The U.S. Department of Justice recently voiced its support for 2,300 individuals with developmental disabilities suing the state of Oregon in federal court for its failure to implement supportive employment assistance.
Those bringing suit argue that although they are capable of participating in competitive employment, the state’s lack of job assistance forces them to work in sheltered workshops, often earning only 10% of minimum wage. They further argue that this violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) which requires states to integrate individuals with disabilities into the community.
At the heart of the matter is the legality of relegating those capable of participating in the workforce to sheltered workshops. In theory, sheltered workshops help individuals with developmental disabilities cultivate practical employment skills so that they can participate in the competitive workforce. However, the reality often disappoints, as the work performed in sheltered workshops is remedial in nature and therefore fails to hone skills that translate in the real world.
Also, those capable of entering the workforce are unable to do so without proper supports. This has been likened to segregation through institutionalization.
Disability rights advocates are hopeful that the suit against Oregon foretells of a national shift away from sheltered workshops toward full inclusion of individuals with developmental disabilities in the workforce.
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