Angelo Young, International Business Times - March 11, 2014
This is the best article I have ever read explaining the issue of sheltered workshops and the 14(c) certificates, which employers to pay certain disabled people less than minimum wage. In addition to underscoring what’s wrong with the practice, the man interviewed, Curtis Decker, does a great job of explaining why anyone still supports this. Here is an excerpt:
"IBTIMES: What do families think of their disabled relatives working in an environment where the employer determines the minimum wage in accordance to the Section 14(c) rules?
DECKER: Some want their disabled relatives integrated [working in a non-segregated environment for a private employer] and making at least minimum wage. But you have others who say, “Listen, leave it alone. It’s OK. She gets her social security check. She makes a little extra money. She gets out of the house every day. She’s not sitting at home watching television. I can go to work and this is a place she can go to. And you come along and want to disrupt this thing, you’re going to make my life miserable.”
IBTIMES: How do you answer that?
DECKER: I have to tell them that this isn’t about them. Our job is to represent the person with the disability. You can go into a sheltered workshop any day of the week and go up to workers and find someone saying they like the job, and that their friends are there. Like anybody else, you’ve been doing the same job for 10 or 15 years. You can’t make an informed decision if you haven’t experienced anything else. We would have the same issue when going into institutions – you find people who are asking you to get them out of there, and others who don’t know what the alternative is, or where you want to take them, or whether they’ll be separated from their friends if they get out."
I have just a couple of quibbles about the article.
Decker correctly points out that the biggest users and defenders of the 14(c) program are other disability-repeated non-profits. However, he fails to distinguish between old-line, paternalistic oriented service agencies and the more advocacy oriented, modern, consumer-driven disability organizations that don’t use the program or anything like it, and are fighting hard against it. That includes the National Council on Independent living and the hundreds of local Centers for Independent Living around the U.S., the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network, the National Federation for the Blind, and the National Council on Disability. In fact, whether an organization supports or opposes sheltered workshops and the 14(c) certificates program is a good way to tell what kind of disability organization you are looking at.
I also think it is important in articles like this to remind readers that this isn’t about a handful of large corporations. There are similar sheltered workshop programs in large, medium, and small communities all over the country. One way to start working on this issue is check to see if your local disability agencies use the practice, or if they oppose it.
Other than that, I’d say this is essential reading for anyone with an interest in disability issues.