[Nfbnet-members-list] Letter of Support for H.R. 3086, the Fair Wages for Workers with Disabilities Act

David Andrews dandrews at visi.com
Sat Feb 25 01:34:54 UTC 2012

>From: "Freeh, Jessica" <JFreeh at nfb.org>
>To: "dandrews at visi.com" <dandrews at visi.com>
>Date: Fri, 24 Feb 2012 07:56:51 -0800
>Subject: please post on all listservs
>Thread-Topic: please post on all listservs
>Thread-Index: AczzDNloaZYGeh1lQGutoG9QUzUy9g==
>February 23, 2012
>Dear United States Representative:
>I am writing to you in support of H.R. 3086, the 
>Fair Wages for Workers with Disabilities Act of 
>2011.  If you are already one of the cosponsors 
>of this bill, I thank you.  If you have not 
>signed on as a cosponsor, I urge you to do so as 
>quickly as you can.  I am also writing to you 
>representing disabled Americans who are affected 
>by subminimum wage payments who want this bill 
>to pass.  Furthermore, I am writing to you to 
>sound the alarm against those who say that they 
>know better what to do for the disabled than 
>disabled Americans themselves.  They will tell 
>you that disabled Americans cannot speak for 
>themselves and that they have taken on “this 
>burden.”  They are trying to deny us our own 
>voice in Congress and we ask you to listen to 
>the people, not to the self-appointed so-called spokesmen of the people.
>The National Federation of the Blind and the 
>growing list of over forty other organizations 
>of disabled Americans that support this 
>legislation are well aware that those of you who 
>are cosponsoring this legislation or considering 
>doing so are receiving considerable pressure 
>from representatives of sheltered workshops and 
>others holding special wage certificates that 
>allow them to pay less than the federal minimum 
>wage.  You are being told that the workers who 
>receive subminimum wages in the sheltered 
>workshop system have nowhere else to go, and 
>that their lives would be destroyed by H.R. 
>3086.  Those of you from Missouri, in fact, may 
>have received a piece of correspondence that 
>asks, “Where will Sammy, Patti, and Becky go 
>when you eliminate their jobs?”  This flyer also 
>contains quotes from parents, siblings, and 
>caregivers of sheltered workshop employees, 
>wondering what H.R. 3086 will mean for their loved ones.
>Wh<?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = 
>/>atever the motives of the people behind it, 
>the correspondence is based on outdated ideas 
>about the capacity of workers with disabilities 
>and a misguided commitment to an antiquated 
>model of service to such workers.  Rather than 
>participating in a constructive dialogue about 
>what life will be like for workers with 
>disabilities, once the subminimum wage exemption 
>is phased out in three years as required by H.R. 
>3086, the workshops choose to circulate 
>correspondence meant to pull on your 
>heartstrings, to evoke your pity, and to promote low expectations.
>The argument of the sheltered workshops is that 
>some people, particularly those with severe 
>developmental disabilities, are simply unfit for 
>competitive employment.  This is simply 
>wrong.  To continue this practice when proven 
>employment strategies exist is inexcusable.
>We are also told that these individuals must be 
>given a choice.  We are all for freedom of 
>choice, but true freedom of choice can only come 
>with unbiased and accurate information.  Do 
>Sammy, Patti, and Becky know that people like 
>them are in fact working in competitive 
>jobs?  Do they know that services like supported 
>employment are already available to help them 
>acquire and keep such jobs?  Do their parents, 
>guardians, and loved ones know this?  My 
>experience tells me that they do not. Rather, 
>they have far more likely been told by sheltered 
>workshop staff­who all too often share society’s 
>low expectations for disabled people and have an 
>obvious conflict of interest­that Sammy, Patti, 
>and Becky will never achieve competitive 
>employment and that the sheltered workshop is 
>the best they can hope for.  In short, what they 
>have been told is neither accurate nor unbiased.
>Despite the manipulative tone of the 
>correspondence, however, it is fair enough to 
>ask what will happen to Sammy, Patti, and Becky 
>and others like them if this bill passes.  I 
>believe that the answer to this question is 
>limited only by the spirit, ambition, and 
>imagination of disabled workers themselves, and 
>by our willingness as a society to work hard to 
>help them succeed in their goals.  I believe 
>that disabled workers can do far better than 
>receiving pennies per hour.  Under this bill, 
>they will either earn real wages in the 
>workshops that currently employ them, or they 
>will receive the training and support that they 
>need to obtain competitive employment somewhere 
>else.  Imagine for a moment that all of the 
>government and philanthropic resources that are 
>currently supporting the sheltered workshop 
>system were redirected to finding real 
>employment opportunities for people with 
>disabilities.  If they were, I suspect that 
>solutions as yet undreamt of would emerge to 
>help such individuals succeed in competitive employment situations.
