[Nfbc-info] {Disarmed} Fw: [Blind_Democrats] H.R.#3086, Letter From Marc Maurer:

Lauren Merryfield lauren1 at catliness.com
Mon Aug 20 02:17:39 UTC 2012

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----- Original Message ----- 
From: Kenneth Chrane 
To: Blind_Democrats at yahoogroups.com 
Sent: Sunday, August 19, 2012 4:36 AM
Subject: [Blind_Democrats] H.R.#3086, Letter From Marc Maurer:


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.  

Whatever the motives of the people behind it, the correspondence is based on outdated ideas about the capacity of workers with disabilities and a misguided commitment to an antiquated model of service to such workers.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.  

United States Representative

February 23, 2012

Page two

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 staff-who all too often share society's low expectations for disabled people and have an obvious conflict of interest-that 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

United States Representative

February 23, 2012

Page three

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.  

United States Representative

February 23, 2012

Page four

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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