A recent article featured in the Pioneer Press has managed to raise some eyebrows in the disability advocacy community. Love them or hate them, “enclaves”,(work crews) or sheltered “workshops”(facility-based work floors), are one of the employment options currently available for individuals with developmental disabilities. Country-wide, people are exploring questions about the legitimacy and quality of the work opportunities people with disabilities are afforded within segregated workshops. Beyond those concerns lies the question of whether this practice is a violation of basic human rights and of the Americans with Disabilities Act. In fact, the U.S. Justice Department recently warned the state of Oregon that it’s violating the Americans with Disabilities Act and faces court action, because of the state’s over reliance on placing individuals with disabilities in sheltered workshops.
To be in compliance with the law, states must provide services to people with disabilities in settings integrated into the wider community as much as possible. Much of this calling into question of Oregon’s practices was prompted by a report put out in 2011 by the Disability Rights Network. The report titled, “Segregated and Exploited: A Call to Action” details the history of segregated work, the practice of providing sub-minimum wages* for work that is done by people with disabilities, and the harm that is incurred by individuals who have few other opportunities than to work in this type of setting. In addition, the report puts forth policy recommendations and offers suggestions about ways to promote and facilitate integrated employment. You can read more about the situation in Oregon in this article from The Bend Bulletin and at Oregon Live.com.
The question of segregation has also been under scrutiny recently in regards to the experience of young people attending transition schools. An article recently featured on Disability Scoop, discusses how the U.S. Department of Education recently issued some informal guidance in order to help schools be in compliance with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA. Locally, Bob Shaw is doing quite a bit of coverage on the challenges faced by many individuals who have a disability and are seeking employment. In this article, he spotlights a woman with cerebral palsy on her struggle to find her place in the working world. In a recent article in the Mankato Free Press, Amanda Dyslin wrote about a young woman’s experience with Partners in Policymaking, a program that takes place annually in the Twin Cities, which covers the history of the disability and self-advocacy movements, inclusive education, supported living and avenues to influence county, state and federal legislative processes.
All of these different stories exist within the larger context of an unemployment rate that is higher than the national average (for individuals w/disabilities). In June, the rate of unemployment for individuals with disabilities rose to 13.3 percent compared to the national average, which stayed flat in June at 8.2 percent according to a monthly employment report from the U.S. Department of Labor. Statistics and stories like these are always on our minds at Community Involvement Programs, as we work to promote the most inclusive and innovative approach to helping connect individuals with disabilities to meaningful, equal wage employment opportunities. We hold no “special wages” or sub-minimum wage certificate,1 and we do not support, or connect the individuals we support, to enclaves or sheltered workshop situations. We believe that stopping the spread of misinformation about employing people with disabilities is imperative to improving the situations of those who are have difficulty obtaining honest, equal work. Every day we work to achieve this goal and to foster partnerships between individuals and the businesses community, so we can move forward from practices which, though historically may have served some good, are now seen by many as lacking and in need of overhaul.
1 Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act allows employers to pay individuals less than the minimum wage if they have a physical or mental disability that impairs their earning or productive capacity