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Justice Department and Rhode Island Come to Agreement on Jobs for Disabled

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A court-ordered consent decree has been entered into by Rhode Island and the United States Department of Justice that overhauls the employment services for the mentally disabled, according to The Kansas City Star.

The settlement would provide residents of the state who have mental disabilities the chance to have regular employment that pays at least minimum wage. The agreement will cover approximately 3,250 people.

This settlement also resolves allegations that Rhode Island violated the Americans with Disabilities Act for years. Claims were made that workers who are intellectually and developmentally disabled were placed in segregated centers called ‘sheltered workshops.’

The Justice Department said that, those workers were kept away from the community and given tasks that involved putting caps on bottles or unwrapping bars of soap. State data obtained by the Justice Department shows that the average pay was $2.21 per hour.

Across the country, some 450,000 people who have disabilities work in segregated sheltered workshops each day.

“It’s a serious problem across the country, and Rhode Island is hardly unique,” acting Assistant Attorney General Jocelyn Samuels said. Samuels is the civil rights lawyer for the department. Samuels pointed out that the department will work on similar settlements with other states.

For years, segregated programs were viewed as the model for residents who have disabilities. All of this changed when the United States Supreme Court ruled in the 1990s that people who have disabilities should be in the most integrated location possible.

“We know better now. That is not the model,” said Eve Hill, a deputy assistant attorney general.

Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee said that the agreement reached on Tuesday is “a historic step forward” for both the state and residents who have developmental and intellectual disabilities.

For the next 10 years, the state is going to provide jobs for 2,000 people, including 700 who are in sheltered workshops and 300 who are exiting high school, that pay the minimum wage. Transition services, trial work experience and job site visits will also be provided by the state as part of the agreement. All of this will be provided to 1,250 people who are between the ages of 14 and 21.

The Justice Department said that no damages will be imposed on Rhode Island, but did note that reviews will take place to make sure that the state complies with the terms of the agreement.

Samuels said that some sheltered workshops would remain open in the state to allow individuals the opportunity to choose if they want to continue working in one after working other jobs in the community.

Initial funding for the settlement will come from the state, which will set aside $800,000 in the next annual budget in order to start a trust.

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Justice Department and Rhode Island Come to Agreement on Jobs for Disabled by
Authored by: Jim Vassallo