By Dan Rankin
Earlier this year, a Toronto Star investigation into provincially-funded workshops for people with intellectual disabilities revealed that many attending the workshops spent decades “in segregation,” doing “menial tasks for pennies a day.” As a result, authorities at the Ministry of Community and Social Services have promised the province will gradually replace all provincially-funded workshops with agencies that find jobs, volunteer work and other activities for those individuals within their communities.
That means changes are coming to Dashwood’s Adult Resource Centre (ARC), located at 146 Main Street in Dashwood on the same site as Community Living South Huron, where over 60 individuals from around South Huron, North Lambton and North Middlesex spend as much as 40 hours a week.
While the ARC program is phased out, possibly by 2020 although there is no hard deadline, no new people will be admitted to the centre. “We don’t know exactly where things stand, but we’re not looking at any immediate closure of the building,” said Community Living South Huron Executive Director Bruce Shaw. “It’s really the death of 1,000 cuts, so to speak.”
Shaw described the work that takes place in the ARC Program, for which participants are paid $1 or $2 per day. “Some people work in the wood shop and make pallets, crates, stakes, things like that,” he said. “Others work on contracts and do a variety of jobs, like making beehives, baking, or stuffing envelopes. We also do a lot of educational things; skill development, art and music therapy; we’ll take them bowling or swimming. There are probably 90 things we do for the community and that the community does for us.”
A similar facility used to be located in St. Marys, said Marg McLean, Executive Director of Community Living St. Marys and Area for the past 12 years.
“The last person left the workshop in 1995,” said McLean of the former St. Marys facility. “That was after lots of planning for each person and finding opportunities with people to either work in part-time or full-time positions, or volunteer work – places where people could contribute in the community.”
According to McLean, and as has been shown in St. Marys, “there are many alternatives to sheltered workshops.”
She attributed the transition that took place in St. Marys to the work of the group People First.
“There was a push from people with disabilities themselves to find real jobs in the community,” she said. “That’s what got the wheels going, in terms of meeting and talking with each person who was participating at the workshop. Each person had their own ideas, dreams and goals for what they wanted to do, and it was really a matter of planning and helping people explore alternatives that would be more lined up with what they wanted.”
Her feelings about no longer admitting new people to the workshops are in line with those of authorities inside the Ministry of Community and Social Services, as well as Community Living Ontario. They believe the sheltered workshops are no longer viable or relevant.
The transition is “really something we believe is good,” McLean said.
But not everyone is as excited about phasing out the workshop programs.
St. Marys resident Nicole Zandstra was a support worker at Community Living Guelph for 18 years.
“I think it’s a catastrophe for people with disabilities not to have this service anymore,” Zandstra said. “Some people definitely can work in the community, and they are, but there are definitely people with more severe disabilities that can not work in the community, or need a lot of support.”
She called ARC programs community-based, safe places, “for them to be themselves.”
Zandstra also described how her cousin Whitney developed more independence in her life and made more friends after she began attending ARC in Guelph. “She also has a job at Guelph Police Services, where she works half-a-day everyday, but then the half-day she’s not at Guelph Police Services, she goes to ARC where she sees her friends, socializes and enjoys her day,” Zandstra said.