My first sheltered workshop was the Ohio Valley Goodwill Industries. I got into it by requesting the program through the Hamilton County Board of Developmental Disabilities Services (HCBDDS). I attended the program three times: 2002 (I was 18), 2007 (I was 23) , & 2008-9 (I was 24 & 25). A sheltered workshop is usually only available through developmental disabilities services systems. You do not have to go to an interview to get the job, but you do have to qualify for services.
My coworkers were much lower functioning than I am. They have what used to be called mental retardation. They made noises that weren’t exactly shrill but were certainly loud and repetitive, which made it difficult for me to complete my tasks. They were unaware of their own actions most of the time. I felt that I was higher functioning than most of the coworkers, which made me feel like I did not belong there.
Whenever there was no other work, I was “put on training” which was repeatedly counting the same pieces of hardware. I often borrowed Trick Daddy’s lyrics, saying, “I’m way too advanced for this!”
Ohio Valley Goodwill Industries sends HCBDDS clients to work at two locations: Woodlawn & Westwood/Western Hills. I worked at Woodlawn in 2002 & 2007. In 2007 I could not get their van transportation service because I lived too far away. I took a cab every morning, which HCBDDS paid for. At the Woodlawn location, I enjoyed working the assembly line which put together gift boxes for Babies “R” Us at the time. Most of the time I would be at the end of the assembly line, putting the lids on the boxes and stacking the completed items. I liked that my tasks were very clear, and it gave me a sense of accomplishment to complete these tasks.
Once the Westwood/Western Hills location opened, I worked there. I was able to take the bus to the work site. I taught myself how to ride the bus when I was 17, which I will write more about in a later post. At the Westwood/Western Hills Goodwill, I had a Deaf coworker. I knew most of her interpreters from Finneytown High School or Cincinnati State College. Most of my supervisors were learning sign language with my help to reduce dependence on the interpreters. I hoped this coworker would be a good friend, and she was starting to become one until a manic episode got the best of her. That day, she was attempting to strike me and had to be held back by FOUR supervisors. I did not speak to her after this episode because I was worried that she may physically hurt me in the future.
At least one day a week at the Westwood/Western Hills Goodwill, I was in charge of all the cleaning of our break area at the back of the main room. I enjoyed that, especially when I simultaneously discovered new music thanks to our radio being on while I was cleaning. Another thing I enjoyed doing was working the Kutol machine, which assembles pumps for hand hygiene products because it was simple and the directions were clear.
My only other sheltered workshop experience was at the Orange County Adult Achievement Center (OCAAC) in Anaheim, California. The Executive Director of the Alliance on Abilities’ Integrity House pulled strings to get me into OCAAC so that I had an employer in the city limits of Anaheim to qualify for rental assistance. But due to the fact there was no work and mostly down time, OCAAC was unable to mark my pay stubs with 40 hours a month of work, so Anaheim declined me for rental assistance.
At the time, I was exaggerating my auditory processing issues and refusing to communicate verbally at all, hoping I would be accommodated with sign language interpreters. At that time, I was a lot more comfortable communicating through sign language than verbally. But there was a Deaf woman there for whom they refused to provide this type of accommodations, claiming they couldn’t afford it. I realized that they would also refuse to accommodate me.
At OCAAC, my coworkers were even lower functioning than those I had worked with at Ohio Valley Goodwill Industries. They walked with abnormal gaits, causing their shoes to squeak quite loudly with every step. I literally developed stress-induced hypertension because I was only tolerating what I was tolerating in hopes that I would get rental assistance.
I worked a couple of skills assessments that I really enjoyed in 2007 and a couple of enclaves in 2008, which I will discuss in separate posts.