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Tuesday, June 18, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Disabled Sue State to Get in the Mainstream

PORTLAND, Ore. (CN) - A federal class action claims Oregon is unnecessarily, and illegally, segregating "thousands" of people with developmental disabilities in "sheltered workshops," and denying them "virtually all contact with nondisabled persons," in the state's employment service system.

Lead plaintiff Paula Lane claims: "Thousands of other similarly situated individuals in the State of Oregon also are unnecessarily segregated because of DHS's [the Department of Human Services] over-reliance on sheltered workshops, and its failure to timely develop and adequately fund integrated employment services, including supported employment programs.

"A sheltered workshop is a segregated employment setting that employs people with disabilities or where people with disabilities work separately from others. Sheltered workshops are usually located in a large, institutional facility. Workers with disabilities in these settings have virtually no contact with their non-disabled peers, other than agency staff, and are typically paid sub-minimum wage.

"By contrast, integrated employment is a real job in a community-based business

setting, where employees have an opportunity to work alongside non-disabled co-workers and earn at least minimum wage. Supported employment services are vocational training services that prepare and allow people with intellectual and developmental disabilities to participate in integrated employment.

"The named plaintiffs and the class they seek to represent are harmed by their placement in segregated sheltered workshops. Without meaningful supported employment services, the named plaintiffs and the plaintiff class are stuck in long-term, dead-end, facility based sheltered workshops that offer virtually no interaction with non-disabled peers, that do not provide any real pathway to integrated employment, and that provide compensation that is well below minimum wage.

"The needless segregation of the named plaintiffs and the plaintiff class is a violation of their rights under federal law. The defendants are violating the Americans with

Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq. (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. § 794 (§ 504), by unnecessarily segregating the named plaintiffs and members of the plaintiff class in sheltered workshops.

"Through this action, the named plaintiffs and the plaintiff class seek injunctive and declaratory relief for the defendants' ongoing violation of the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act. They seek an order from this Court directing the defendants to end their needless segregation in sheltered workshops and to provide them with supported employment services so they can participate in competitive employment in integrated settings."

The eight named individuals are joined as plaintiffs by the United Cerebral Palsy Association of Oregon and Southwest Washington. Their lead counsel is Kathleen Wilde with Disability Rights Oregon.

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