words of advocates that would not be a means of attack, but the method by which we are challenged to always improve so that we can remain a viable and even the best option for those individuals and families that desire our services.