Shifting from sheltered workshops to inclusion

On this page

In November 2015, the Minister of Community and Social Services stopped new admissions to sheltered workshops.

Since that time, we have been working with the developmental services sector to support the transition away from sheltered workshops, and similar programs, towards more inclusive options, including community participation supports and competitive employment for individuals with developmental disabilities.

News and features

Read the latest news about and related to Ontario’s shift from sheltered workshops.

Spotlight Issue , June 2017


Read the June 2017 issue of Spotlight on Transformation:

– Province Aims to Boost Employment for People with Disabilities (p.1)

– Proposed Changes to Ontario’s Employment and Labour Laws (p.4)

Spotlight issue, May 2017


Read the May 2017 issue of Spotlight on Transformation:

– Community Living Agencies Find Success by Offering More Inclusive Programming (p.3)

Spotlight issue, Octobre 2016


Read the October 2016 issue of Spotlight on Transformation:

– Shifting Away From Sheltered Workshops (p.6)

Read the August 2016 issue of Spotlight on Transformation:

  • On the Path to a Better Developmental Services System – p.3
  • Early Wins on Transformation – p.5

Read the July 2016 issue of Spotlight on Transformation:

  • Community Living Algoma: “Building a good life in community” – p.5

Read the March 2016 issue of Spotlight on Transformation:

  • Questions and answers about sheltered workshops – p.3

Read the December 2015 issue of Spotlight on Transformation:

  • Embracing inclusion – A message from Minister Jaczek about sheltered workshops – p.1


Shifting to inclusion

Many agencies in Ontario, throughout North America and around the world have already closed sheltered workshops. Many others are in the process of doing so now. Community Living Huntsville and Community Living London for example have already successfully transitioned from Sheltered workshops to individualized solutions. These agencies have demonstrated that it is possible to transition to inclusive community-based supports, with better outcomes for individuals.

The shift away from sheltered workshops is about helping people with developmental disabilities become more included in their communities. This means helping people pursue activities and interests they enjoy in their communities alongside people of all abilities. We want people to find the right fit for them, whatever that may be. Each individual is being supported to set out a path that reflects their own needs and goals.

While employment is an option, and for those who do chose employment we want them to work in real jobs for real pay, subject to the same employment standards and protections as all other Ontarians. But people can also pursue volunteering, recreation or other community-based activities, for example, based on their interests and goals.

This shift is not about taking away supports. No program will be closed without appropriate alternatives in place.


Programs impacted by this shift

Ontario’s shift away from sheltered workshops impacts all programs and arrangements where people with developmental disabilities perform work activities and are paid below minimum wage or not paid at all.

Work activities include:

  • activities that generate revenue for an agency or business
  • arrangements where people expect to be paid for the work they do
  • work that in a different setting would be paid at minimum wage or higher

This direction applies regardless of:

  • how an agency itself categorizes the program, such as sheltered workshop, employment, training or skills development
  • how people are paid, such as wages, piece-work, flat-rate payments or stipends
  • how long people work for, such as one hour a week or 40 hours a week
  • where the work is performed, such as agency sites, businesses or non-profit organizations

This direction does not apply to:

  • self-employment arrangements where people are true owners or partners
  • true volunteer opportunities in traditional volunteer roles and settings, such as non-profit organizations
  • day supports where no work activities (as described above) are performed


Inclusive support options

Inclusive support options should be based on a person-centred approach.

This means that the person’s needs, goals, preferences, interests and abilities are kept at the heart of any planning process. It is about supporting people to become more included in their communities.

Here are some ways that people are finding their right fit in communities across Ontario, along with some important things to keep in mind if you are shifting to these options.


Community participation and volunteering

People can pursue a range of activities in the community. Through community participation and volunteering, many people with developmental disabilities are becoming better integrated in their local areas. This can in turn lead to new relationships, help people build a bigger support network, enriches their lives, and enhances their skills. .

Community participation activities can include:

  • accessing community facilities, such as a local library, gym or recreation centre
  • participating in retirement or seniors’ activities
  • developing independence and daily living skills, such as taking public transit and banking
  • pursuing personal interests and hobbies


Volunteering helps people participate in their communities and much more

Volunteering can be a way of developing skills, gaining experience and making connections that could lead to paid employment.

Volunteer activities should be those that are meaningful to someone and should always be in typical volunteer settings and roles. This means places where any other person from the community could volunteer, such as a non-profit organization.

Volunteering should not be confused with work placements or internships, and should not be in for-profit settings, such as retail stores. While people may choose to volunteer for a number of reasons, it should be clear that this is not a substitute for employment.


