Wednesday, July 24, 2019
Yes, companies, you have to pay workers with disabilities
It's one of those stories that defies belief: In June, a Goodwill in Springfield, Illinois informed a dozen workers with disabilities in a job skills program that they would no longer get paid for their work because of a forthcoming minimum wage increase in the state. After major backsplash on social media, Land of Lincoln Goodwill Industries reconsidered, reports Disability Scoop, and issued an apology.
"Our recent decision regarding the (Vocational) Rehab program and the resulting harm it might have caused falls short of living up to our mission and we apologize for this error in judgment," said the statement issued by president/CEO Sharon Durbin. "We are reversing the decision to realign our Voc Rehab program and those participants affected will return to their part time skills training program with pay." Durbin has since resigned.
Like many, I felt completely outraged. How could any company possibly think that it's OK to not pay their workers? Besides the obvious fact that they deserved to be paid for their work, I thought about what kind of awful message this would send to them. I also felt sad, as I do anytime I see that prejudice beast rear its ugly head—and indeed, this is prejudice, of the form that implies people with disabilities are lesser human beings who do not have the equal rights that others do. Per the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment rate for persons with a disability is 19.1 percent, vs. 65.9 percent for those without disabilities.
Months ago, I was at a pizza store with Ben when I spotted a young man with disabilities cleaning up. His aide sat at a table. I asked about how long the young man had been working there; about a year, he said. I asked if he was getting paid. The answer shocked me: "No." The aide couldn't explain why.
Sometimes, I have optimism about job possibilities for Max, as happened a few years ago when I found out a local CVS had a program for high school students with disabilities. I recently had a talk with administrators at Max's school about instituting computer skills in their life skills program. Max already does data input program in his OT session, but that and other computer know-how should be a core part of any life skills program these days—tech is the future.
Sometimes, though, I despair about the obstacles Max will face out there—the dated attitudes toward people with disabilities, the thinking that they lack abilities, the unwillingness to give someone a chance.
But deciding that your workers with disabilities can go without pay? No. Just, no.