Please note that all complaints or allegations of abuse and neglect in sheltered workshops should be hotlined to the Division of Senior and Disability Services. The hotline number is 800-392-0210.
Sheltered workshops came into being approximately thirty years ago with the passage of Senate Bill 52 in 1965. Frank Ackerman, a parent with a child in the state school at Sedalia, became concerned with what the future held for his child after he finished school. Mr. Ackerman began a campaign to establish a vocational program in Missouri. His campaign resulted in the passage of Senate Bill 52. Sedalia established the first state authorized sheltered workshop that same year, and many other communities followed.
Today, there are 92 sheltered workshop (non-profit) corporations operating throughout the state. Employment of disabled workers now exceeds 7,500 people. The state provides about 15% of the funding for workshops. The biggest portion of funding comes from subcontract work performed for local companies and industry.
Local boards of directors manage the day-to-day operations of the sheltered workshops, while the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education oversees the program statewide. The Department's Sheltered Workshop Section certifies, regulates, and monitors workshop activities.
The staff of the Sheltered Workshop Section consists of one data specialist, three technical field supervisors, and the director. One supervisor covers the eastern part of Missouri, one the southern part of Missouri, and another the northwest part of the state. Their duties are to advise, counsel, evaluate, and analyze the financial and administrative operations of the workshop corporations.
A sheltered workshop operates much like any other light assembly or service shop, except that the employees are adults whose physical or mental disabilities currently prevent them from competing for regular employment. Employees are paid on a piece-rate basis according to their ability to produce, compared with non-disabled workers who would be paid the prevailing wage for the job. Although most workshop employees earn less than the minimum wage, the workshop provides them a place to perform meaningful work and lead productive lives.
To operate effectively and compete with ordinary businesses, sheltered workshops need additional supervisors to provide additional attention and support for workers with disabilities. The state funds help offset these costs in an amount equal to $13 per six-hour day worked by each employee with a disability.
Sheltered workshops perform a variety of services for other businesses on a contractual basis. Examples of jobs performed in sheltered workshops are: sorting; collating; labeling; salvage; inspection; folding; mailing; sewing; subassembly; heat sealing; arbor press work; hand packaging; shrink, film, and blister packaging; electrical subassemblies; metal punch press operations; painting; manufacture of pallets, fishing lures, wooden craft items, etc. Workshop customers include nationally known companies as well as local companies.
Each corporation furnishes this Section with certificate renewal applications and a certified financial audit each year. The field supervisors analyze the audited financial statements, and then send a completed report of this analysis to the manager and board president.
The sheltered workshop program has grown tremendously over the past forty years, but there is still much to be done. The future is very promising with new developments and more emphasis on transitioning and being a part of the vocational spectrum that is available to persons with disabilities. We would like to see entry into the workshops become easier and available to people with more severe disabilities, and better coordination between state and public schools and day activity centers in making those transitions possible. We would also like to see those employees who are able and willing move on into competitive employment, with each shop developing or coordinating supported and/or transitional employment programs. We are currently reviewing the statutes and regulations to see what can be done to update and bring them into line with current thinking. We would also like to see the integration of non-disabled workers into the workshops as workshops continue to mature and secure more complex and technical contracts.
There is a lot of promise for workshops as their scope is increased, and purposes are broadened; to serve more people with disabilities, and to provide new opportunities for those that are currently being served.