On December 29, the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon approved a settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), the state of Oregon, and private plaintiffs to resolve violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). DOJ announced that this landmark settlement will impact approximately 8,000 individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) who are seeking to work in integrated community-based settings, instead of in sheltered workshops with wages often well under the minimum wage. At least 4,900 of these individuals are youth ages 14 to 24 who are exiting school. This settlement addresses a class-action lawsuit filed by individuals with I/DD who are currently in or have been referred to work in sheltered workshops. The DOJ stated that Oregon violated the ADA by unnecessarily segregating youth and adults with I/DD.
Research shows that supported employment services, rather than sheltered workshops, allow people with disabilities to prepare for, attain, and be successful in integrated employment settings earning competitive wages. Under the settlement agreement, over the next seven years, adults with I/DD who are currently being served in Oregon sheltered workshops will have opportunities to access competitive, integrated employment. Transition-age youth will receive supported employment services to assist in their career preparation. Half of the youth who receive employment services will receive, at a minimum, an individual plan for employment through the state’s Office of Vocational Rehabilitation Services.
IEL, which operates several national technical assistance centers and other initiatives focused on moving young people to work, provided expert witness support to DOJ related to the transition-age youth portion of the case.
“IEL applauds DOJ for pursuing this case and the settlement agreement, which will allow people with disabilities to make increased meaningful contributions to their communities,” commented Curtis Richards, director of IEL’s Center for Workforce Development. “This settlement agreement is huge! It has important implications for schools and programs that are systematically funneling youth with disabilities directly into these sheltered workshop environments. This decision means that every young person with a disability must be exposed to substantive self-exploration and career exploration that leads to meaningful career development rather than simply being pushed into menial sub-minimum-wage work settings.”