Suit: Sheltered Workshops Violate Rights of People with Disabilities

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January 25, 2012; Source: Chicago Tribune | In a first-of-its-kind class-action case filed in federal court, the Oregon chapter of the Cerebral Palsy Association and eight individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities claimed that sheltered workshops violate protections against discrimination under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act. The suit charges that the workshops unnecessarily segregate the plaintiffs in work environments where they are paid less than minimum wage. The suit also claims that the workshops perpetuate a stereotype about the inability of people with disabilities to function in mainstream work environments.

Ironically, the suit was filed in Oregon because it has a history of “doing it right.” In 1988, a full half of those receiving state support to move into mainstream jobs with reasonable wages did so, but now the proportion is about a quarter. The lawsuit claims that, since the 1990’s, “Oregon has reversed course, increasing its reliance on segregated workshops while simultaneously decreasing its development and use of supported employment services.”

The class the lawsuit will represent is made up of “several thousand individuals with various mental and physical disabilities who are qualified for integrated employment or programs to move them into mainstream jobs.”

More than 2,300 people work in sheltered workshops in Oregon—many of them, according to the suit, in settings “that offer virtually no interaction with non-disabled peers, that do not provide any real pathway to integrated employment and that provide compensation that is well below minimum wage.”

The lawsuit comes a year after the National Disability Rights Network published “Segregated and Exploited: The Failure of the Disability System to Provide Quality Work.”

The report states that the workshops “have replaced institutions in many states as the new warehousing system and are the new favored locations where people with disabilities are sent to occupy their days.” –Ruth McCambridge