Friday, August 3, 2018

Another Wall Being Built: The Wall of Segregation

Many of us who have been in the field of the employment of people with disabilities have been working to tear down a wall of segregation. But there are those who are now trying to rebuild it brick by brick.

When I spoke at the APSE Employment First Conference a few weeks back, I spelled out some of the outlandish claims pro-segregation advocates were making – for instance, that current laws and policies are restricting choice because they limit segregated placements. I pointed out how well-organized these segregationists are. They include many national agencies who provide disability services. I believe some in attendance at APSE might of felt I was overstating the situation. After all, these same agencies like to use the words inclusion, employment first, and other tags that make them appear current and caring about integration.

But, let’s look at what is happening.

Olmstead Guidance on Integration Withdrawn

In December, 2017, The Department of Justice under AG Sessions withdrew its October 2016 guidance on the Integration Mandate of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Olmstead. The Olmstead decision, from 1999, ruled that states must place people with disabilities in the community if “community placement is appropriate, the transfer from institutional care to a less restrictive setting is not opposed by the affected individual, and the placement can be reasonably accommodated.” This has been applied to work settings as well, ending documented systemic and needless segregation in places.

It is apparent now that Sessions’ Department of Justice is open to maintaining sheltered workshops.

Proposed House Bill Would Redefine Integration to be Meaningless

A new House Bill, H.R. 5658, “Workplace Choice and Flexibility for Individuals with Disabilities Act,” would change wording in the Rehabilitation Act and the ADA to modify how “competitive integrated employment” is defined. Integration would be rolled back to include: “social and interpersonal interactions with colleagues, vendors, customers, superiors, or other such persons who the employee may come into contact with during the work day and across workplace settings.”

In other words, a sheltered worker, surrounded by others with disabilities, would still be considered “integrated” because he or she is interacting with staff, or potentially the worker loading a soda machine, and the person delivering mail. If you really believe that represents integration, it is tantamount to saying integration also occurs when a cafeteria worker says hello to a prison inmate. This proposed bill would also amend the Rehabilitation Act and change the integrated employment definition to include non-competitive jobs.

ACCSES, a group that says it represents over 1200 organizations, with a large and active AbilityOne presence, supports the passing of HR 5658, saying “This bill is one step toward our collective goal of increasing job opportunities and choices for people with disabilities.”

Here is the perversion of the “choice” argument, where eliminating segregated options in which people have been exploited, separated as a group, and often just earn pennies for their work, equals restriction of choice. Check out their web site to see their agenda and the remarkable use of doublespeak:

  • Expose the artificial construct of being outside the “community” [segregated institutions and workshops]
  • Preserve worker protections by stopping the phase out of Section 14(c)
  • Expand the role of service providers and AbilityOne Agencies as legitimate employers
  • Recognize a clear presumption that jobs through community providers, AbilityOne, State Use, and other ratio-based programs are within the definition of Competitive Integrated Employment

“Together for Choice” Advocates Want “Choice” to Include Segregated Housing and Work

This organization, numbering 800 members, is working to stop any efforts to phase out sub-minimum wages, stating “employment is not about the money (people with disabilities] earn. Rather, they prefer the feeling of safety, the opportunity to work alongside friends, the atmosphere of kindness and understanding, freedom from being teased or picked on, assistance with personal needs upon request, supervised administration of medications and the wonderful sense of self-worth provided by a quality work center.”

This is setting up a false choice, where a real job is offered as being unsafe, being teased by unkind co-workers, and having little to do with self-worth, etc. If this is their understanding of community employment, they shouldn’t be providing vocational services, period.
So, if you don’t think there is serious backsliding going on that directly threatens Employment First and continued deinstitutionalization, you are dreaming. The Disability Industrial Complex has always been resistant to change, but for those who fight for the civil rights of people with disabilities, there was support at least within the law, the courts, the research citing the ineffectiveness of segregated employment and large group housing, and our belief in the morality of ending segregation and sub-minimum wage.

It is now looking like disability rights will be faced with ignored research and little government support.

The future is at risk is so many ways. Call your representatives, start advocating, and get loud.

And don’t forget to vote.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

How Should Job Developers Spend Their Time?

The link mentioned at the end of this video 
is in the yellow block on the right at the TRN Web Site.

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Friday, October 10, 2014

Agency-Owned Social Enterprises: Is It Draining Resources for Employment of People with Disabilities?

Come down to our ice cream shop! Your patronage supports jobs for the people with disabilities who work here!

Hmmm. The idea of social enterprise is a wonderful concept. Having a business that incorporates diversity and funnels its profits into social causes, including supporting people with disabilities, has much potential. But here’s the problem. Agencies that are charged with getting people community employment are using the concept as a systems model to be replicated as a significant part of their solution to unemployment. This has turned into a bit of a sideshow.

Three years ago, I wrote a blog post that took a critical look at the growing trend in social enterprises as a solution by agencies for the unemployment of people with disabilities. I noted a number of major concerns with such approaches, and I used the term “engineered employment” to describe them.

After recently visiting a number of agencies that were in the process of converting their facility-based services to “community employment,” I have found nearly all of them have been struggling to enhance their job services. But what they are also spending a great deal of time, money, and resources doing is developing their agency-owned businesses – selling muffins, snacks, shredding, recycling, art studios, cafes, farms, ice cream shops, and so on. And then they tout these as community employment success stories. From my observations, it’s easy to see why agencies will prefer this path rather than direct job placement. 

