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Feds Take Stand Against Sheltered Workshops


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The Obama administration is looking to become directly involved in a class-action lawsuit that has people with developmental disabilities seeking greater employment opportunities.

The U.S. Department of Justice filed a motion last week to intervene in a federal lawsuit brought on behalf of thousands of people with developmental disabilities against the state of Oregon. The individuals behind the case allege that the state is violating the Americans with Disabilities Act by not providing supported employment services, which help people with disabilities work in the community.

The first-of-its-kind suit is being closely watched by advocates as the disability community remains split on the appropriate role of sheltered workshops and subminimum wage.

Plaintiffs in the case argue that they have requested assistance to be able to obtain competitive employment for years with no luck and are trapped in a system where sheltered employment — typically paying less than minimum wage — is their only option.

Now, in a move that could add weight to the proceedings, the Justice Department wants to become a plaintiff as well. In a filing with the court, government attorneys allege that “the state of Oregon discriminates against individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities by unnecessarily segregating them in sheltered workshops and by placing them at risk of such segregation.”

The action comes nearly a year after the Justice Department filed a statement of interest with the court arguing that limiting people with disabilities to employment in sheltered workshops is no different than restricting them to live in institutions.

Attorneys for the federal government say they tried unsuccessfully to work with the state of Oregon to resolve the complaint before asking to intervene.

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Comments (54 Responses)

  1. Denise says:

    From reading these posts it appears that many people do not know/understand the reality of people with disabilities. Do you have a family member with a disability? Do you work with them daily? Do you have experience in working with adults with a variety of disabilties?

  2. john says:

    I CONSDER IT ABUSE TO PAY A PERSON .10 cents an hour just because they are disabled they do productive work…where is laws to protect…it costs more to fix their lunch from home than they make.

  3. Audrey A says:

    Please, everyone, if you want this option available to your son/daughter, call you senator and ask that the Medicaid rules be changed to allow employment in “the most integrated setting possible.” This is just like the schools where the schools are required to educate in the “least restricted environment” allowing some to attend regular classes with support and others to be educated in a special classroom under a program tailored to their needs. My son needs the group employment and can’t hold a regular job, so why can’t we have this as an option? In Wa state, the most disabled people who don’t have access (live near) a workshop are 90% unemployed while those with access are only 38% unemployed. Let ACT to keep employment an option!

  4. Steven Dolinger says:

    Sheltered workshops play a vital work readiness component that is missing in the current VR system. Currently, without this component, people with severe disabilities languish and never attain the job readiness skills they need to attain competitive employment. It is also worth noting that a significant disabled population cannot work at a competitive rate but do want to work. The sheltered workshop remains a viable option for this group.

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