Note: On Feb. 28, 2017, the Ashtabula County Board of Commissioners presented a proclamation declaring March as Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month. The proclamation calls upon citizens to get to know the story of people with developmental disabilities. The Wave recently did that, by visiting the Ash/Craft sheltered workshop in Kingsville Township, where Linda Perry is program manager and Jim Hornbeck is production manager …
Look at that smile. When was the last time you saw a co-worker smile like that?
The man with the grin is Michael Sabados of Conneaut. He is one of 200 adults who work in the Ash/Craft Industries workshop, greenhouse or community-based employment programs in Ashtabula County.
The services are delivered through the Ashtabula County Board of Developmental Disabilities. The legislation that created these county boards dates back to 1967, but in Ashtabula County services to children with developmental disabilities go back to the mid-1950s. Parents of these children, wanting to provide a school for this population and founded Happy Hearts, which also operates under the board’s authority.
Taxpayers of Ashtabula County provide these services through levies, along with federal funding. “We get very little in way of state funding,” Perry says of the adult programs.
Some of the workers come to Ash/Craft on buses that travel tens of thousands of miles every year across the largest county in Ohio. Some have family members who transport them.
There is enthusiasm in their steps when get off the bus and head to their work benches or greenhouse tables.
“(The job) means to me that it is excellent,” says Tim Starkey of Ashtabula. “I love this job. I love my boss, and the people who work here. I love everyone who is around here.”
Tim’s job is to assemble drain plugs that go into an oil pan manufactured by Premix. He earns a paycheck for his work, and uses some of the money to assist his elderly parents, who he lives with.
“I help my mom and dad buy groceries,” he says. “I spend my own money to get some games and movies I watch on the TV in my room.”
Getting a paycheck brings joy to the workers, says Hornbeck, who procures the workshop’s jobs from area manufacturers.
“He is not going to get a large check, but he’s very proud of that check because he earned it himself,” Hornbeck says.
There are 11 work groups in the workshop, and the tasks run from very basic assembly, such as putting a rectangle of cotton in a jewelry box that will be shipped to China for filling, to assembling the housing for air conditioners. The higher skilled jobs are paid at minimum wage. A time study is done very every job.
Workers have the freedom to perform tasks in the manner most suited to them. For example, one of the jobs involves putting bolts into a bracket. Hornbeck offered the worker a power drill, but the worker would not use it. She wants to do the assembly with a ratchet drive.
At another work station, Brian and Theresa sit across from each other and put tiny seals in hot-water tank valve assemblies. Brian uses a pair of needle nose pliers, but Theresa insists upon using her bare fingers.
Likewise, if an employee does not like the assignment or gets tired of working halfway through the shift, they are not forced to continue. They may sit out the shift watching others work or resting in the cafeteria.
On the other hand, some workers are so engrossed in their tasks, they work through their breaks. “We do have to make them take a lunch,” Hornbeck says.
One of the goals of the sheltered shop is to develop the employees’ soft skills so they can move out of the workshop environment and into community workplaces. This is a trend in the developmental disabilities field that was established March 19, 2012, with a governor’s executive order. It established the Employment First Policy and Taskforce to Expand Community Employment Opportunities for Working-Age Ohioans with Developmental Disabilities. It’s also known as “Employment First.”
The policy initiative states that community employment shall be a priority and the preferred outcome for working-age Ohioans with disabilities. CMS rules, published in 2014, requires conflict-free case management and community-based service settings.
One of the forces driving this trend is a legal case, Olmstead vs. L.C. & E.W., which was heard by the Supreme Court. In 1999 the high court ruled that, under the Americans with Disabilities Act, people with disabilities have a legal right to be served in the most integrated setting. Further, unnecessary isolation and institutionalization is discrimination.
“Confinement in an institution severely diminishes the everyday life activities of individuals, including family relations, social contacts, work options, economic independence, education advancement and cultural enrichment,” stated the court.
So what does this mean for Ash/Craft? Hornbeck says the staff that works with clients in the workshop are paid by the board, but county boards in Ohio no longer will be allowed to fund those positions after March 2024. The CMS states that county boards are in conflict when they administer and provide services, and county board must phase out of these projects by 2024.
Ash/Craft Industries has its own non-profit status and is the employer of the workers in the shop. Thus, the salaries of those who provide the services under the DoDD Board could be shifted to Ash/Craft. Hornbeck feels that there are clients in the workshop who simply will not thrive in a community setting. Further, some families and caretakers don’t want their loved one working in a community setting, where there is more likely to be stereotyping, ridicule and the threat of being fired.
“One way or another we want to ensure that these individuals have these services,” Hornbeck says.
Ash/Craft has already eliminated one sheltered work group by moving it into community employment. As the mandate deadline approaches, more of these groups will be phased out and community employment expanded.
Other counties are finding solutions in privatized efforts, and there are several of those options available in Ashtabula County.
Meanwhile, in the Ash/Craft greenhouse, geranium arrive on a cold, rainy day, and the workers shuttle them quickly from semi-trailer to the translucent womb. For the next three months, the workers and their supervisors will dote over the transplanted foliage, coaxing the blooms that will embellish sidewalks and porches and town squares of Ashtabula County and beyond. It is gratifying work, honest labor and a paycheck – with a smile.
“There is nobody here who does not want to be here,” Hornbeck says as he watches the activity.