Donna L. Belusar is the president and CEO of ADEC. As the state considers the future of services for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, Donna advocates to keep ADEC Industries as an option.

As I walked through the workshop floor of ADEC Industries on a recent Friday, I could feel the energy. It was electric. It was payday.

Each week, 68 employees with intellectual and developmental disabilities report to work at ADEC Industries to perform high-quality packaging and assembling work for more than 100 industrial customers across the country. They also produce the Silver Linings trash bags that are used in all state government offices in Indiana.

More than 97 percent of the employees at ADEC Industries have reported that they enjoy the work they do there, and each have a different reason for it. Many enjoy the paycheck that allows them to save money for living expenses and vacations, while others are there to learn new job skills or see their friends.

Donna Belusar

Donna L. Belusar, President and CEO

Each one of the employees at ADEC Industries – including the nearly 20 support staff who also work there — face a similar uncertainty in their future: Their jobs at ADEC Industries could be eliminated if the state chooses to put an end to facilities like ours.

Under pressure from the federal government, Indiana and other states across the nation are considering phasing out sheltered workshops like ADEC Industries. It goes back to the Fair Labor Standards Act, which was first passed in 1938 to regulate the pay of American workers.

The Fair Labor Standards Act was amended to allow certain exemptions from the minimum wage for workers whose productivity is affected by disabilities. Section 14(c) allows “sheltered workshops” like ADEC Industries to pay employees piece rate for the work they perform.

Piece rate pay is not uncommon in Elkhart County, one of the top manufacturing areas in our country. But employees at ADEC Industries are able to work at their own pace, which means that they do not always earn the federal minimum wage.

The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, which was signed into law in 2014, puts restrictions on sheltered workshops and already limits who can access employment at ADEC Industries. The law means that ADEC Industries cannot pay employees unless they are first provided with information about career counseling at least annually. Employees under the age of 24 cannot be compensated by ADEC Industries unless they have first attempted to find a job in the community through vocational rehabilitation.

But what about those individuals that have not found success in community employment? Or the ones who do not want another job?

While ADEC is in compliance of that federal law – many ADEC Industries employees have gone on to find jobs they love in the community thanks to the skills they learned at ADEC – other states, including Rhode Island and Vermont, have instead decided to shut down sheltered workshops altogether. Many of us in the disability community are hopeful that Indiana will not follow suit.

Our tagline at ADEC is “choice and possibility.” If sheltered workshops were shut down in Indiana, it would mean fewer choices and possibilities for the people we serve at ADEC. It could mean some individuals would no longer have extra income to tuck away in their savings account for a future vacation. For others, it could mean they lose their only option to socialize with friends and colleagues.

In 2017, the Indiana General Assembly created a task force to create a comprehensive plan for the addition or discontinuation of services for Hoosiers with disabilities. The Task Force for Assessment of Services and Supports for People with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (or Task Force 1102, for short), led by Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch, will be touring the state to gather input on this comprehensive plan and is expected to put forth a recommendation to lawmakers by Nov. 1, 2018.

On June 27, I will be attending the Task Force meeting in Valparaiso to speak on behalf of the 81 hard-working employees of ADEC Industries who value their job and their paycheck.

Lisa Mort is one of those employees. Lisa, 41, was fired from a job in the community a few years ago. Without a job, Lisa lacked a feeling of purpose in her life and felt isolated with nothing to do during the day. She attempted to find work through vocational rehabilitation, but was told that she did not have enough attention to task to be placed. Then she discovered ADEC Industries, which has helped her increase her job skills and develop meaningful friendships.

I hope our lawmakers will listen to the voices of employees like Lisa and her 67 co-workers when they consider the future of sheltered workshops. I hope they will realize the importance of choice and possibility for Hoosiers with intellectual and developmental disabilities.