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Sheltered Workshops

Last March I wrote about sheltered workshops.  This week we have had an opinion piece in The Globe and Mail about the closure and reopening of such an establishment in Ottawa and a thoughtful response from Jen Power of l'Arche.  I had started to assemble some data last September, but got sidetracked waiting for other info.  But here's what I learned (all data is from 2013 CRA returns):

In Nova Scotia there are 29 such agencies, supported by the Department of Community Services, associated as New Directions.  I haven't located 2 of the 29 Canada Revenue returns - Green Door and L'Atelier De Clare, so my numbers represent 27 agencies.

In 2013, they received $23.7 million from the province, 57% of revenues.

I was interested in the way the revenue stream is structured and the amounts regular employees (not the workshop participants, but their supervisors) are paid.

So on average, 20.1% of revenue comes from selling the products of the workshop.  I guess it's no surprise that salaries make up two thirds of expenses.

As far as I can determine, the figures for salaries do not include any compensation for workshop participants - 'clients' as they are called.  If they are paid at all, they receive a per diem from Community Services that is not part of the expense stream for the workshop.  'Other Expenses' are business related - rent, travel, office supplies, advertising, utilities and the like.

As an example, Flowercart in New Minas has $2,766,953 in expenses, of which $2,442,531 is salaries for 27 full time and 6 part time employees. This roughly agrees with the 23 employees enumerated on their website.  Meanwhile, 200 or so 'clients' generate $1,604,537 in goods which are sold, and the raw materials cost $97,381, yielding a profit of $1,507,156.  None of the profit goes to the workers, but it pays 61.7% of the regular employees' salaries.  Just who is working for whom?

On its Social Snapshot page, Flowercart shows the somewhat ambiguously worded Wages paid to clients hired by The Flower Cart of $1,001,480.  If, somehow, this is part of the CRA total expenditure on compensation, it would mean the average salary of the 27 full-time employees is reduced accordingly and 'clients' do get some compensation.  There just isn't enough information to make sense of this figure.

When I wrote last March, I focused on the fact that workshops are exempt from Nova Scotia's minimum wage, I had a very interesting exchange with a couple of parents of participants, who defended the practice on the basis that the operations couldn't exist if they paid minimum wage.  The most telling comment was:
I believe that our workshop still does packaging and assembly work for (a local company). I have no idea what the compensation is, but the productivity of the clients far surpasses that of the regular employees at (the local company).
I've seen some articles which indicate that while it may take four or five steps to train a regular employee for repetitive, tedious jobs, it takes a dozen or so steps to train people with the types of challenges that the clients have. However, after training, the challenged individuals are far more productive and able to tolerate the repetitive nature of the tasks.
I left it there, but the obvious problem is that very capable employees receive nothing for their labor and somehow are kept from trying their skills in the workplace.

In 2008 DCS did a review of 38 agencies operating sheltered workshops (some apparently not New Directions members).  They profiled participants:
The 38 agencies reviewed (includes Adult Service Centres and residential day program providers) provide services to 2,151 participants across the province. Of these:
  • ƒ 83 percent have a primary diagnosis of intellectual disability; 
  • ƒ 41 percent have a diagnosis of mental illness; 
  • ƒ 27 percent have mobility issues and 13 percent have visual challenges; 
  • ƒ 16 percent require 1-1 assistance to eat; 14 percent require 1-1 assistance for toilet use; and 23 percent require 1-1 assistance to take required medications during the day; 
  • ƒ 32 percent of the individuals currently receiving service reside with family members, including aging parents, while 51 percent reside in a residential program funded by the Department of Community Services. The remaining 17 percent reside in various independent situations. 
There is no corresponding data for 2014, though, based on per participant funding, I would guess the number of participants is now closer to 3000.

Some comments:


How is it that highly productive workers - "but the productivity of the clients far surpasses that of the regular employees at (the local company)" are not employees of the local company, receiving benefits and the fruits of their labor?  Why should it be their responsibility to augment the productivity of less capable workers?

When you go to Wal-Mart you meet good employees and bad.  The province has said they all must be paid at least minimum wage.  But not at community workshops.  Confusion about whether individuals with differences are objects of pity or real people pervades the culture, and this issue of fundamental fairness will come to define us.  We need to think it through.


