Archives May 2012

Attention Workshops: The ADA Integration Mandate Applies to You

Employment services are included in the integration mandate of the ADA! This recent ruling in Oregon by United States Magistrate Judge Janice Stewart is a huge landmark decision. It should cheer advocates who are working to slow and eventually end the growing numbers of people with disabilities needlessly spending their days in segregated sheltered workshops.

Similar  to many states, most Oregonians with developmental disabilities in vocational services work in sheltered workshops, even though most would prefer to work in a real job. Each year, more are referred to these facilities. Sadly, this includes graduating students with disabilities – who should never need to see the inside of a workshop. This year a lawsuit spearheaded by Disability Rights Oregon was brought on behalf of 2300 individuals with disabilities in that state being needlessly kept away from real job opportunities. The suit charges that the state is violating the ADA by not providing employment services to people with disabilities in the most integrated settings appropriate. Now, the judge in the case has ruled that the plaintiffs can make such a claim under the ADA.

A legal basis for the suit was a previous Supreme Court decision known as Olmstead. Olmstead found that Title II of the ADA requires states to offer services in the most integrated setting possible, including shifting programs from segregated to integrated settings. Up to now, litigation under Olmstead has focused on supporting people in residential institutions to move to community settings. This has been followed by suits about other congregate settings such as nursing homes that claim to be community-based, but really serve as institutions, unnecessarily segregated people as well. Most recently, advocates have used Olmstead to challenge waiting lists and even state budget cuts. But this case is the first specific ruling regarding employment services and the integration mandate of the ADA.

In response to the suit, Oregon filed a Motion to Dismiss the case, saying that employment claims cannot be made under Title II of the ADA and that Olmstead does not apply to employment services. In her ruling, Judge Stewart stated “…this case does not involve ’employment,’ but instead involves the state’s provision (or failure to provide) ‘integrated employment services, including supported employment programs.'” The Judge thus affirmed that employment services is included in the integration referred to in the ADA, and gave the Plaintiffs time to file an amended complaint due to wording problems in the complaint, so further rulings are still to come on the case.

Oregon is just the tip of an iceberg. The state currently spends $30 million a year for individuals with disabilities to be in  sheltered workshops – the lion’s hare of state vocational service dollars. With few exceptions, this is also true nationally. In NY, some estimates are close to a billion dollars spent for segregated day services. Yet, a 2010 study by Oregon’s own agency notes that cumulative costs generated by sheltered employees may be as much as three times higher than the cumulative costs generated by supported employees – $19,388 versus $6,618.”

Even though every state provides supported employment, on average these services represent only one of every five people served. Vastly more money is spent on segregation than on integration. And so far, most vocational service providers have responded by circling the wagons to protect their facilities. Most states do not even have an Olmstead plan related to phasing in more integrated employment services. Very few have any practical plan to reduce the population in sheltered workshops in a thoughtful way over time. Instead, there are vague goals of improving employment outcomes and little supporting funding. It seems that state money just keeps flowing to how and where it was spent previously, so real change never comes.

So maybe the time has finally arrived for us all to recognize the injustice of this. And apparently, it has taken a lawsuit to jump-start it. I say it’s about time.

A Message from the Future

Hello friends, my name is Tramus. I have hijacked Dale’s blog to give you a message. I am from the future, the year 2050. If you read Dale’s blog, you must be what you used to call, a “disability service provider.” You probably have a building where people come to learn or work. Or a facility where the state pays you to house people with disabilities. Here’s the thing – I am here to warn you – you will become obsolete.
We found that it was a waste to build walls around people because they were slower, looked or acted differently, or had trouble learning. Turns out that when your goal is to help people who face challenges in life to have a good life, they have to actually be in real life to get anywhere. In our time, we found that we could provide much better assistance to people with “disabilities” (we got rid of that word a while ago) by supporting and opening up their own communities around them. 
Everyone has people they like to be with, things they really like to do, and everyone has something within them that can be productive for a business. Once you recognize that fact, you can help people build a decent home and work life. 
I have to tell you, it amazes me how long people can tolerate spending billions on things that are shown to have poor outcomes. Of course, it was that way with climate change, I guess. By the time there was a consensus, we had to abandon half our coastal cities.
Anyway, here’s my advice. 
Stop protecting your buildings, your programs, your job descriptions, and territory. Protect people’s rights to belong instead.
Stop trying to fix people’s shortcomings to make them community-ready. Assume they are a part of the community and start focusing on what people can do there successfully. 
Let go of your precious budgets tied to programs and buildings. Money should be attached to the people you serve. 
Remember to redefine your goals. No one needs a workshop. People do need help with jobs. No one needs a group home or an institution. People do need help to live in a nice home. Don’t confuse your tools with the goals. The goals are life; you just invented the tools, and they might not work the best. When you use the wrong tool, you sometimes mess up the goal. Ever try to hammer a nail with the back of a screwdriver? 
You have limited resources and you must spend them wisely. Every facility program takes something away from community building. Stop filling the buildings. Instead expand the variety of supports people can tap when they are working, at home, or in their communities. 
If you start now, you can be part of the change. Thanks for listening! I will now return the next regularly scheduled blog back to Dale.