H.R. 873 – Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA)
S. 260 – Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA)
Thousands of individuals with intellectual disabilities enjoy the opportunity to work in a specialized environment that nurtures them and accommodates their mental, physical and behavioral challenges, while rewarding them with specialized wages that, while not equal to full minimum wages, are appropriate to their level of productivity and their capacity to work. These opportunities rely on specialized wage certificates as provided for under Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act. The employment usually takes place at facility-based work centers, sometimes referred to as sheltered workshops. These centers provide more than employment. They provide a protected atmosphere suited to the intellectual and behavioral challenges of the individuals who work there. They cater to a higher-needs population, which includes people who may have frequent seizures, who may act out physically, even violently, when stressed, or who may need help toileting or to have their adult diaper changed. This is a specialized environment for a special population.
In the first weeks of the 116th Congress, two bills have been introduced in the House and Senate that would eliminate these employment opportunities for individuals with intellectual disabilities. Proponents of these bills describe them as civil rights issues, asking:
“If a non-disabled person has the right to work for competitive wages, why should a person with intellectual disabilities be denied the right to work for full, competitive wages?”
This appears to be a perfectly reasonable question, until you think of the different forms of disability, and the severity of some intellectual disabilities. Then the matter becomes complicated, as not all disabilities are equal. A more accurate question would be:
“If a non-disabled person has the right to work for competitive wages, why should a person with intellectual disabilities who is capable of working at an equal capacity be denied the right to work for competitive wages? And why should a person who is not capable of working at a competitive capacity be denied the opportunity to perform any work at all?”