We confuse work, which is mere calorie burning, with it's purpose, which is self-determination.  We say we like work, but what we really mean is that we value independence and relying on ourselves. When Laurie Larson, president of the Canadian Association for Community Living says people with disabilities deserve “real jobs for real pay,” she means they are entitled, wherever possible, to independence.


What are the incentives for moving participants into work?  Agencies receive 20% of revenue from the labor of their clients. (On CRA returns this is Total revenue from sale of goods and services (except to any level of government in Canada) minus Purchased supplies and assets).  Moving the best workers out would jeopardize an important source of income.

As they say in the 2008 report:
Many of the staff we met during the review offered examples of persons with disabilities who became top performers within the work area, and who, when given the choice of leaving that environment for a position within the community, chose to return to the environment. This is not to say that the opportunity of employment in the competitive labor force should not be offered as an option. It does, however, suggest that informed choice is a key to the success. 
This sounds reasonable, but leaving this decision in the hands of those who stand to benefit opens agencies to questions.  It's the worst possible optics.  With two-thirds of expenses going to salaries of administrators, and funding doubtless tied to participant numbers, motives can be confused.


Although the provincial government has a workforce diversity policy (which includes people with disabilities), they countenance and support operations that are uniformly made up of disabled people, most of them intellectually.  How is it that herding people with disabilities into a room together fosters workplace diversity?  Community integration?  Independence?  You can argue the merits of the policy, but you can't argue that the government violates it.


To make this work, we must be unambiguous about what we do.
  • End the exceptions for minimum wage.
    • Carefully distinguish between work and euphemisms like 'work activity'.  People in adult day care programs don't need to be paid.  Workers do.
  • Make funding contingent on successful training and placement into the diverse workforce.
  • Remove administrators from decisions about placement.
  • At the very least, put the full value of uncompensated labor into an RDSP, so workers have some future certainty
  • Unless there is reform from within, these peculiar institutions will be simply swept away for their injustices.  The good will be tossed out with the bad and the losers will again be people with disabilities.  


Here is a map of locations of New Directions Participants, showing the average full time salary of paid supervisory staff (2013):

and here is something to compare them:

And for the truly interested, source data to play with:

As always, comments are eagerly sought.  wcreedh@gmail.com.

Parking Therapy

I'm no fan of accessible parking as it's usually implemented - I like the idea that all parking should work for everyone.

Knowing that's unlikely to happen, here is an alternative, brought to my attention by Haligonian John McKenna.  It's a minute and a half video.  (I see it has been taken down as of March 26, 2015)

The program doesn't have a history in Nova Scotia.  The Parking Mobility Team says:

Currently Halifax has not deployed the Parking Mobility program. Unfortunately many community leaders do not realize that accessible parking abuse is a significant problem. As a nonprofit organization developed and run by people affected by accessible parking abuse every day, our mission is to end that abuse through Engagement, Enforcement and Education. The key to engaging and educating community leaders is having data that demonstrates the need for a solution. We collect this vital data from the reports submitted by people who download and use the Parking Mobility App. Once we have data in a given community, we use it to educate community leaders and demonstrate how Parking Mobility can help solve the problem. Every report is crucial to helping end accessible parking abuse. Without this data, communities will continue doing what they always have about accessible parking abuse...practically nothing.
Reporting is the key, that's a fact.  So I plan on volunteering.  The App is free, the emphasis is on education and accessibility, and an extra benefit is an accurate inventory of spaces.  Perhaps municipalities will follow up on your reports.  Even if they don't, your reports will raise awareness and relieve you of some of the pent up frustration you doubtless have.


A little digging turns up the fact that the video above is out-of date, replaced by this one:

Apparently the charitable component is not operational.  About its videos, the Parking Mobility Team says:
As our communities expand, we will reshoot videos but we are predominately in Texas at this time as Texas laws are more receptive to the program as a whole. Im afraid the one I sent is the only one we can endorse. The one you have posted will be taken down as soon as I can.
So the mechanics are a bit different and the accents are definitely not Canadian, but the therapeutic value remains.  It's worth trying.

Bikes vs. Chairs

I really love bikes.  The mechanics, the precision, the freedom, the sense of accomplishment.  I've biked all over (triked, really).  I worshipped at the feet of Lance, before they turned out to be made of clay.  But I have a couple of questions about the proposed bike lane on University Avenue.