For example, "social enterprise" is an impressive cutting-edge term. It can be traced to European worker cooperatives in the early 90s that provided work for people with disabilities. It has a certain allure. Secondly, setting up a business can be an enjoyable and satisfying challenge, especially when you have a grant that will fund it. Third, it’s a nice thing to show off to families and visitors - there is a central location and it is easy to understand. Fourth, often the workers there are thrilled to be out of a workshop. And it can demonstrate the capacity of a worker with a disability in a community work setting.

But analyze this closer. What are the real outcomes and costs? And given the deplorable state of segregation and high unemployment of people with disabilities, is this where our focus should be? 

While I think there is a place for social enterprise, I think there are real risks in human service agencies developing them. And here is why: 

It is a formidable challenge to develop a quality job placement program. You need to do good hiring, quality training, develop career assessment practices, employer engagement strategies, and have effective job support strategies. From experience, I can tell you that this takes a lot of resources, work and a laser focus. But the payoff is huge. You can find well-matched jobs for high numbers of people with whatever job challenges they possess, once you have a flexible and competent system in place. 

But if you are running a business, or worse, several businesses, where are your energies? They are diluted with maintaining and subsidizing one or several business models that are providing work that may or may not be of interest for a very small number of individuals. This is not to say that all micro-enterprises are to be avoided. Self-owned businesses are a reasonable job solution for the generally small numbers of individuals who have a passion for a particular business. But this must evolve from the individual, and not the agency thrusting it on the individual.

Non-profit human services, by necessity, must be lean and highly targeted to their mission. Service designs must add significant value and offer individualization to the people you serve, and not just add value to the reputation of the agency.  Unfortunately, social enterprises rarely add enough direct value for the effort an employment services agency must put in. They also often require ongoing subsidies, using resources that should be going to job placement. And they offer "fixed job types" that are not grown from personal choice. Finally, the expertise of most human services management is not geared to business profitability, which social enterprises still require.

If you are running a business in your agency for the purpose of employing people with disabilities, consider these questions:
  • Ask yourself if your enterprise can be quickly spun off and survive on its own? 
  • Ask if there are workers with a real passion for that work - not just those who were placed there and have come to be comfortable? 
  • Ask what the costs will be per the number of individuals served? 
  • Ask if this business is competing with other employers in the community - the very people you are seeking to act as a resource to? 
  • Are there really insolvable obstacles such that the employees of that business cannot be employed elsewhere in the community
  • And if there are still good reasons to develop or maintain a social enterprise, are you willing to let the workers own the business, rather than the agency?

If one of your goals is to provide community employment, do not dilute your mission with an enterprise that will “engineer jobs” that haven’t grown out of personalized career assessment or discovery. Funders and policymakers need to stop funding these efforts with seed money that should go to job developers and employment consultants. Disability services have access to a relatively fixed pool of resources, folks. And 4 out of 5 people of working age with significant disabilities aren’t in community jobs. When you pull money away from your main mission, you better have some innovation in mind that will eventually produce job outcomes at least as good as customized job placement. 

Right now, and I have looked closely at several, I cannot find any in social enterprise.

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Friday, September 5, 2014

Sub-Minimum Wage Battle Heating Up

The continuing controversy regarding using sub-minimum wage for workers with disabilities (using special worker certificates under Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act) rages on. Use of this provision since 1938 has led to far too many examples of exploitation, artificially lowered wages, and poor employment outcomes. It needs to be phased out; review some of my previous postings on this issue.

Recent developments have cast new light on the issue and energized advocates trying to end the practice. Last February, 2014, President Obama issued an Executive Order that raises to $10.10 the hourly minimum wage paid for work performed by parties who contract with the Federal Government, including workers with disabilities. According to the Order, raising the pay of low-wage workers increases their morale and the productivity and quality of their work, lowers turnover and its accompanying costs, and reduces supervisory costs.

Photo credit: APSE
Yet, at the same time, SourceAmerica, formerly known as NISH, as the agency responsible for distributing government contracts to non-profits, continues to routinely award such contracts to many non-profits that pay workers with disabilities less than minimum wage. Indeed, it has even lobbied against the phasing out of Section 14(c). This recently lead to a very public protest of SourceAmerica headquarters by a collaboration of national advocacy organizations, including APSE, the National Federation of the Blind, the National Council on Independent Living, ADAPT, Little People of America, and TASH.

Finally, bi-partisan support continues to grow for US House Bill H.R. 831, The Fair Wages for Workers with Disabilities Act. Now with 96 co-sponsors (as of August, 2014), the bill would end issuing any new special wage certificates by the Department of Labor. It also phases out existing certificates, giving for-profits one year until their certificate is revoked; public entities have two years; and private non-profit vocational providers using sub-minimum wage will have 3 years to transition to integrated job placements at commensurate wages. At that time, Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act will also be repealed.

Over 2700 existing certificates are being used across the US currently. Predictably the outcry from most in reaction to the pending legislation has been dire predictions of layoffs, closures, and the spectra of people having nowhere to go or nothing to do. And while this could actually happen, it could only occur if those providers elect to do nothing about modernizing their services over the phaseout. In fact, there are many other agencies that exist that serve the same individuals with the same kinds of support needs, and do so without using sub-minimum wage. A good deal of evidence supports the ending of this antiquated practice.

It’s time to make US wage policy consistent and inclusive of all people, including workers with disabilities.

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Ending Disability Segregation