Rhode Island to Pay People With Disabilities Minimum Wage Soon

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April 15, 2014 — 2,479 views  
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Winds of change are blowing for the disabled (mentally disabled) in Rhode Island. It was recently agreed that mentally disabled people who are currently working long hours on low paying jobs, will be given opportunities to earn minimum wages.

Recently, the state of Rhode Island and the U.S Department of Justice signed an agreement, after a court order on the issue, to gradually but dramatically overhaul employment services rendered to mentally disabled people. The settlement, the first of its kind to be applicable across an entire state will directly benefit about 3,250 people.

Rhode Island was violating terms of the American with Disabilities Act

It was found that the state of Rhode Island had been violating sections of the American with Disabilities Act for many years by placing citizens with developmental and intellectual disabilities in sheltered workshops, also called segregated centers. In these workshops, the disabled have minimal contact with the larger community and they are assigned manual tasks. They were being paid an average salary of $2.21 per hour.

Under the agreement, the state has agreed to provide jobs that pay at least the minimum wages, to over 2,000 mentally disabled people over the next 10 years, including 700 people who are currently working in sheltered workshops and about 300 people who will leave high school soon. The state will also give transition services, which includes visits to job sites and trial work opportunities to 1,250 mentally disabled people in the age group of 14 to 21 years.

Conditions at Providence city's Harold A. Birch Vocational School set ball rolling for reforms

The settlement comes in the wake of a 2013 interim agreement between the Justice Department, the state of Rhode Island and Providence city over conditions at the Harold A. Birch Vocational School.

Jocelyn Samuels, Assistant Attorney General of the Justice Department said that the agreement will put the state of Rhode Island in the forefront of the movement to bring disabled Americans out of sheltered workshops and give them typical jobs where they can earn competitive pay. More than 450,000 disabled Americans are working in sheltered workshops across the nation.

The state will be not be fined for violating the terms of the American with Disabilities Act. However, the Justice Department will conduct periodical reviews to ensure that the deal is complied with. The issue was brought into public domain when the Justice Department sent a series of letters to the state and Providence city, accusing them of violating the Act at the Harold A. Birch Vocational School. As a result, early this year the state, the school and the school board agreed to pay back $251,000 to 60 students.

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