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Lawsuit led to regular jobs for people with disabilities | Oregon is on
first wave of states phasing out sheltered workshops

list end


Andy Tullis / The Bulletin


Joseph Krassow files papers into a file cabinet while working his shift at
BBBI A Human Resource     Management Company in Bend.

Click here to enlarge images



Andy Tullis / The Bulletin


Joseph Krassow uses a vacuum to clean up an office floor, while working his
shift at BBBI A Human Resource Management Company.

Click here to enlarge images




Lawsuit led to regular jobs for people with disabilities


Oregon is on first wave of states phasing out sheltered workshops



Kathleen McLaughlin /

The Bulletin


Published Sep 24, 2015 at 12:11AM


At age 43, Joseph Krassow is about a year into his first job with a private,
for-profit enterprise.


He spends two mornings a week doing clerical and light janitorial tasks for
Barrett Business Services Inc., a back-office support company on the west

of Bend.


Krassow has autism, and he said the job is a good fit with his talents,
which include organization and math. He enjoys it, too. "We have a pleasant

here," he said, while alphabetizing a file drawer.


Disability-rights advocates say many people like Krassow wouldn't have a
competitive wage job if it weren't for new requirements brought about by a

class-action lawsuit against the state of Oregon over violations of the
Americans with Disabilities Act. The U.S. Justice Department, which joined

suit in 2013, announced a proposed settlement agreement on Sept. 8 that
means people with intellectual and developmental disabilities will no longer

directed to a segregated location where they mainly interact with disabled
peers and earn less than minimum wage. These are commonly referred to as



Oregon is already in the process of transforming its employment support
system for disabled people and is committed to changes over the next seven

that will affect an estimated 7,000 people, according to the settlement.
Already, dozens of high school students and working adults in Central Oregon

getting individualized services to help them find jobs in the community.
Many more are working directly for support organizations like Opportunity

of Central Oregon and Abilitree, which run enterprises like thrift shops and
janitorial services.


Sheltered workshops still exist, but under terms of the settlement, they
closed to new entrants on July 1.


Opportunity Foundation in Redmond was the largest operator of sheltered
workshops in the region, running a wood mill and some light assembly

for local companies.


The wood mill has already been sold to a private company, Barnwood
Industries, and current employees who wanted to continue doing that work now
work for

Barnwood, Executive Director Seth Johnson said. The assembly operations will
continue, but instead of taking place in Opportunity Foundation's facility,

the work will be done at the for-profit company's site.


"At this point we're almost out of the sheltered workshop business," Johnson


The transition has its drawbacks, however. People who in the past might have
gone to a sheltered workshop can now take advantage of day services, where

they take field trips or volunteer in the community. Johnson said Oregon
isn't paying enough to cover the support services for those people, who are

severely disabled and need more help with medical and behavioral issues.


The rate structure assumes that support staff earn an average of $10.60 per
hour, but Opportunity Foundation needs to provide health insurance and

benefits in order to recruit those people, Johnson said. Disability-support
agencies across the state are in the midst of a staffing crisis, he said.

a potential for several unintended and negative consequences for the people
we support," he said.


Oregon Sen. Sara Gelser, an advocate for the new model, believes it will be
cost-effective in the long run. Oregon is in the first wave of states to

out sheltered workshops, but soon, there won't be a choice. The Centers for
Medicare and Medicaid Services has ruled that all services must be provided

in an integrated setting, and sheltered workshops don't meet that
definition. States have until March 2019 to come into compliance.


"The great thing about this transition is that it's gradual," Gelser said.


Oregon restructured Medicaid-funded reimbursement rates so that more of the
roughly $30 million spent each year goes to supporting individuals and small

groups in regular job settings. Opportunity Foundation and Abilitree in Bend
pay staff members to help disabled people find suitable jobs, and then

them according to their needs.