There is unhappiness about changes to accessible parking.  On planet Earth, there is no good implementation of accessible parking.  There is little enforcement, the number of spaces has nothing to do with the number of permits, the lone driver sprints from the car, the nearest curb cut is often far away.

As a wheelchair user, a regular width space does me no particular good, and because I'm a passenger, never a driver, being close up against the curb makes transfer difficult.

Here's the thing:  people with disabilities want to be treated the same, not differently.  Don't try to tell me how special I am by giving me a blue parking space.  Tell me how special I am by giving me a job and some fairness.  As one of it's "Priority Outcomes" HRM swoons about Universal Design.  There is a standard for a Universal Design parking space; make them like that and I'll take my chances, just like everyone else, on finding one that's convenient.

Think of it: all parking is accessible.  Doubtless the answer is "Well, Universal Design except for parking"

If your teenager is out getting a bag of chips at the corner store, he isn't tempted to use his mother's Accessible Permit to duck in for a sec.  If he finds a space, it's his.  For me, the same applies;  if I find a space, it works;  if I don't, I'm in the same boat as everyone else.

And free?  Don't make it free, make it useable.

Pilot Project

I'm not sure why this is characterized as an experiment.

These are the natural language objectives of the experiment:
  • This is a valuable exercise to inform active transportation initiatives in the community and the first step in implementing Dalhousie's vision for the renewal of University Avenue.
  • The goal of this pilot project is to test best practices in cycling infrastructure, demonstrate the enhanced safety of a separated bike lane, and encourage increased ridership for cyclists of all ages and abilities.
Not to be pedantic, but an experiment requires some very specific steps:
  • Observation
    • a separated bike lane is a good way to encourage urban bicycle transport
  • Hypothesis
    • separated bike lanes are safer
    • their advantages outweigh disruptions 
  • Prediction
    • People will have  more confidence in separated bike lanes 
    • There are fewer accidents
    • There will be more bikers
    • There are benefits to us all
      • less use of automobiles
      • more equitable use of infrastructure
  • Experiment
    • To know if the protected lane works like you predict, you'd need something to compare it to.  An authentic experiment would be fun and interesting, maybe even educational. Here are some things you might experiment with:
      • some protected stretches, some unprotected
      • a range of pavement markings
      • lane differentiation at intersections (there are lots of intersections)
      • a one-way side street
      • a side street with a bike lane
      • crosswalk tables
      • some sections with parking, some without
      • eye-level traffic signals like in Amsterdam
This project is a prediction without any experiment.  A guess, not an empirical study.

University Avenue: The experiment.

We aren't privileged to learn of Dalhousie's vision for the renewal of University Avenue.  Probably there is a move afoot to have a memorable entrance and look more like Princeton.  

Just as a suggestion, an authentic experiment with UAve as the lab would be a visible reminder that learning is empirical and a good university serves the community.  

In a real experiment, at the same time you watched bike lane behaviour, data could be accumulated on parking spaces.  There are a ton of smart parking apps, meters that will send you a text, sensors to direct you to free spaces, different prices at different times, remote control of emergency priorities.

And you could try some other tricks to increase bike ridership
  • Subsidized leases
  • Bike culture promotion
  • Shower and locker facilities


I'm concerned that an infatuation with biking will distract HRM's attention from correcting its fundamental and longstanding failure toward pedestrians.  At best, biking is a sometime thing.  The weather, the time of day, your other plans.  But being a pedestrian is eternal.  You have to cross the street, you have to get in the door.  More bikes won't help.    I wrote about this seven years ago yet HRM still insists on installing those useless and pathetic fan-shaped curb ramps - it's like Newton never lived.  Send those engineers to the woodshed!

And Finally

I can't help thinking of the boulevard separating the halves of University Avenue.  If safety and convenience are the prime considerations and Dal wants to have a new look, why not transform the Gobi Desert into something like this?

Rethinking the traffic circulation might yield even more bonuses.  If side streets were one way leading away from UAve, the boulevard could be continuous.  

My guess is that Dal and HRM would reject this on some variation of the sacred historical integrity defense so often used to deny access to wheelchairs.  

Often called Inertia

Gus Reed