Over the past year, the Department of Justice (DOJ) has increased its scrutiny of the manner in which states fund and provide access to community based employment. This effort grows out of the Americans with Disabilities Act's (ADA) "integration mandate," as recognized by the historic Olmstead decision, which requires states to administer programs in the most integrated setting appropriate to the needs of individuals with disabilities. The DOJ's actions are currently focused on two states, examining what they are doing to ensure access to community-based employment options and avoid relying solely on facility-based employment options.
In Oregon, the DOJ completed an investigation after taking an interest in a class action lawsuit filed against the state. The DOJ determined that Oregon was in violation of Olmstead in that it over-relied on sheltered workshops as adult placements. Interviews with consumers indicated that they would prefer community-based employment and had the capability of maintaining competitive employment, but few were offered supported employment as an alternative.
More recently, in Rhode Island, a DOJ investigation determined that the state and the city of Providence put individuals with disabilities at serious risk of unnecessary segregation. In this case, the Providence school system did not provide person-centered transition planning, but referred directly to facility based employment. Supported employment was rarely used, even if requested by the consumer or family.
It is important to note that these findings are not concerned with facility-based employment, per se. Rather, Olmstead's Integration Mandate requires states to offer access to the most integrated setting consistent to an individual's needs and desires. With this in mind, permitting an individual to choose facility-based employment after being offered a choice of community and facility options is consistent with the mandate. What is inconsistent is not offering individuals with disabilities the option of community based options as a function of either state policy and/or funding, without regard to the individual's needs or desires.
INARF firmly believes that work is a critical component of the human experience, and it is the right of all individuals to work in the most integrated setting of choice, appropriate to their skill level. We believe that to ensure the highest level of integration it is essential that individuals receive information and support in making informed employment decisions that are based on their short and long term goals. Further, it is critical that employment services are fully and adequately funded, that transition planning be a priority and that the system supports a full array of employment options including self-employment, supported employment, and facility-based employment to assure that all Hoosiers with disabilities have the opportunity to enjoy the benefits of work.