It’s been a little more than a year since Rhode Island signed an agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice to stop segregating and underpaying developmentally disabled workers. Fulfilling the terms of that agreement remain a work in progress.
The Justice Department investigated conditions in so-called sheltered workshops, which were meant to train developmentally disabled adults to go on to better jobs. It found that many remained for years, earning far less than minimum wage. And that Rhode Island had violated the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Now Rhode Island is complying with Justice Department order to address the problems. Tony Antosh from the Paul Sherlock Center on Disabilities at Rhode Island College said progress has been slow.
“There is an attempt to redesign what the developmental disability service system looks like,” said Antosh. “There’s an emphasis on finding individual jobs in competitive settings. There’s a focus on creating different pathways that will lead to employment.”
He estimates that more than 20 percent of developmentally disabled Rhode Islanders are now employed in integrated settings.
“There are probably another 500 or so who are probably ready to work, and finding appropriate sites, will probably be employed within the next year,” said Antosh. “But then there are 2000 other people who have had minimal to no experience with employment.”
Antosh said he hopes to help others find employment and fair wages. He says developmentally disabled adults should have a say in where they work and what they do.
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