Learn how people are participating and volunteering in their communities

Community Living Algoma
Community Living Algoma video

Community Living Algoma is helping people participate and volunteer in their community.

Community Living Parry Sound
Community Living Parry Sound story

Read how George has made new friends at Shawanaga First Nation’s community garden, just north of Parry Sound.

Community Living Huntsville
Community Living Huntsville video

Watch how Community Living Huntsville is increasing inclusion through community participation.



Employment is one of the best routes to inclusion and well-being.

Employment does not necessarily mean a full-time job. It could be a few hours a week, complemented by other activities, such as volunteering and recreation.

Across North America, there is a growing emphasis on supporting people to get “real work for real pay.” This means:

  • Integrated community settings: People with a developmental disability work in typical workplace settings alongside people with and without a disability.
  • Paid work: People are paid to perform work and receive the same remuneration and benefits as other employees doing the same job.
  • Minimum wage and industry standards: The rate of pay received by people is in accordance with minimum wage (and other legislative) requirements and is also reflective of relevant industry standards.

As a starting point, every person should be assumed capable of working.

People may be at different points along the path to employment and may require a range of tailored supports to help them prepare for, obtain and maintain employment.

These are called employment supports and can include a range of activities, such as:

  • job development
  • career exploration
  • pre-employment preparation
  • resumé and interview preparation
  • ongoing job coaching
  • job retention supports


Learn about people achieving their goals through employment

Community Living London – Supported Employment Services
Learn how people like Mady, supported by Community Living London, are working in the community.

Carl's Story

Carl’s Story (story + video)
Read and watch how ODSP employment supports helped Carl get the job he had aspired to do for many years.

Michael's Story

Michael’s Story (story + video)
Read and watch how Michael helped his local movie theatre boost business.


Some people with developmental disabilities can also pursue the option of having their own business.

Staff from a developmental services agency can provide the supports or referrals needed to help people become successfully self-employed. The key objective when supporting self-employment should be to empower people with developmental disabilities to operate their own businesses, with supports and ongoing assistance as required.

Agency staff may not have the level of business expertise required. This may require collaboration with an organization with expertise in supporting small business.

People should be supported to run their ventures as true businesses, with business plans, advice from those with business backgrounds and necessary measures to remain sustainable.

The person being supported is the owner or partner in the business and the key decision maker. This is opposed to agency-owned businesses, where people work in a setting managed and operated by a developmental services agency.


Self-employment can help people get the right fit in their community

Read how self-employment made Carol’s dreams come true on page 7 of the July 2016 issue of Spotlight on Transformation.




Training opportunities should be outcomes-focused and curriculum-based, and should have a defined timeframe. The objective of training should be to help people improve literacy or develop specific skills that enable them to achieve their employment (or other) goals.

Wherever possible, people should be supported to pursue specific skills training through mainstream organizations, such as local community colleges.

Training should not be regarded as a form of ongoing day supports. Similarly, while training may be a key step in pursuing employment, it should not be considered a long-term substitute or alternative to a real job.


Learn how training can help people achieve their goals

LiveWorkPlay – Matt’s Story

LiveWorkPlay – Matt’s Story
Learn how Matt’s co-op placement and support through LiveWorkPlay helped him secure an ongoing part-time job.


Additional resources

Here are some additional resources to help you and people you know shift away from sheltered workshops towards their right fit in the community.


Individuals and families

As you shift away from a sheltered workshop program, make sure that you work with your developmental services agency to help you plan for the future and find the right fit. You may also wish to speak with others who have already transitioned.

For more information about programs that can help you, check out:

  • Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) employment supports – helps people with disabilities find and keep a job, or advance their career.
  • ODSP and Work – Yes, you can work while receiving ODSP. In fact, you can keep your benefits and have more money, too. We can help.
  • Passport – helps adults 18 years or older with a developmental disability to participate in their communities. It also helps caregivers of an adult with a developmental disability take a break from their caregiving responsibilities.

Also, read our frequently asked questions about sheltered workshops to learn even more.


Developmental services agencies

To help agencies plan and carry out transitions from sheltered workshops, we’ve assembled two helpful resources.

First, we’ve developed a set of planning considerations. They are from best practices from agencies that have completed transitions, including agencies that participated in ministry-organized engagement sessions.


Second, we’ve compiled a list of organizations, including many agencies that have already completed transitions, across Ontario. They can provide further support and advice on shifting from sheltered workshops.

These peer supports could be invaluable to you as you shift from your sheltered workshop to more inclusive support options.