Overcoming Barriers to Reach the Employment Dream

The Deputy Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights,  Eve Hill, has posted an article on the blog of the U.S. Department of Justice (January 31, 2014) which chronicles the story of Pedro, a young man with an Intellectual Disability, and his journey to employment.

Pedro’s Story: When Given the Chance, People with Disabilities Can Overcome Barriers to the American Dream

Every day, countless Americans with disabilities are excluded from accessing important ladders of opportunity.  The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is an important tool for challenging assumptions and discrimination that trap people with disabilities in poverty and segregation.  When given the chance, people with disabilities are establishing their rightful place in the greater American workforce and the middle class, and are showing that they, too, can achieve the American Dream.  Pedro is one such person.

When Pedro graduated high school in 2010, at age 21, he found himself at home with no job prospects and no career direction.  A native Spanish speaker with intellectual disabilities, Pedro’s education had not prepared him to enter the general workforce; instead, he was headed for a life of segregated employment and below-minimum wages.

Pedro attended a Providence, R.I., high school where students with intellectual disabilities participated in an in-school “sheltered workshop,” where there were no students without disabilities.  The students spent their school days sorting, assembling and packaging items such as jewelry and pin-back buttons, earning between 50 cents and $2 per hour for their labor.  Rather than providing the education and services needed to help them transition into regular jobs, the school prepared students for segregated, below-minimum-wage work in adult sheltered workshops.  The U.S. Department of Justice’s 2013 investigation of Rhode Island found that, indeed, the school-based workshop was a direct pipeline to a nearby adult workshop.

Like many before him, Pedro began working at the adult workshop after high school.  Staff described Pedro as an excellent worker who stays on task and performs well, but he was paid just 48 cents an hour.  And because people who enter this workshop often stay there for decades, and are rarely offered help to move into community-oriented jobs, Pedro’s career outlook was dim.

That all changed in June 2013 when the department entered into an interim settlement agreement with the state of Rhode Island and the city of Providence, requiring the state and city to provide the employment services necessary to help workers at the adult workshop and students at the school-based workshop move into integrated, competitive-wage jobs.  At the same time, the Providence Public School District closed the school-based workshop so students with disabilities can focus on education and career preparation.

Read the rest of Pedro’s story here.

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