1970 - 1985

The Heyday of Sheltered Workshops

Workshops were considered the ideal mechanism for the employment of individuals with developmental and other disabilities until the middle of the 1980s. It had not yet become apparent that these facilities weren’t successfully transitioning participants into competitive employment. Workshops were perceived by families and many workshop staff as providing more safety than the open labor market, with built in transportation and job security. They performed a custodial function, providing activities in down times.

Bettye Dunham, who later became CEO of the rehabilitation agency Rauch, Inc., was employed by the agency Developmental Services Inc. in the 1970s to set up the Jennings Training Center. “Staff went out and found and solicited different work from companies to bring in, so that individuals could be paid to do the work in an environment that provided a lot of supports.” Bettye interviewed 300-400 residents of nearby Muscatatuck State Hospital and Training Center, “so we could choose who might be the best fit to come into the workshop.” “One of the things that impressed me,” she recalls, “was that by and large most of the individuals really had a sense of work ethic. That they wanted to not only work to support, to contribute to, their own well-being, but because it was fun and it gave them something meaningful in their life.” Many of these residents likely had (unpaid) jobs at the institution before such employment became illegal. Bettye noted “the frustration that [work] was not something that they were currently able to do.”

"Nobody never asked me what I wanted to do -- if I wanted to go to the workshop, or if I wanted a job.”

Nobody Asked Me - Darcus Nims on Self-Advocacy
Darcus Nims

Darcus Nims founded Self-Advocates of Indiana, the statewide group of advocates with intellectual/developmental disabilities. She attended high school in Indianapolis in the 1970s. “My sister was working in the laundromat and I used to come down there and watch her.” “I asked my teacher, ‘Couldn't I get a job like that?’, because she swept the floors and cleaned out the dryers.” In a 2006 interview, Darcus said her teacher’s response was no, that her “kind of people” couldn’t do that. “It kept on going over and over and over in my mind, you know, that other people was better than I was and couldn't I get a job?” When she turned 18, the principal told her she couldn’t go to school anymore. Two days later she got a letter saying she was to go to Goodwill Industries, the first of three sheltered workshops. She was transferred from there to Crossroads Industrial Services, and then Noble Industries. “And none of the times, nobody never asked me what I wanted to do -- if I wanted to go to the workshop, or if I wanted a job, or what I wanted.”