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Bare minimum

Do sheltered workshops teach the disabled skills for the workplace or exploit them for cheap labor?

Photo: Steve Madden, License: N/A

Steve Madden

Getting an idea of what the disabled themselves think about their situation in a sheltered workshop is a challenging task: With the more severely disabled, there are communication barriers; for the less severely disabled, there's the influence of staff supervising the interview. When King gives this reporter a tour of the workshop, for instance, we come across Jeoffry, a lanky young man in his late twenties assembling tangs near the rear of the workshop. Since King is aware that the Weekly is reporting on the controversy surrounding sheltered workshops, he frames his questions accordingly.

"Jeoffry, do you like your job here?" King asks.

"I do," Jeoffry replies.

"What do you like most about your job?"

"I like doing the tangs, actually."

"You like doing the tangs. What do you not like to do here?" King challenges. "It's OK, just be completely honest with him."

"Umm," Jeoffry says, pausing for a few seconds. "I don't remember."

"You don't remember? Well, what is the funnest thing you do here?"

Around a half an hour later, though, when the workers are on their first 15-minute break of the day in the cafeteria, and King excuses himself to attend to an appointment, Jeoffry beckons. He remembers now what he doesn't like about the job - lifting heavy boxes of tangs. "When I lift, my back starts to give out on me," Jeoffry says. The discussion shifts to wrestling video games, World War II, swimming at Daytona State College and the latest Shrek movie, until asked what he considers his dream job. "I really want to be a teacher," Jeoffry says.

When asked how he plans to become a teacher, Jeoffry is unsure.

He pauses for nearly 10 seconds to give the question some serious thought. Finally, he has an answer: "I don't know."

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