March 15, 2012 Leave a comment
NEBA was founded in 1983 to advocate for an alternative to the standard practice of sheltered workshops for individuals with disabilities. In sheltered workshops, individuals with disabilities often perform mundane tasks, have little interaction with non-disabled peers, and earn far below minimum wage.
Through the years, NEBA’s individualized, supported employment approach has provided more career options, more wages, and more opportunities for community inclusion for the people we serve than sheltered workshops ever could. Unfortunately, sheltered workshops are still the rule rather than the exception in Massachusetts and nationally.
However, there is a hopeful sign. For the first time in our nation’s history, individuals with disabilities have filed a class action lawsuit to challenge the practice of sheltered workshops. This lawsuit challenges the state of Oregon for its practice of funding segregated workshops, and alleges that these workshops are a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act.
Within the past decade, more laws and regulations have clearly stated that individuals with disabilities should live and work in their communities, not segregated out. Despite this, referrals to sheltered workshops continue to increase. The National Disability Rights Network reports that “for every one person working in competitive employment, three people remain in segregated settings.”
In Massachusetts, 6,126 individuals receive funding from the Department of Developmental Services for employment services. Of these, 3, 217 individuals are in segregated, facility-based services compared to 1, 810 individuals who are in an individual, supported job. Despite having an “Employment First” initiative in Massachusetts (which advocates for competitive employment as a preferred outcome) more than 50 percent of residents with developmental disabilities remain in segregated, facility-based programs.
The Oregon lawsuit may have major implications nationwide as more advocates and individuals with disabilities speak out about their right to have real work, earn real pay, and be a real member of their community.
- Jeannine Pavlak, Executive Director, NEBA