Celebrating community jobs for people with disabilities


Celebrate National Disability Employment Awareness Month

Each October, we join with people across the country to celebrate the contributions of workers with disabilities and assess our progress toward building a workforce that values the skills and talents of all qualified individuals.

To kick off this month-long celebration, we wanted to share one woman’s story and spotlight the landmark case that strives to end “sheltered workshops” in Oregon.

Paula Lane's work i.d. for the Portland Children's Museum. Shows her smiling brightly.Paula Lane blazes a trail

Meet Paula. She used to work on a “sheltered workshop” assembly line packaging gloves. She earned 66 cents an hour. But she wanted a community job.

Historically, people with disabilities were excluded from many parts of society, including the workforce. For people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, work meant spending their days segregated from the rest of the world in “sheltered workshops.” Their pay was often paltry – far less than the minimum wage.

In 2012, Paula helped fight back against the idea that it was okay to isolate people with disabilities in “sheltered workshops” and pay them less than minimum wage. She became the lead plaintiff in our landmark lawsuit to limit the use of sheltered workshops in Oregon.

Expanding opportunities for workers with intellectual and developmental disabilities

Three years later, the parties reached a settlement agreement, which calls for:

  • 1,115 Oregonians working in sheltered workshops to receive jobs in the community at equal pay;
  • 7,000 Oregonians to receive services to help them find a community job;
  • ensuring the employment services include at least 4,900 youth ages 14 to 24 years old, who are exiting school.

Today, Paula works at the Portland Children’s Museum. The lawsuit, Lane v. Brown, was named for her.

Celebrating the impact and possibility of workers with disabilities

Employing people with disabilities across every sector is the most cost-effective way to give people the opportunity to be independent and self-sufficient.

Disability Rights Oregon won Paula’s case, but we still have work to do. Even though people with disabilities have incredible skills and talents, they remain a largely untapped talent pool for employers to hire from. The unemployment rate for people with disabilities — currently 10.5 percent — is consistently twice as high as that for workers who don’t have disabilities. And, people with disabilities are far more likely to be pushed out of the workforce altogether.

Paula wearing a coat standing outside smiling and waving at the camera.

Tell us your community job story

Do you have a disability? Do you have a job in the community? Go to our Facebook page to share your story with us!

Support our work

Thanks to the Lane v. Brown case, Oregon stands at the forefront of profound cultural change that’s taking place across the country. This change reaches beyond workers with disabilities. It touches the lives of their co-workers, their employers, and the customers who they serve. All of our lives are richer because of it.

Anyone who wants to be prepared for the workforce and have the chance to land a job should have the opportunity. Help us continue to fight for a workforce that values the contributions of workers with disabilities. Give today.


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