News reports sparked by a U.S. Department of Justice investigation found that disabled students at the Birch Vocational School in Providence, RI were forced to perform manual labor - including bagging and labeling items for unnamed local companies - for wages between $.50 and $2 per hour. The students were given few, if any, opportunities to learn how to integrate into the workforce as they transitioned into adulthood.
This is just one example of what happens when persons with disabilities are placed in segregated isolated settings outside the mainstream and hidden from public view. The mistreatment and exploitation of these disabled students affirms the need to reform an antiquated system that discriminates against workers with disabilities.
Over the past three decades, significant investments have been made in education and vocational training for persons with disabilities. Technological advancements and improvements in health care provide an unprecedented opportunity to finally tap the potential of this underutilized population or order to contribute to and boost our nation's economy, but we won’t get there by continuing what isn’t working. As the DOJ noted in their investigation, today's expectations for young persons with disabilities are higher than those demonstrated by the Birch School in Rhode Island and have moved far beyond the expectations held by society when sheltered work programs were first launched in the 1930's. Our nation’s employment policies should reflect those changes.
In the spring of 2012, NCD conducted a study of similar programs around the nation and recommended a gradual phase out of segregated subminimum wage programs like 14c in favor of more modern employment services which place and support persons with significant disabilities in community settings alongside non-disabled peers. We reaffirm those recommendations now and applaud the U.S. Department of Justice for taking constructive and decisive action in this matter.
The full NCD report can be found at:
Details of the U.S. Department of Justice settlement with Rhode Island and City of Providence under the Americans with Disabilities Act: