Independence for disabled workers: MN agency head touts new initiative


A Star Tribune expose in 2015 detailed how the prevailing DHS program on the time was critically flawed, boxing disabled individuals into demeaning jobs for lower than minimal wage by means of the controversial “sheltered workshop” mannequin many different states had already carried out away with.

Brainerd is the tip of the spear for the company’s reform to get extra individualized work for disabled individuals inside the group slightly than being segregated. Three previous-mannequin amenities have been closed in Brainerd and Baxter, and one is opening in accordance with the brand new VOICE initiative, or Vocational Alternatives and Individualized Group Employment.

VOICE started Dec. 5 and is one among 17 native packages statewide that DHS is utilizing to maneuver towards disabled integration with the group by way of vocational work.

VOICE is a mannequin to be replicated, Piper stated.

“It actually must be an inspiration for the remainder of Minnesota, notably larger Minnesota, the place we have got a number of people who’re working in sub-minimal wage jobs and who perhaps might, if that they had the chance to have supportive employment providers, to go and work in an built-in setting, ” Piper stated.

Piper made the remarks after touring GreenForest Recycling Assets, a paper- and plastic-wrapping recycling facility within the Brainerd Industrial Middle. Proprietor Jeff Grunenwald recommended Donny O’Brien, an worker with epilepsy employed by means of this system. O’Brien makes a minimal wage of $9.50 an hour baling plastic sheets alongside abled individuals. Grunenwald stated O’Brien is a devoted and proficient employee, whereas O’Brien referred to as his work at GreenForest “the most effective job ever.”

Grunenwald stated the paperwork in hiring O’Brien was so streamlined that he wished it was the identical for hiring his common employees members.

Not each voice within the disabilities debate is in favor of the brand new development. Baxter Metropolis Council member Steve Barrows advocates for the a lot-maligned sheltered workshop mannequin. His personal son, who’s epileptic and cognitively impaired, cannot perform on the degree essential for an integration program like VOICE, Barrows stated.

He is not towards excessive-perform disabled individuals being built-in into the group—however consideration ought to be paid to the ensuing value to people who find themselves low-perform. An overemphasis on excessive-functioning disabled individuals might consign individuals like his son to spend their days gazing a wall, he stated.

“The issue is, you solely get a lot in a price range,” Barrows stated. “To offer these dollars for (excessive functioning individuals), they’ve…



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