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November 2011



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Jobs allow for involvement, earning competitive wages


Todd Erdes clocks in at the Schwabe North America loading and distribution center every weekday, just like the rest of his coworkers.

He works out at the company gym, goes out after work to play darts or bowl and gets dressed up for the company Halloween party.The main difference between the 31-year-old Green Bay man and the rest of his coworkers is his autism. Erdes’ superiors consider his work ethic second-to-none, and he earns more than $11 per hour.

“He brings a different sense of energy to this company. He’s an individual that wants to be here 24-7 if he could be,” said Isaac Oshefsky, distribution group leader at the manufacturing distributor formerly known as Enzymatic Therapy that produces nutritional supplements. “It opened up my eyes. “But Erdes is an outlier. Most people who spend 10 years in a sheltered workshop, which he did, never find jobs working alongside other nondisabled individuals for competitive wages in the community. Competitive employment is an optimal outcome for many disabled adults and a means to escape poverty and complete dependence, according disability experts. But the extent to which it can be achieved and the role played by sheltered workshops, the largest provider of work and rehabilitation services for the disabled, is a source of contention.

What’s at stake

In Green Bay, Diane Gustin started a gourmet popcorn company called Heart@Work Unlimited, which is focused on employing people with disabilities like her son, Drew Gustin, a 21-year-old with Down syndrome.A longtime business owner, Gustin is convinced that many working-age adults with disabilities have the abilities, work ethic and enthusiasm to contribute to community businesses alongside the rest of the work force just like Drew and others who work with her. She also believes sheltered workshops — her son still works part time at ASPIRO — offer crucial services and training to people with disabilities to help them achieve employment.

As Gustin’s Heart@Work grows, she plans to offer employment opportunities to as many adults with disabilities as possible.

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