Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Keeping Disabled People from Their Full Potential is a Social Justice Issue

Attorney General Jefferson Sessions gave people with disabilities something worse than a lump of coal for Christmas—he rescinded 10 documents offering guidance on disability rights. One, from 2016, protected people with disabilities from exploitation on the job and ensured that they had the chance to move into integrated job settings if able to do so. There’s real money in taking away these rights, David Perry reports at Pacific Standard:
Segregated workshops are legally allowed to pay disabled workers pennies per hour. They are incredibly lucrative, and often their owners use their wealth to buy political access. But in 2015, a class action suit in Oregon (Lane v. Brown) and a consent decree in Rhode Island resulted in the new DOJ guidelines: Basically, everyone deserves an opportunity to work in integrated settings. That's only possible if education systems, workplaces, and housing providers play by the same sets of rules governing the public and private mechanisms of disability rights work together.
So repealing the guideline makes it more likely that the wealthy owners of segregated workshops can continue to profit from the labor of underpaid disabled workers, blocking them from moving toward integrated work.

AG Sessions has a well-known 
general antipathy to federal enforcement of disability rights, so he's the perfect figure to use in rolling back this Olmstead guidance. Here, we merely have to follow the money. As [former deputy assistant attorney general for the DOJ's Civil Rights Division Eve] Hill notes, "People who pay people with disabilities below the minimum wage get contracts that pay the regular fair market value even though they pay below minimum wage." Many sheltered workshops are extremely profitable enterprises, grossing considerable income from the work itself, while presenting themselves to the public as educational or charitable enterprises. [...]
There's strong evidence to support the conjecture that the sheltered-workshop lobbyists are behind the latest DOJ move. Numerous people sent me a copy of a letter from ACCSES, an organization that represents a variety of sheltered-workshop providers. They are celebrating. They had lobbied the DOJ to take this document down in August, and now they feel that Sessions has listened to their concerns and is going to protect their investments. (ACCSES did not respond to requests for comment.)
Promoting sub-minimum wage jobs, keeping disabled people from reaching their full potential, and enriching people who profit off of the sub-minimum wage labor of disabled people? That’s like a Trump administration policy straight from central casting.

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