The Government of Ontario has wisely decided to close all “sheltered workshops,” effective January 2019. This decision reflects 21st century thinking about disability, human rights and workplace dignity. Unfortunately, this legislation is now under attack by regressive forces in our province.
Under the sheltered workshop model, workers with intellectual or other disabilities were placed in factories and other workplaces to do jobs for pennies on the dollar. To add insult to injury, the low wages were often accompanied by the myth that it was “training” for future employment at a living wage. But, as it turned out, sheltered workers weren’t being trained. They were trapped.
We understand that some corporations or parents may not agree with the statement that sheltered workshops were unfair to workers. But the Government of Ontario does. As Ministry of Community and Social Services spokesman Daniel Schultz writes:
“There is simply no justification in the 21st century to segregate any group of people and pay them less than minimum wage for the work they have done.”
Following the Ministry of Community and Social Services’ decision to close sheltered workshops, Ontario Bill 148 guaranteed that the term training cannot be used by companies as an excuse for unpaid labour. Provincial policymakers heard the personal stories of workers – stories we are also familiar with. They knew that when someone is working without wages for months or years on end, they’re not “training”: they’re being exploited. So the Province took action.
Today, both the sheltered workshop ban and Bill 148 are being protested by corporations and parent groups who oppose equity and fairness in the workplace. To them we say unequivocally: sheltered workshops should remain shut down. We will not go back in our province. Parents, we urge you to find your way forward instead.
We also encourage the Government of Ontario to stand strong. Know that disability rights activists and self-advocates stand with you. Continue to reach out to us as you shape the policies that affect our lives. Don’t waver in your commitment to fairness in the workplace. And be wary of people who claim to be their child’s voice. Remember that everyone has a voice.
Nothing about us without us.
Autistics for Autistics Ontario
Canadian Autistics United
Community Living Ontario
London Autistics Standing Together (L.A.S.T.)
Talia C. Johnson
Kristin C. Jones
Mark Wafer, MSC OMC
Jigme Datse Yli-Rasku
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