U.S. Department of Justice Joins Lawsuit Against State of Oregon

It amazes me how people, programs, things develop.  There are whole disciplines that study both organizational and human development and still it’s confusing.  What confounds me is how differently things can develop even when they are in close proximity.  If you heard my sister and me share stories from our childhood you would undoubtedly think we grew up in different families!   I am taken aback that Washington and Oregon are so vastly different in our approach to individuals with disabilities working in integrated jobs in the community.  So different that it was announced at a news conference Monday the U.S. Department of Justice has joined a class-action lawsuit filed last year by people with disabilities against Gov. John Kitzhaber and the State of Oregon.  The suit demands changes to the sheltered workshop system in Oregon.  Conversely, Washington is by far the national leader ensuring individuals who are developmentally disabled are working in jobs in the community.  (See post on Wednesday, May 9, 2012).

How can it be that one state is getting sued by the Federal Government for providing sheltered services with no choice and the state that shares its border, economy, and lifestyle is receiving acclaim for individuals working in the community with a broad array of choices?  I believe the difference is focus.  My Uncle Art, who worked in the Washington DVR system, always told his staff to “keep your eye on the client”.  His sage words were passed on down through the system and heeded by most.  Fixing our focus on the person and what they want to do means not losing sight of the goal.  Indeed, in my opinion, this is the key. 

What I appreciate about Morningside staff is that they do focus on the person with a disability – each and every day.  That is why we closed our sheltered workshop because by an overwhelming majority our clients wanted to work in the community.  Focus is also why we enjoy the position of being the best in the state at serving our clients in jobs in the community, even those who require the most support. 
When I have the opportunity to meet with clients at their job or event I am always so pleased to hear how much the job means to them.  The conversation is so much more positive and, well, normal.  When I visit a worksite to award an employer our Outstanding Employer Award, there is such a definite sense of pride, accomplishment and self-worth as I congratulate the employee on a job well done!
If indeed a person with a disability in a sheltered workshop has not been exposed to another work environment it is incumbent upon us, the professionals, to assist them in seeing the possibilities away from their current environment and integrated with their neighbors and fellow citizens.   Frankly, the support, connection, and interaction are much more positive in a community job than a sheltered workshop job – and I know this from experience. 
So the solution that may sound too simplistic is rather simple “keep your eye on the client” to ensure they have the same opportunities as everyone else.
For more information on the lawsuit here is an article in The Oregonian:


CEO Viewpoint is published by Jim Larson, CEO Morningside

This space is intended to share my thoughts and update the community on issues concerning Morningside and its clients as well sharing inspirational employment stories.

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Posted in Disability Policy