Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Did you know that ostriches do not, in fact, bury their heads in sand? The illusion that an ostrich is hiding his head is actually a purposeful misconception intended to protect of his offspring from predators*. 

Parents: Have you ever been accused of denying or avoiding the facts, hiding from the truth, or ignoring the situation when it comes to your children? Was it true? Or perhaps those accusations came from people who did not know all of the facts, didn’t get close enough, or even misunderstood the situation.

Here’s another thing about the ostrich, they are hard to miss. Adult males are eight to nine feet in height and weigh 350-400 pounds*.

Sometimes, as a parent of a child with disability, I feel like a lone ostrich in an aviary full of lightweight, ready for flight, birds. I feel like every decision I make has an audience; I can’t be missed and am thus scrutinized by the onlookers. When I protect, or advocate, I may be mislabeled as mean or aggressive. And when provoked, I fight with the tools I have, which may appear backward, but work for my needs.

Maybe I’m alone on this ostrich analogy.
However, let’s assume for today that I am not.

Let’s assume, for today, that parents of adult children with disabilities have lived in/with this combination of feeling both misunderstood and under the spotlight for most, if not all, of the lives of their children. And that each time a parent appears to have his head hidden, he is actually attempting to divert trouble and keep his child (no matter the age) safe and healthy.

One safe option for adults with disabilities in our community is the Madonna Workshop. Currently, however, the workshop format is under extreme scrutiny and there are changes being legislated. In some states, families of people who choose workshops as an option are being forced to find other arrangements or try out new placements, even if they are happy in their current environment.

The main points against the workshop model are primarily two-fold. 1) Sub-minimum wages paid to workers in workshops and 2) The segregation of those with disabilities from the community at large. Various lawsuits won by people who were being exploited brought these concerns to the forefront. This then led to further investigations of unethical and inappropriate decisions by other companies and organizations working within the workshop platform.

For many other families, particularly those we hear from in the Madonna community, a workshop can give the adults it serves a sense of worth, a safe place to learn life-skills, and an environment that promotes social skills and sometimes, just plain fun.

However, with a broad Blame-to-Fix mentality, all sheltered workshops are under fire. Some people and organizations claim that all 450,000 people who choose sheltered workshops for their vocation or vocational training path as being “exploited.” This accusation puts reputable workshops in a place of defense and raises concerns for the future of those that rely upon the workshop model.  Broadly assuming that people working to the best of their abilities (which are widely varied) and being supported by staff to ensure life-long learning is an inappropriate setting is, in my opinion, a careless assumption.

In Nebraska, the changes so far have been primarily in funding and our state government has not passed down extreme mandates as have been occurring across the country. However, the national government has stepped in, thus insuring that the workshop model, at the very least, will see changes.

The good news is that Jay Dunlap, Madonna School and Workshop President, has already met with local leaders from Goodwill, Vodec, and Encor about legislation proposals that will assist those with disabilities to acquire safe, productive job placements within the community. Plus, the Madonna Organization is involved with Project Search in order to ensure the best possible employment placements. Also, the Madonna Shop is now partnering with the Munroe-Meyer Institute’s recreational therapy department to provide clients with more opportunities for outings in the community. These are a few of the proactive measures that the Madonna organization is taking.

Here is a link to several articles compiled about Sheltered Workshops new legislation and their effects in other states. Here in Nebraska, there is much that we do not yet know. However, don’t assume our head is in the sand on this issue. The Madonna Workshop is watching, researching, consulting and preparing for change.

Let us all take this opportunity to consider the needs, wants, and comfort of those we love with a disability and be sure to voice the concerning issues to those who provide services for our family and those who may make policy changes before mandates are made and handed down.

 There will be further updates as information becomes available.

 *Ostrich facts from American Ostrich Association
Opinions and Information via (C) Mardra Sikora

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