The issue of providing employment opportunities for the people with severe disabilities — those for whom competitive employment is not realistic — is complex. The survival of Options of Linn County is threatened because of funding issues and aggressive federal efforts to move people out of workshops and into integrated work settings.
The Department of Justice claims to be enforcing The Americans with Disabilities Act as interpreted by Olmstead, a 1999 Supreme Court decision dealing with the illegal segregation of people with disabilities. But the department using its own interpretation of Olmstead: Taking a one-size-fits-all approach and failing to account for the fact that exceptions to integration are fully allowed.
As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote in the ruling’s majority opinion, “We emphasize that nothing in the Americans with Disabilities Act or its implementing regulations condones termination of institutional settings for people unable to handle or benefit from community settings.” In other words, Olmstead allows for segregated environments such as sheltered workshops.
Further, Justice Ginsburg sets forth the criteria for placing people with disabilities in community settings, which are:
1) Community placement is appropriate.
2) Community placement is not opposed by the affected individual.
3) The placement can be reasonably accommodated, given the state’s resources and the needs of others with mental disabilities.
It should be emphasized that “appropriateness” and “personal choice” justify exceptions to integrated community placement.
I encourage anyone who would like to keep sheltered workshops in Iowa to ask President Barack Obama to stop the Department of Justice from shutting down sheltered workshops. They can ask the same of Senators Chuck Grassley and Tom Harkin, as well as our representatives to U.S. Congress, and request those representatives ask the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to modify the new Medicaid rules to allow for funding of sheltered workshops.
State legislators and county supervisors also can play a role in funding sheltered workshops as an option of last resort for those with severe disabilities who want to work but who are unable to be competitively employed in the community.
Let’s make sure Iowa takes care of its own!
• Janet Sullivan, of Marion, has a son with disabilities. Comments: firstname.lastname@example.org.