Coatesville, March 23, 2017 — At Sen. Andy Dinniman’s request, the Senate Democratic Policy Committee today held a hearing on vocational and job training opportunities for people with disabilities.

“This hearing is aimed at giving local participants, advocates and providers input on the numerous changes to Community Participation Support services,” Dinniman said. “Hopefully, shedding light on how some of these program changes could impact people with disabilities obtaining fulfilling jobs will help shape and improve ongoing program revisions.”

 Sen. Lisa Boscola (D-Northampton/Lehigh), who chairs the committee, added, “Ultimately, we all want the same thing. We all want to give people with disabilities training and access to good and fulfilling jobs. If it takes sheltered workshops, training opportunities, and specialized accommodations, then so be it. Providing opportunities for inclusiveness in the workplace benefits all of us – and we should do everything we can to encourage that.”

 The hearing was held at Handi-Crafters, Inc., one of the largest employment and disability-focused support service programs in Southeast Pennsylvania.

 “Today’s hearing shed light on just how important these workshops and vocational programs are for people with disabilities and their families,” Dinniman said. “Hopefully, we can continue to work together to ensure that new rules and revisions, no matter how well-intentioned, do not have a negative impact on such opportunities. After all, facilities like Handi-Crafters represent a tremendous and invaluable asset both our community and to the individuals and families that need them the most.”

The state Department of Human Resources’ Office of Developmental Programs (ODP) recently revised proposed changes to its Community Services Support services. While the changes provide choice and flexibility for people with disabilities, many advocates still fear that the changes would ultimately limit so-called sheltered workshops and limit those with disabilities from training and existing job opportunities.

A sheltered workshop is defined as a supervised workplace for physically disabled or mentally handicapped adults. Critics claim the workshops can exclude people with disabilities from full community interaction.

Some of the current proposed changes would require – with certain exceptions – 25 percent time in the community as opposed to a facility setting; calculate time in the community on a monthly basis; limit size of existing facility to 150 participants by 2019 (25 participants for new workshops); and mandate certain staff qualifications.

Nancy Thaler, deputy secretary at the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services’ Office of Developmental Programs, explained that the changes were proposed in order to ensure that more individuals were engaging in community activity and to hold on to more than $140 million in federal funds to maintain services. It stirred a great deal of opposition, Thaler said.

 “DHS went out and listened to families and providers to hear their concerns. The outcome is a revised proposal that achieves the guarantee to make it possible for each person to participate in the community, while leaving the decision of whether or not to participate in the community, and what type of and amount of activity they will engage in, with the person,” Thaler said. “Each person is unique and their hopes and dreams are unique. DHS wants to make sure that our services do not place unnecessary limits on their hopes and dreams and how they choose to live their lives, but instead make them possible.”

Amy Rice, executive director of Handi-Crafters, Inc., said Handi-Crafters helps individuals to access rewarding job opportunities, both in the community and in its Skill Development Center.

“In many cases, the paycheck received from Handi-Crafters is the first paycheck individuals have ever received,” Rice said. “Sometimes, it isn’t about how much the check is, it’s the importance of getting the check, working for the check and being part of the workforce in the community.”

She also said “the term sheltered workshop is an antiquated term. We don’t view ourselves as a sheltered workshop. We are an important asset to the community.”

Richard Edley, president and CEO of Rehabilitation and Community Providers Association (RCPA), said more can be done to promote competitive-integrated employment but shared concerns about the limits and restrictions that ODP has set to impose on in-facility community services. 

“Rather than impose arbitrary and unnecessary limits and restrictions, RCPA believes in allowing people to have access to information, be given a chance to try new things, be encouraged and supported, yet be allowed to evolve at their own pace,” Edley said. “It really should come down to the individual and the families.”

Aaron Muderick, CEO of Crazy Aaron’s Putty World in Narberth, said Handi-Crafters employees package his company’s products. He noted that most toy manufacturing takes place overseas, but his company’s partnership with Handi-Crafters is about investing in Pennsylvania’s economy while supporting skills and development of the individuals.

“Let’s not let perfection be the enemy of the good. Many clients could benefit from meaningful work outside of development centers. But, for some, that’s not what they’re capable of,” Muderick said. “In an attempt to help high performers, we may hurt some of the most vulnerable.”

Kathleen Cronin, who’s son 27-year-old Zach works three days a week at Handi-Crafters, described the importance of Handi-Crafters as a “safe environment” where he can work and be accepted, respected and belong. 

“Workshops and programs like Handi-Crafters are a choice for many people like Zach and our family,” Cronin said. “We encourage our legislators to continue to support the vital and essential work of Handi-Crafters and other workshops throughout the commonwealth.” 

Joining Democratic senators, those expected to take part in the hearing include:

  • Nancy Thailer, deputy secretary, Office of Developmental Programs, PA DHS;
  • Richard Edley, president/CEO, Rehabilitation & Community Providers Association;
  • Amy Rice, executive director, Handi Crafters Inc. (a provider/workshop facility);
  • Kathleen Cronin, parent advocate;
  • Aaron Muderick, CEO, Crazy Aaron’s Puttworld in Narberth, PA;
  • Jeanne Meikrantz, executive director, Arc of Chester County; and
  • Cynthia McCurdy, parent advocate 

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