Krassow, for example, needs a ride to BBSI from Opportunity Foundation's
Bend thrift store, where he works 25 hours a week as a cashier. Job coach

McGuire gives him a lift, and she makes sure he has his watch and a charged
cell phone and checks in with his supervisor. She also helps him learn new

tasks that might come up.


Krassow's supervisor, Heather McGuire, said the initial plan was simply to
have someone stuff payroll envelopes. He took on extra duties after the

janitor quit. As McGuire learns more about his skills, she has added duties.


Others who work at BBSI had experience employing people with disabilities,
but the fact that Opportunity Foundation matched Krassow's skills with the

needs was crucial, she said.


For Krassow, who lives on his own, the new job supports one of his life
goals, which he said was "to get out of the house.


"In order to get out of the house, I had to get a job I liked," he said.


Opportunity Foundation has always helped clients find jobs in the community,
but Oregon's new reimbursement rates make it financially viable, Johnson

The number of people finding jobs jumped significantly, from 16 last year to
34 so far this year, he said.


Abilitree began emphasizing individual job placement at least five years
ago, Executive Director Tim Johnson said. "Had the lawsuit not happened, we

wouldn't have put as much energy and effort into it," he said.


At one time, sheltered workshops were considered the best way to ensure that
disabled people led productive lives. The first one was set up in 1840 by

Institute for the Blind in Massachusetts, and the jobs were "sheltered" from
free-market competition, according to the National Disability Rights

Later, the 1938 Federal Labor Standards Act included an exemption to the
minimum wage requirement for disabled people, though the NDRN says that was

to encourage the employment of disabled veterans in manufacturing.


To this day, sheltered workshop operators, most of which are nonprofit, must
conduct detailed productivity studies in order to obtain a certificate from

the Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division that allows them to pay
less than minimum wage. About 3,900 people in Oregon have been through

workshops since 2012, and the average wage, as of March 2013, was $3.72 per


Minimum wage, which in Oregon is $9.25 per hour, is still not a guarantee
for disabled workers.


Opportunity Foundation's thrift stores in Madras, Redmond and Bend employ
120 to 150 supported clients, Johnson said. Their wages range from the state

to much less. It depends on how much care and support they need, he said.
The not-for-profit has a goal of paying at least minimum wage to everyone,

said. "If we can find a way to do that, we will," he said.


Thrift stores caught a break when the state of Oregon ruled that because
they allow disabled people to interact with the general public, they won't
be considered

sheltered workshops, and can continue to accept new participants. They're
called "community path to employment" and are supposed to serve as a

ground for typical work.


Abilitree still has 65 to 75 people who may participate in sheltered
workshop-style jobs when they're not doing other activities like exercise

and outings, Tim Johnson said. As of July 1, all of Abilitree's sheltered
workers earn minimum wage.


Abilitree would like to have that work, which usually involves packaging or
assembly, take place at the customers' place of business, he said. In the

the sheltered workshops will continue. "The reality is the state is not
going to hang people out to dry, just send them all home, and that's been
the big

fear," he said.


Many of the changes that Oregon is making are aimed at young people entering
the workforce for the first time. Another provision of the settlement is

Oregon schools will not be allowed to model sheltered workshop-type
activities in classes with disabled students. Now they have access to

services. Gelser, a Democrat from Corvallis, has a 20-year-old son who's
doing job discovery now. "I'm just so glad he has the opportunity to do

she said. "He definitely is in the population that would've been shuttled
into a sheltered workshop."


Some families aren't comfortable sending their loved ones with disabilities
to work in the wider world, said Dianna Hansen, executive director of the

Oregon Disability Support Network. But the vast majority want more choices
for their kids, and they ask, "What do you want to be when you grow up?"


Hansen said her daughter, Victoria, an 11-year-old who has Down Syndrome,
wants to be a chef.


- Reporter: 541-617-7860,

kmclaughlin at bendbulletin.com <mailto:kmclaughlin at bendbulletin.com> 



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