RI, city settle with feds over disabled rights

A landmark settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice will mean new choices and new freedoms for Rhode Islanders with developmental disabilities.

People like Steven Porcelli.

"It's good. Not only for me, but for all my friends as well. We all have desires and dreams that we want to do," Porcelli said.

Porcelli has worked at a North Providence company called Training Through Placement, or TTP, for the past 30 years.

A federal investigation found TTP employees did menial work in a sheltered workshop for as little as 14 cents an hour, violating their civil rights.

"Steven's story is one that Rhode Islanders should feel sad about. It's also one they should feel angry about, because these people were robbed of years of productivity, learning and contributing to their communities," said Eve Hill of the DOJ.

The problems extended beyond TTP to the Birch Vocational School in Providence, inside Mount Pleasant High School.

Investigators found students with disabilities did the same kind of menial work in a segregated workshop, also for little or no pay. After they graduated, most were sent directly to work at TTP.

"The Birch Vocational Program was essentially a feeder to TTP. A direct pipeline," Hill said.

Providence school superintendent Susan Lusi admitted that the district failed some of its students who needed the most help.

"It's a lack of oversight and systems failure on multiple levels," Lusi said. "We failed to keep up with the change in practice and expectations."

Earlier this year, the NBC 10 I-Team first revealed federal investigations of three similar facilities: the Fogarty Center, COVE Inc., and the Trudeau Center. The results of those investigations have yet to be revealed.

The program at Birch Vocational School has been shut down.