Blueprint for Integrated Employment Announced in Rhode Island

integrated employment blueprint
A blueprint for other states to follow, the State of Rhode Island has entered into a consent decree agreement with the United States Department of Justice effectively ending segregated work environments for people with developmental disabilities.


Going from sorting buttons in a workshop for just pennies an hour to making minimum wage in an office isn’t just a dream for Rhode Island residents with developmental disabilities anymore.

The State of Rhode Island has entered into an agreement, called a “consent decree” with federal officials, to create integrated employment opportunities for people with developmental disabilities who currently work or spend their days in segregated environments. This agreement has been called many things, including a “way forward,” a “landmark,” and a “blueprint for other states.”

What is the consent decree?

The consent decree is an agreement between the state of Rhode Island and the United States Department of Justice (DOJ). The DOJ is one of the federal agencies with the authority to enforce the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). In the consent decree, the state of Rhode Island agrees to take certain actions to resolve possible ADA violations within the state.

Why did the consent decree happen?

The DOJ looked at Rhode Island’s programs for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) and determined that Rhode Island may not have been following the ADA. About 80% of people with I/DD receiving state services were being served in settings where they were kept apart from people without disabilities, including sheltered workshops and facility-based day programs. The ADA directs states to serve people in the most integrated settings possible and the DOJ determined that Rhode Island was not doing so.

Rather than going through a full lawsuit where a judge would make a decision, the DOJ and Rhode Island worked together to create a plan to end these possible ADA violations. The consent decree is the plan that the DOJ and Rhode Island created and agreed to. Although a judge did not make a decision, Rhode Island has still formally committed to taking certain actions.

Do other states have to follow the terms of the consent decree?

No. The consent decree is an agreement, like a contract, between Rhode Island and the DOJ. The actions that Rhode Island agrees to take are specific to the situation in that state.

Why has the consent decree been called a “blueprint” for other states?

The consent decree contains a lot of useful information for other states. It lays out steps that other states could choose to take when making changes to their own systems.

Big picture: what did Rhode Island agree to do?

Rhode Island agreed to transform its service system over the next 10 years. The terms of the decree focus on transitioning people who are currently employed in sheltered workshops or are receiving services in a facility-based day program into supported employment. Transitioning youth who are at risk of placement in segregated settings will receive additional services and supports designed to ensure meaningful opportunities for work.

What exactly did Rhode Island agree to do?

  • Employment and Day Services
    • Rhode Island will provide supported employment placements to approximately 2,000 people:
      • At least 700 people currently in sheltered workshops
      • At least 950 people currently in facility-based day programs
      • At least 300-350 students leaving high school

    • Supported employment placements will provide services in an integrated setting where people with I/DD:
      • Are paid at least minimum wage
      • Work the maximum number of hours consistent with their abilities and preferences
      • Interact with peers without disabilities to the fullest extent possible

    • As a group, people receiving supported employment services will average 20 hours of work per week in integrated employment settings.

    • People receiving supported employment placements will also be provided with integrated, non-work services, ensuring that people have access to integrated work and non-work settings for a total of 40 hours per week.

    • People may remain in segregated programs if they request to do so after receiving a vocational assessment, trial work experience, outreach information, and benefits counseling.

  • Transition-Age Youth
    • Rhode Island will provide transition services to approximately 1,250 youth between the ages of 14 and 21.

    • Rhode Island Department of Education will adopt an Employment-First policy.

    • State agencies will promote the implementation of a school-to-work transition planning process that will include specific timelines and benchmarks.

    • Youth in transition will receive integrated vocational and situational assessments, trial work experiences, and other services to ensure meaningful opportunities for work.

  • Other
    • Rhode Island will reallocate funding from segregated settings to integrated ones as people transition.

    • Rhode Island will contract with a technical assistance provider to provide leadership, training, and technical assistance to employment providers and to state staff.

    • Rhode Island will establish a “Sheltered Workshop Conversion Institute” at Rhode Island College to assist qualified providers of sheltered workshop services to convert their programs to include supported employment.

    • Rhode Island will establish and begin making distributions from a “Sheltered Workshop Conversion Trust Fund” in the amount of $800,000 to provide upfront start-up costs to providers that have agreed to convert their services.

    • Rhode Island will establish competency-based training for state staff on employment topics.


For more information, visit Olmstead: Community Integration for Everyone,