“For decades, local agencies segregated people with disabilities and kept them from pursuing real work in the community. The federal government stepped in and last year, the state agreed to make big changes. How far has RI come from the sweatshop scandals of 2013?”
Associate Editor Nilsson takes an in-depth description into civil rights investigations by the federal Department of Justice in RI at the Harold V. Birch School in Providence and at Training Thru Placement, Inc. and other agencies providing services to adults with developmental disabilities. The article looks into the life of web-savvy Nick Garcia, a young man at Birch, who had been segregated from the other mainstream high school students but is now more involved in transition planning and integrated activities.
DDC Council Member Steve Porcelli was visited in his job at Automated Business Solutions in Warwick and he is quoted as saying… “It’s important to like what you are doing, and I always wanted to do something other than piecework. If you’re disabled, you’re often not given the chance to prove yourself. We should have the chance. Even if we cant do it right away, well pick it up.” For over 30 years Steve worked at assembly work at TTP and really wanted to do so much more with his life.
Jeffrey Pete also used to work in a sheltered workshop but he works in a full time receivership position at the Capital Grille and has demonstrated he is an asset to the popular downtown restaurant. When asked about his relationship with his co-workers, Jeff proudly used one word to describe it: “RESPECT.”
-Chris Phillips, General Manager, Capital Grille
The article mentions the benefits of hiring people with disabilities and how employers and coworkers see the positive contributions of individuals with disabilities. It also describes the changes being implemented in both the educational and adult systems in RI for people with disabilities to have “informed choice” about opportunities for working in jobs in the community, or even for self-employment, like Allyson Dupont, who owns her own graphic design and paper products business.
The Sherlock Center’s Employment Survey for 2015 indicates that the number of people working in sheltered workshops has decreased by 25% in the last two years. The number of people landing new jobs has significantly increased.
Sue Babin, of the Developmental Disabilities Council, says this momentum for change is similar to the deinstitutionalization movement of the 90’s to move hundreds of people with disabilities living in the state institution into the community in group homes. Back then sheltered work was considered a progressive alternative to Ladd Center. “All across the country, it’s been a tradition of folks with disabilities performing work at less than minimum wage and segregating them in workshops. Maybe we don’t need sheltered workshops at all. Maybe people need to just be out in the community like everyone else,” said Babin.
“Despite the earth-shattering shakeups of the past and the uncertainty of the future, one thing is true: Nick, his Birch peers and many more Rhode Islander’s with disabilities have the opportunity to work in jobs they actually like, no assembly required.”
-Casey Nilsson, Associate Editor