>The sheltered workshop industry has existed for 
>over seventy years.  Many argue that it is an 
>acceptable status quo, which must not be 
>changed.  We reject this formulation.  Even if 
>you believe that those of us advocating against 
>subminimum wages do not have all the answers, 
>this is no excuse for allowing the system to 
>continue.  The current practice of paying 
>subminimum wages is unfair, discriminatory, and 
>immoral, and no amount of hand-wringing about 
>what may follow it can change that.  Please do 
>not simply let inertia direct our course.  We 
>are urging you and other willing partners, 
>including any from the sheltered workshop 
>industry, to work with us to find real solutions 
>for people like Sammy, Patti, and Becky, rather 
>than shrugging your shoulders and saying that 
>the exploitation must continue because we as a 
>society will not expend the effort to come up with anything better.
>There was a time in our nation’s history when 
>African-Americans were believed to have limited 
>capacity and were fit only for slave labor on 
>plantations.  There was a time when women were 
>thought capable only of maintaining the family 
>home, and thus were not even permitted to 
>vote.  Fortunately we realized as a nation that 
>it was bigotry and low expectations that were 
>defining the roles of African-Americans and 
>women rather than their true capabilities.  We 
>realized, albeit belatedly, that America would 
>be a better nation if the true capacities of 
>these citizens were unleashed.  Americans with 
>disabilities are now calling upon our fellow 
>citizens to realize that the soft bigotry of low 
>expectations is condemning workers with 
>disabilities to near-slave labor, and that the 
>system that arises from these low expectations must be abolished.
>H.R. 3086 allows for a grace period of three 
>years before sheltered workshops and other 
>nonprofit employers currently holding special 
>wage certificates must begin to pay their 
>workers at least the federal minimum wage.  This 
>is plenty of time for sheltered workshops to 
>study the business models of similar entities 
>that are already paying their employees 
>competitive wages and make adjustments to their 
>own policies and practices.  Meanwhile, policy 
>makers can redirect resources to enhance 
>programs like supported employment, and create 
>new solutions, to help workers with disabilities 
>transition to real work for real wages.
>As for freedom of choice: I am a person with a 
>disability.  I have been blind all of my 
>life.  I know the pain and despair that comes 
>with low expectations and 
>prejudice.  Fortunately, I was given the 
>opportunity to make real choices about my life 
>and career, and to experience the joy of the 
>accomplishments that can only come through full 
>and equal participation in society.  I want 
>Sammy, Patti, and Becky to have the choices that 
>I had.  If workers with disabilities truly want 
>to stay in the sheltered workshop that currently 
>employs them, or a facility like it, then no one 
>will prohibit them from doing so.  However, if 
>H.R. 3086 is enacted, wherever they choose to 
>work, they will receive real wages that allow 
>them to live fuller lives.  They will know the 
>satisfaction of receiving the equal pay for 
>equal work that they deserve, in addition to any 
>satisfaction that they may receive from getting 
>out of the house and being among their 
>friends.  They will no longer be dependent upon 
>the resources of their loved ones or on public 
>assistance in order to buy the things they 
>need.  They will have disposable income to spend 
>in the community, thereby contributing to our 
>society and its economy.  They will go from a 
>subsistent existence to one in which they can 
>enjoy taking in a movie with their friends, an 
>occasional restaurant meal, and all of the other 
>small pleasures of life that other American 
>workers take for granted.  They will become free 
>people with real choices, not virtual slaves with false ones.
>On behalf of the National Federation of the 
>Blind, the over forty other organizations that 
>support this bill, and the millions of disabled 
>people we represent, we urge you to join us in 
>our effort to change the paradigm of low 
>expectations and kindly meant but devastating 
>exploitation that has too long dominated the 
>lives of over three hundred thousand Americans 
>with disabilities.  We ask you to express the 
>courage to support H.R. 3086 and the creativity 
>to seek solutions that allow Americans with 
>disabilities to become productive citizens.  I 
>thank you for your attention to this urgent matter.
>Marc Maurer, President
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