Intellectually disabled people should be able to hire their own support workers and get subsidies to work themselves, say the authors of a new book.

Former Auckland educationalist Patricia O'Brien and Massey University sociologist Martin Sullivan, who has used a wheelchair since a motorbike accident in the 1960s, want to scrap sheltered workshops and give people subsidies and "job coaches" to work in mainstream jobs instead.

They want to abolish bulk funding to agencies which "programme" people's lives, and instead give money to disabled people and their families to buy whatever support they need.

Dr Sullivan said the disabled have day care programmes where someone says, "We are going to work out an individual programme for you and make sure every minute of your week is structured and controlled."

The former National Government promised individualised funding for each person to buy the services they needed when it began closing large homes such as Kimberley, near Levin, in 1993.

"It never occurred," he said.

"It was administratively easier to bulk-fund agencies than to fund individually."

But things are starting to change and a bill now before Parliament would force sheltered workshops and other employers to pay disabled workers at least the minimum wage - with subsidies.

"The state has to accept that there are some people who are never going to function in the open market, but the state has to subsidise their wages in the open market rather than giving them an invalid's benefit or an unemployment benefit," Dr Sullivan said.

"They will be expected to be at work within 'glidetime'. Some are not going to be able to do 40 hours a week. Whatever they think they can do, they will do, and the state will top up their wage packet."

Disabled people were pulled into factories and other workplaces during both world wars in the last century.

"They were bloody productive," he said. "They were really successful as workers. If we had another war now, we'd have more disabled people working."

Dr O'Brien, formerly at the Auckland College of Education and now in Ireland for three years to establish a National Institute for the Study of Learning Difficulties, said there was ample evidence that intellectually disabled people could work with support from job coaches.

"I am aware that in New Zealand and in other parts of the world, people who have very high support needs can go to a needs assessment agency and get a package funded that enables them to live ordinary lives," she said.

"They employ their own staff to assist them personally, such as getting out of bed in the morning, and to accompany them to work. They live in a place of their own choice."

Letting other disabled people experience the same freedoms required a mind-shift in the community, rather than mere legal changes.

"It's finding that place inside all of us that it is possible to be less egotistical, less self-involved, less individualistic," she said.

A book by Dr O'Brien and Dr Sullivan, Allies in Emancipation: Shifting from Providing Service to Being of Support, was launched yesterday at a conference of the Australasian Society for the Study of Intellectual Disability at Auckland's Waipuna Hotel.