A Sheltered Workshop is an employment program for people with severe disabilities, especially severe cognitive disabilities. To my knowledge, these programs are only available through developmental disabilities services systems in each U.S. state.
Sheltered Workshop programs don’t really teach social skills despite the fact that the intellectually challenged also need social skills training, in many cases even more so than us autistic folks. They focus exclusively on building a work ethic. The tasks are menial, well below the comprehension level and capability of many autistic folks, especially those with Asperger Syndrome. Many of us strongly prefer solitary tasks, but those solitary tasks can be complex. Not all of us will want to be programmers or other technologists, but we are capable of far more than just counting and sorting hardware all day! Sure, someone with a severe cognitive disability may be able to do other things, but employers who would have offered them something else to do would hold expectations that would be unreasonable for someone with that kind of condition. Autism DOES impact the thought process, but in most cases not in ways similar to what used to be called mental retardation.
Sheltered Workshop programs also lack consideration for the auditory hypersensitivity that is common in individuals with autism. My worst experience with this was at the Orange County Adult Achievement Center in Anaheim, California. They have a smaller, quieter room but refused to move me to work in there. They made me work on the main work floor where coworkers’ abnormal gaits caused their shoes to squeak loudly with every step. Once I found that participating in this program did not secure my tenancy at the Integrity Cottages (a supported living project operated by the City of Anaheim Housing Authority and the Alliance on Abilities), I abruptly quit and didn’t even tell them I would not be returning because I just didn’t want to deal with them not wanting to accept my relay call or ignoring my email. They did not seem accepting of my preference at the time to either telephone them using a text-based relay service or to simply email.
Sheltered Workshops only pay piece rate, so when the individual with a disability performs a large quantity of work one day and a small one the next, his/her salary tends to vary by the day. I understand that they don’t want to waste money on someone who can’t help the fact he/she may not get as much done as an employee without an intellectual/cognitive disability, but I firmly believe we autistic folks need other options, that better serve our needs and also allow us the opportunity to work at a higher level and give more back to companies.