Earlier this month, the Department of Justice entered into a statewide settlement agreement with Rhode Island resolving violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) for several thousand residents with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD). The settlement will give the state ten years to comply with the ADA by better integrating those with disabilities into employment in the community. The landmark agreement is the nation’s first statewide settlement to address the rights of people with disabilities to receive state funded employment and daytime services in the broader community, as opposed to segregated facility-based day programs.
The agreement is the result of an ADA investigation that began in January 2013 into Rhode Island’s day activity service system for people with I/DD. In January 2014, the department issued findings determining that the statewide system over-relied on segregated services, violating the ADA. Workers with I/DD were in settings where they had little or no contact with persons without disabilities, earning an average wage of $2.21 per hour. The investigation found that workers typically remain in such settings for many years, and sometimes decades. Furthermore, it was discovered that disabled students in Rhode Island schools were rarely presented with options to participate in integrated alternatives, putting them at serious risk of unnecessary postsecondary placement in segregated sheltered workshops and facility-based day programs.
As a result of the settlement, 2,000 Rhode Islanders with I/DD currently in segregated programs will have opportunities to work in real jobs. Additionally, over the next ten years, many I/DD students will receive services to help transition into the workforce.
The business community has already stepped up to partner with the state. Approximately 450,000 people with I/DD across the country spend their days in segregated sheltered workshops or in segregated day programs. The agreement will significantly advance the department’s work to enforce the Supreme Court’s decision in Olmstead v. L.C, which requires persons with I/DD be served in the most integrated setting appropriate. The Court in Olmstead found that the unjustified segregation of people with disabilities constituted discrimination. It is hoped that the Rhode Island agreement will spark a nationwide movement to bring people with disabilities out of segregated work settings and into typical jobs in the community at competitive pay.