I served as CEO of a agency serving people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, Community Link, for 28 years. The organization transitioned from providing sheltered work to group employment and competitive integrated employment (CIE) in the 90's because the people we served increasingly chose to move away from sheltered work and sub-minimum wage positions. People gained experience with real work for real pay throughout the 80's and 90's and were able to exercise informed choice. The more community experience people got, the more people seemed to prefer community employment settings over sheltered settings and sub-minimum wage pay. As the century turned the people we served increasingly chose to transition out of group employment settings and into CIE. Sub-minimum wage payments were eliminated around 2005.
Some of the reasons people expressed for preferring community employment were being able to make more friends, obtaining higher compensation and pride in accomplishing success in a regular employment setting. The use of customized employment techniques and systematic instruction were critically important in matching people to good jobs. A significant barrier to progressing away from segregated and sub-minimum wage employment was the lack of funding and other resources supporting systems change. Hopefully recent Employment First efforts will assist service providers in making this transition. One thing is certain, when people experience real work for real pay with appropriate supports, they tend to prefer CIE over segregation or sub-standard pay.