New Approach Aims at Helping the Disabled enter the Workforce

In what appears to represent a push to change the way states deal with disabled people from a young age through adulthood, the U.S. Department of Labor has pushed the State of Rhode Island to adopt a new approach aimed at helping the disabled lead productive lives in the workforce. Decrying what it calls inappropriate ‘segregation’ of the disabled in sheltered workshops and day programs, the Department first sued Rhode Island, then reached a settlement that will focus on mainstreaming handicapped people to the greatest extent possible.

Under the agreement, entered as a court order, Rhode Island will help disabled people find minimum wage or other jobs that match their interests and abilities; offer support for activities in community centers, libraries and other public settings; offer mentoring and other programs to help prepare high schoolers with developmental disabilities compete for jobs; and refocus expenditures from current, segregated facilities to the mainstreaming effort.

While the order affects only Rhode Island directly, it will almost certainly affect Massachusetts and other states. The Department of Labor estimates that nearly a  half million Americans with intellectual and developmental disabilities are currently segregated in shelters and other programs. It plainly wants the changes it imposed in Rhode Island to be implemented across the country.