WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Justice entered into an interim settlement agreement on Thursday with the state of Rhode Island and the city of Providence to resolve violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act that affected roughly 200 Rhode Islanders with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
The first-of-its-kind agreement states that people with disabilities have the right to receive state- and city-funded employment and daytime services within the broader community, rather than in segregated workshops or facility-based day programs exclusively with other people with disabilities.
The agreement follows a Justice Department investigation that revealed that intellectually disabled Rhode Islanders working at North Providence-based Training Through Placement, one of the state’s largest facility-based employment service providers, were being paid improper sub-minimum wages.
The investigation found that the school-based sheltered workshop at the Harold A. Birch Vocational Program at Mount Pleasant High School was the point for many entering TPP. Roughly 90 workers with disabilities at TTP were not in the most integrated setting appropriate, and students in the sheltered workshop at Birch were at a serious risk of “unnecessary placement” at TTP following their exit from school.
According to the Justice Department report, people working with developmental disabilities at TTP – which is located in a residential neighborhood without access to stores, offices or public spaces – typically remain in the facility all day, packing and labeling medical supplies, wrapping television remote controls in plastic or hand-sorting jewelry.
Typical TTP tenure is 15 to 30 years, said the report, which added that TTP workers have “little or no contact with persons without disabilities.” Reports found that TTP workers with disabilities make an average hourly wage of $1.57, with one individual earning as little as 14 cents per hour.
“The department found that people with disabilities at TTP are capable of working in real jobs with supports, and participating in activities in the community, such as volunteering, exercising, taking classes, going to museums, plays and sporting events,” said the Justice Department release, adding: “Many TTP clients had specifically and repeatedly asked for help to find and be supported in real jobs in the community. However, the state and city did not respond to their requests and did not make integrated employment services and community-based daytime activities available.”
The report quoted a TTP disabled employee, who has worked for the company for roughly 30 years. The employee said every year he asked to work in a hardware store and was never assessed or received services or supports necessary for him to change jobs. When asked how he would feel about working in integrated employment, the report quoted the man as saying, “I’d feel I accomplished something … something to be happy about.”