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Department of Justice Reaches Landmark Americans with Disabilities Act Settlement Agreement with Rhode Island

April 8, 2014
Source: Department of Justice (DOJ)

The Justice Department announced today that it has entered into a statewide settlement agreement that will resolve violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) for approximately 3,250 Rhode Islanders with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD). The landmark ten year agreement is the nations first statewide settlement to address the rights of people with disabilities to receive state funded employment and daytime services in the broader community, rather than in segregated sheltered workshops and facility-based day programs. Approximately 450,000 people with I/DD across the country spend their days in segregated sheltered workshops or in segregated day programs. The agreement significantly advances the departments work to enforce the Supreme Courts decision in Olmstead v. L.C, which requires persons with I/DD be served in the most integrated setting appropriate.

As a result of the settlement, 2,000 Rhode Islanders with I/DD who are currently being served by segregated programs will have opportunities to work in real jobs at competitive wages. Additionally, over the next ten years, 1,250 students with I/DD will receive services to help transition into the workforce.

“Todays agreement will make Rhode Island a national leader in the movement to bring people with disabilities out of segregated work settings and into typical jobs in the community at competitive pay,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Jocelyn Samuels for the Civil Rights Division. “As Rhode Island implements the agreement over the next ten years, it will make a dramatic difference in the lives of people with disabilities, businesses and communities across the state. We congratulate Governor Chafee and state officials for signing this agreement, as we believe that Rhode Island will be a model for the nation with respect to integrated employment for people with disabilities.”

“The filing of todays consent decree is a critically important event in Rhode Island history,” said U.S. Attorney Peter F. Neronha for the District of Rhode Island. “It ushers in a new day of opportunity – opportunity for Rhode Island residents with intellectual or developmental disabilities to live, work and spend their recreational time alongside their fellow Rhode Islanders. It is an opportunity for this State to move forward; to recognize, finally, that we are better, stronger, when all of us – all of us –are interwoven in the fabric that is Rhode Island.”

Under the agreement, Rhode Island has agreed to provide:

  • Supported employment placements that are individual, typical jobs in the community, that pay at least minimum wage, and that offer employment for the maximum number of hours consistent with the persons abilities and preferences, amounting to an average of at least 20 hours per week across the target population;
  • Supports for integrated non-work activities for times when people are not at work including mainstream educational, leisure or volunteer activities that use the same community centers, libraries, recreational, sports and educational facilities that are available to everyone;
  • Transition services for students with I/DD, to start at age 14, and to include internships, job site visits and mentoring, enabling students to leave school prepared for jobs in the community at competitive wages;
  • Significant funding sustained over a ten year period that redirects funds currently used to support services in segregated settings to those that incentivize services in integrated settings.

The ten year agreement will allow the state to ensure that the services necessary to support individuals with I/DD in competitive, integrated jobs will not disappear with a change in administration or legislative leadership. As a result of this commitment, the business community has already stepped up to partner with the state. The U.S. Business Leadership Network (USBLN), a network of Fortune 500 companies, and Walgreens will co-host a regional business summit in Rhode Island in June 2014 to explore how to improve those partnerships.

The agreement is the result of an ADA investigation that began in January 2013 into Rhode Islands day activity service system for people with I/DD. The department, the state, and the City of Providence entered into an interim settlement agreement in June 2013. The interim settlement agreement focused on a single provider, which was one of the largest facility-based employment service providers in the states system, and a school-based sheltered workshop at a Providence, Rhode Island, high school, which was a point of origin for many people entering the providers workshop.

The department continued its investigation of the statewide system, and in January 2014 issued findings determining that the statewide system over-relied on segregated services, to the exclusion of integrated alternatives, in violation of the ADA. The department found workers with I/DD in settings where they had little or no contact with persons without disabilities, and where they earned an average wage of $2.21 per hour. The investigation found that workers typically remain in such settings for many years, and sometimes decades. The department also found that students in Rhode Island schools were often not presented with meaningful choices to participate in integrated alternatives, such as integrated transition work placements and work-based learning experiences, which put students at serious risk of unnecessary postsecondary placement in segregated sheltered workshops and facility-based day programs.

Since June 2013, the state and city have provided supported employment services to people with I/DD transitioning from the original two facilities covered by the interim settlement agreement. Many of these individuals have now accessed jobs in typical work settings where they can interact with non-disabled coworkers and customers, and enjoy the same employment benefits as their non-disabled peers. Individuals have secured jobs at both locally owned and national companies. Because of the interim settlement agreement, Pedro , an individual who transitioned from the in-school sheltered workshop to the adult workshop, where he earned just 48 cents an hour, is now making minimum wage working at a restaurant. Peter , another former sheltered workshop employee who was earning approximately $1.50 per hour, now has a job earning more than minimum wage working for the state as a custodian at a hospital. Louis has gone from earning sub-minimum wages performing rote tasks at the sheltered workshop to a full-time position at a state hospital, where he uses his strong computer skills and passion for mathematics to generate Excel reports, record time sheets, and complete other office tasks. For more information on these individuals and others, please visit the Departments Faces of Olmstead website.

Please visit to learn more about the Divisions ADA Olmstead enforcement efforts, and to learn more about the laws enforced by the Justice Department Civil Rights Division.

Proposed Consent Decree (Word) | (PDF) - filed April 8, 2014

Fact Sheet about Proposed Consent Decree (Word) | (PDF)

Complaint (Word) | (PDF) - filed April 8, 2014

Letter of Findings (Word) | (PDF) - filed January 6, 2014

Remarks by Acting Assistant Attorney General Jocelyn Samuels at Press Conference Regarding Employment Services for Rhode Islanders with Disabilities (HTML) - April 8, 2014

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