Sheltered employment is expanding in many countries with various types of institutions offering an increasing number of positions to persons with disabilities who wish to work. The structures involved are also showing a growing desire for recognition as full participants in the economy and as employing higher professional standards.
In fact, many providers of sheltered employment are now using management methods borrowed directly from the commercial world. Quality control procedures have been introduced in a number of countries, in order to obtain ISO 9000 certification and to compete on an equal footing with normal enterprises.
Restrictions on the full application of labour legislation in sheltered employment originate in the two basic definitions of the sector. On the one hand, from a strictly economic point of view, the sheltered employment sector, which has often emerged as a result of initiatives taken by voluntary associations, gives the impression in some countries of being unable to meet the requirements of labour legislation, thereby jeopardizing the very survival of such establishments. On the other hand, the therapeutic aim of sheltered employment stands in the way of meeting legal and social requirements in work organization.
Today, although encouraging results have been achieved which appear to bear out that, in most cases, a disability is not an insurmountable obstacle to integration into regular employment (in terms of carrying out a job as well as personal and collective fulfilment), nevertheless it is still essential to protect workers and their rights to achieve autonomy. Although disabled persons, and those in sheltered employment in particular, have certain inherent characteristics, their situation should be viewed as part of a broader issue, namely, whether work is experienced as an imposition and a source of alienation, or can be a means of liberation and self-fulfilment.