General information about sheltered workshops in Germany 13.12.23
German sheltered workshops first emerged in the 1960s. When, after the Second World War, the first generation of people with intellectual disabilities reached the age to transition from school or training to work, no opportunities existed in the open labour market for this group of people.

Leading figures of the German federal association Lebenshilfe (a non-profit self-help organisation for people with intellectual disabilities and their families) and in particular its Dutch-born founder Tom Mutters created a unique model for German sheltered workshops modelled on the services offered by Dutch and French forerunners.

The German model is unique as regards the group of people using its services: Here, people with severe disabilities participate in working life in sheltered workshops. In other European countries, this group of people is usually cared for in day care centres, occupational services or living facilities. 

The legal basis for the concept of German sheltered workshops was provided by the German Bundestag on 5 December 1974. The legislation includes many suggestions received from parents, welfare associations and specialists. It describes a model of vocational rehabilitation for severely disabled people, who are not, not yet or not yet again able to work on the open labour market. Today, sheltered workshops have evolved into highly specialised facilities of vocational rehabilitation.

Currently, over 310,000 people with disabilities participate in working life at more than 2,750 community-based subsidiaries.

In German sheltered workshops, persons with intellectual disabilities, psychological disabilities and also a small number (about 3 %) of people with physical disabilities are able to participate in working life. The share of people with intellectual disabilities is about 75 % and the share of people with psychological disabilities is about 22 % (BAG WfbM statistics (as of 1 January 2021)).

In Germany the term ‘sheltered workshop’ is not used anymore. To shift the focus away from protection of people with disabilities and towards the idea of individualized support, the term ‘Workshop for disabled people’ or ‘Workshop for people with disabilities’ is used. However, ‘sheltered workshop’ will be used hereinafter because it is the term that is internationally used.

<< Back Print Page
Who we are
Bundesarbeitsgemeinschaft Werkstätten für behinderte Menschen e. V. (BAG WfbM) is the political representative of sheltered workshops in Germany. We represent 93 % of all German workshops. All public welfare organisations and religious denominations work jointly in our organisation.

Our task is to give expert advice on questions related to employment, vocational training, financing and legal issues. Additionally, we are actively involved in the legislation process. BAG WfbM promotes for the participation of persons with disabilities in working life.
More sites by BAG WfbM