Unfinished Business

October 28, 2021
Unfinished Business

WASHINGTON, DC – In recognition of the end of this year’s National Disability Employment Awareness Month, the National Disability Rights Network (NDRN) reflects on the strides made in the employment of people with disabilities and the work left to be done. NDRN continues to call on Congress, the Administration, and state policy leaders to work toward the employment of people with disabilities in jobs that are integrated and pay a competitive wage.  While we celebrate the many contributions of America’s workers with disabilities and the transformative policies accomplished as recently as this month, we must not forget workers whose full potential has yet to be realized because of an insistence on maintaining outdated, antiquated and discriminatory employment policy.   

Over the years, NDRN and our members, the nationwide network of Protection and Advocacy (P&A) and Client Assistance Program (CAP) agencies have led the campaign for greater inclusion of people with disabilities in the workforce. In particular, we have been vocal and adamant about the need to eliminate section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which permits employers to pay certain people with disabilities even less than the minimum wage. The network’s concerns with segregated work, sheltered environments, low wages for people with disabilities and the massive breakdown between good federal and state policies and their implementation and oversight were documented in two reports: Segregated and Exploited and Beyond Segregated and Exploited. Additionally, concerns about sub-minimum wages were documented in the award-winning film Bottom Dollars. The evidence over the years has shown that full employment of people with disabilities is not only possible but also probable if high expectations are set and individuals are provided the supports and services they need.  

The writing is on the wall. Subminimum wages and the segregated settings that come with them are on alert as several states have taken the initiative to eliminate these exploitative practices. The following states have passed legislation to eliminate subminimum wages for people with disabilities: Alaska, Maine, Maryland, New Hampshire, Oregon, Washington, Hawaii, Colorado, California and Delaware. In many of these states, the P&As played an integral role in getting these initiatives over the finish line. NDRN has also recently garnered national media attention on the issue of subminimum wages as featured on a segment on The Daily Show. 

“If we look at the work we have done over the years, I think it has led to a moment now where we are finally beginning to see the cracks and fissures in a system that keeps people with disabilities from reaching their full potential,” said NDRN Executive Director Curt Decker. “The question now becomes will Congress commit to phasing out the subminimum wage business model in place of a model where people with disabilities are paid fairly for their labor and can work and live with dignity in their communities.”  

As our history demonstrates, NDRN is ready to work with policymakers to pass legislation to create an American workforce that is inclusive of all people. We must build off this momentum and bring real and lasting change for workers with disabilities and those with disabilities who want to achieve the American Dream. Employees, employers, advocates, policymakers, and others can take action and learn more about NDRN’s employment activities, initiatives, and stories by visiting https://www.ndrn.org/resource/ndeam/. 

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The National Disability Rights Network (NDRN) is the nonprofit membership organization for the federally mandated Protection and Advocacy (P&A) Systems and the Client Assistance Programs (CAP) for individuals with disabilities. Collectively, the P&A/CAP Network is the largest provider of legally based advocacy services to people with disabilities in the United States.