Despite federal laws like the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) that provide a civil right to community inclusion, hundreds of thousands of people with disabilities across the United States still spend their days isolated from the community. Individuals with disabilities have historically been viewed as incapable of being productive members of society. Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act is rooted in this historical stigma and low expectations for people with disabilities. As a result, too many people with disabilities have not had the opportunity to work in community jobs alongside their peers without disabilities for fair pay and are denied the services and supports needed to meet their employment goals.
The Center for Public Representation (CPR) is a national legal advocacy center for people with disabilities. Our mission is to promote the integration and full community participation of people with disabilities. Furthering the civil rights and self-determination of individuals with disabilities is at the heart of CPR's work. For more than 40 years, CPR has worked on systemic reform efforts in states across the country. We have seen first-hand what is possible for people with disabilities when they are given the opportunity – and the supports they need – to live, work, participate in, and be valued members of their communities.
CPR has made it a priority to expand opportunities for competitive integrated employment for people with disabilities through litigation and policy advocacy. Our lawsuit in Oregon is an example of the positive outcomes that can result when states devote their resources and energy to expanding opportunities competitive integrated employment instead of relying on an outdated sheltered workshop system. In 2012, CPR and our public interest and private law firm partners filed suit against the state of Oregon in Lane v. Brown. This was the first class action to challenge segregated sheltered workshops as a violation of the ADA. The case was brought on behalf of thousands of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) who spent their days in segregated sheltered workshops. Individual class members were capable of and preferred working in competitive integrated employment, but the supported employment services needed to allow them to do so did not exist. Many had spent decades in sheltered work making less than a dollar an hour.
The parties negotiated a Settlement Agreement in 2015, designed to increase access to competitive integrated employment for thousands of individuals with disabilities in Oregon who want to work and to reduce the State's over-reliance on segregated sheltered workshops. The Agreement uses new programs and services, evidence-based employment practices, and system transformation strategies to help Oregonians with I/DD obtain competitive integrated employment. These strategies include expanded outreach and information about competitive integrated employment options, provision of supported employment services like individualized career development services and planning and job coaching, career development planning for students transitioning into adulthood, and expansion of provider capacity through technical assistance and transformation grants.
Implementation of the Settlement Agreement has already shown positive outcomes for Lane class members. The Independent Reviewer, who is appointed by the Court, found that from 2015 through 2018, 598 individuals obtained new, competitive integrated employment using supports and services from the Oregon Developmental Disabilities Services (ODDS). According to the State's data, a total of 1,223 people were working in competitive integrated employment with supports as of March of 2018, a 10 percent increase over the previous year. The number of people working more than 20 hours per week also increased by more than 20 percent. On average, people working in jobs with supports are making an average of $11.43 an hour.
The Independent Reviewer also has found that the number of people with I/DD seeking Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) services has increased as well. Based on the State's data, she found that in 2012, 1,921 adults in ODDS services had an open case with the state VR agency. Today the State reports that number is 4,847. In 2012, there were 274 people with I/DD whose cases were closed by VR with a paid job. In 2018, the State reported that 684 people with IDD had case closures due to obtaining competitive integrated employment
As a result of the Settlement, more transition-age students with I/DD are achieving competitive integrated employment. Students are also better prepared for the transition into the workforce, with 35 percent of students in 2017 attending job training, school or education program in the 12 months after leaving school. Oregon's Youth Transition Program (YTP) helps students with disabilities to prepare for a competitive employment after school, or for college or another technical program. The State reports that in 2017, 62% of those who exited the program had jobs upon exit, working an average of 26 hours per week at an average wage of $10 per hour. Another 15% of youth were in post-secondary education or training. Additionally, Oregon is also participating in Project SEARCH, a national internship training program for people with I/DD. Nationally, about 75 percent of Project SEARCH interns become employed in the community at 16 hours or more per week, which is far above the national employment rate for people with I/DD.
Oregon also funds various grants that support providers who are transitioning their employment service model towards greater community integration. Organizations committed to the transformation process are developing competitive-wage jobs in community businesses, in both rural and urban settings. The State has also awarded nearly $500,000 for innovative projects aimed at increasing capacity for Employment First, a movement to promote and encourage competitive integrated employment as the first and preferred option for youth and adults with significant disabilities.
Finally, the State funds a Peer to Peer Program, which uses a peer support model to educate people with I/DD about how to use disability services, community resources, and personal networks to find a job. Program reviews show that 75% of participants took at least three more steps towards getting a job.
CPR believes that people with disabilities must be given the same rights and opportunities as all individuals to live full and meaningful lives. Employment is a crucial dimension of this reality. Sheltered workshops keep persons with disabilities segregated from the community and earning far less than minimum wage. Through our work in Oregon, and nationally, we have seen the positive impact that expanding capacity for competitive integrated employment together with drastically reducing reliance on, and eventually eliminating, sheltered workshops has had on the lives of persons with disabilities. CPR views Section 14(c) as outdated, discriminatory and based on low expectations for people with disabilities. We support efforts like those in Oregon and bills like the Transformation to Competitive Employment Act that eliminate Section 14(c) while providing resources to expand competitive integrated employment.