In a landmark settlement, the Department of Justice and the State of Rhode Island announced April 8 a comprehensive, ten-year plan to transition 3,500 people from the state’s long criticized network of “sheltered workshops,” to the job market.
“Today’s agreement will make Rhode Island a national leader in the movement to bring people with disabilities out of segregated work settings and into typical jobs in the community at competitive pay,” said Jocelyn Samuel, acting assistant attorney general for the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, in a news release.
The announcement comes less than a year after the DOJ reached a similar, first-of-its-kind settlement with Providence-based Training Through Placement, a state-funded program that employed an estimated 200 people with disabilities at an hourly wage of $1.57 an hour. The average job tenure was between 15 and 30 years.
The DOJ proceeded to investigate the statewide system, releasing findings in January 2014 that showed the state employing 3,500 people with disabilities, at an average wage of $2.21 per hour.
Under the settlement, the state must provide supported employment services to help these residents find work at jobs that pay at least a minimum wage, for at least 20 hours per week.
In addition, the state must provide these individuals assistance with finding certain non-work services, such as educational, leisure or volunteer activities, that will help them reintegrate into society.
For high school students, the state must provide job-training services to certain people starting at age 14, to help them transition into the workforce.
Under the Supreme Court’s 1999 decision in Olmstead v. L.C., a state’s placement of people with disabilities in segregated settings constitutes discrimination in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
During the past 15 years, the Olmstead decision has primarily been used to enforce housing integration efforts. This most recent agreement, which the parties hope will become a “model for the nation,” represents the first time the Olmstead decision has been used to further integrated employment efforts.
“(This settlement) ushers in a new day of opportunity – opportunity for Rhode Island residents with intellectual or developmental disabilities to live, work and spend their recreational time alongside their fellow Rhode Islanders,” said Peter F. Neronha, U.S. Attorney for the District of Rhode Island, in a news release. “It is an opportunity for this State to move forward; to recognize, finally, that we are better, stronger, when all of us – all of us – are interwoven in the fabric that is Rhode Island.”