Let's Stop Cheating the Disabled
Sheltered workshops are vestiges of the past and should be reformed or abolished.
By Carol Glazer, President of the National Organization on Disability
Consider this: Businesses in regions with the lowest unemployment rates employ disproportionate numbers of workers with disabilities .
The implication? People with disabilities are more than capable, they're just not companies' first, second, or even third choice. But when employers need talent, they give new people a chance. And when given the chance, people with disabilities succeed.
Many of those without job prospects end up in sheltered workshops, places that legally perpetuate segregation by isolating workers with disabilities and, for over 140,000 Americans, paying far less than minimum wage—as little as pennies per hour. Sheltered workshops are vestiges of a misguided time when people with disabilities were believed to need charity and seclusion. We now know both beliefs are incorrect.
Moreover, workshops – which claim to be training grounds for bigger things – don't actually prepare workers for competitive employment; only 5% of people leave workshops for community jobs. Not because they can't perform, but because there aren't pathways. Most go from sheltered workshops to elder care, not better lives.
What many workshops actually do, even with ironic names like Opportunity Village, is profit off of their practically-indentured workforces by providing cheap labor to major corporations. Is this illegal? No. Immoral? Certainly. Can we do better? Absolutely.
Worst of all, the payment of less than minimum wage to Americans with disabilities is a callous rebuke to the dignity for which workers have fought and bled. To pay us less is to imply that we are less. People with disabilities can't work? Neither could black people or women, at one time. It's an inane belief, and suited more to 1918 than 2018.
The 40-hour work week. Safe working environments. Child labor bans. A minimum wage.
As recently as 75 years ago these standards would have been dismissed as fantasy. Yet here we are. And as we celebrate our 124th Labor Day this year, we not only pay tribute to the workers who sacrificed to advance our well-being, we also recertify our collective obligation to leave behind a better workforce than we inherited.
So what can we do?
First, do your homework on the businesses you support. If businesses are profiting off of workers earning subminimum wages, stop buying from them. How do you know which businesses those are? Here are the lists. You may see some familiar names, with Goodwill the most notorious (and frequent) opportunist.
Second, and more simple, tell your friends and families. Sheltered workshops have lasted this long because they exist largely unbeknownst to the public. So spread the word.
We must reform or abolish these institutions. It will be hard for some people, but change always is. For a small number of Americans with disabilities, sheltered workshops provide a purpose and place to go each day. That's a good thing. But they are woefully inefficient; with a 5% success rate, this cannot be argued. And no one should be paid less than minimum wage.
 Brookings Institute, 2018
- Employment for persons with disabilities Fact Sheet ›
- Employing People with Disabilities ›
- The ADA: 28 Years of Opportunity Unrealized - DiversityInc ›
- The Jerry Lewis MDA Labor Day Telethon - Wikipedia ›
- Office of Disability Employment Policy - United States Department of ... ›
- Labor Day and People with Disabilities ›
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"Do not assume you are properly registered to vote," warns activist Shaun King.
"Do not assume you are properly registered to vote," warned Shaun King repeatedly. His wife went to vote with her registration card in her hand, and they said she couldn't vote. King said some of the reasons that people are being turned away are nefarious.
Fifteen states close registration today, including Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, New Mexico, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Texas. States that do not have online registration: Arkansas, Michigan, Mississippi, and Texas.
A list of every state's deadline and links to each state's voting requirements was published by the New York Times.
"Disability is the missing word in media coverage of police violence," states the Ruderman Family Foundation.
In recent years, law enforcement across the country has come under fire for incidents of police brutality, but little attention is being paid to the police-related deaths of people with disabilities.
National Organization on Disability President Carol Glazer addressed disability inclusion at the DiversityInc Fall 2018 Event.
How can you adopt a vocabulary that's inclusive and respectful of everyone? This EY exec, an advocate for people with disabilities, shares her insights.
"The difference between the right word and the almost-right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug." —Mark Twain
As diversity leaders, we understand that disability is just another kind of difference, like culture, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation. We recognize that diversity is a valuable source of insight and adaptability, generating better business ideas and high-quality service. Differing abilities are a part of that healthy diversity. It's our business to promote inclusiveness throughout our organizations and to advocate for policies and programs that support it.
In building an inclusive culture, we're on the front lines and need to be visibly living our organizations' values every day. It's important that we set the tone not only in what we do and say, but how we say it—in formal messaging as well as everyday conversation. This is where even diversity leaders can get stuck.
Sometimes inclusive language can seem a bit cumbersome, but with a few simple changes each of us can make a significant difference—helping to promote an inclusive culture while setting an example both inside and outside our organizations.
Here are six ways never to talk about disabilities:
1. Never say "a disabled person" or "the disabled." Say a person or people "with disabilities."
Put the person first. A disability is what someone has, not what someone is. For instance, "mentally ill" is less respectful than "person with mental-health issues." "Retarded" is never an appropriate term. Say "intellectual disabilities" or "cognitive disabilities."
2. Never use the term "handicapped parking." Use "accessible parking" instead.
Handicapped parking is still in use (e.g., when referring to parking placards), though the word "handicapped" is offensive and has been virtually eliminated in most other contexts. Remove it from your organization's vocabulary completely by using the term "accessible parking." (It's also more accurate, as accessible describes the parking and handicapped does not.)
3. Never use the term "impaired." Use terms such as "low vision," "hard of hearing" or "uses a wheelchair" instead.
Though it may be used in legal contexts, the word "impaired" can be offensive, as it implies damage. Many people with disabilities do not see themselves as damaged, but simply as different.
4. Never say "hidden" disabilities. Say "non-visible" or "non-apparent."Many disabilities are not apparent, such as serious illnesses or chronic health conditions, sensory limitations, or mental-health and learning disabilities. When referring to these disabilities, avoid using hidden, as it has negative connotations, implying purposeful concealment or shame.
5. Whenever possible, don't say "accommodations." Say "adjustments" or "modifications."This can be tricky, as accommodation has a specific legal meaning and must be used in certain contexts, like policy or government communications. However, accommodation suggests doing a favor for the person who has a disability. An accommodation is a workplace or work-process modification made to enable an employee to be more productive. It is necessary and not a preference or privilege. The terms adjustment and modification capture this idea without suggesting a favor or special treatment, so are preferable whenever specific legal terminology is not required.
6. Never use victim or hero language; describe situations in a straightforward way.
Don't use language that portrays people with disabilities as victims, such as "suffers from," "challenged by," or "struggles with." Say "someone who uses a wheelchair" or "wheelchair user," not "wheelchair-bound" or "confined to a wheelchair." On the flip side, don't use heroic language when people with disabilities complete everyday tasks and responsibilities. People with disabilities don't see themselves as inspiring simply because they're going about their daily lives. We all have challenges—working around those challenges is not heroic, it's just human.
What Terminology Should I Use?
It's worth noting that even in the disability community (yes, that is how advocates for inclusion of people with disabilities refer to ourselves), different people are comfortable with different terminology. Some are fine with the descriptor "disabled," which is in common use in the United Kingdom. Others may freely use "impaired." However, as diversity leaders, it is our job to promote behaviors that make all people feel valued and included. Knowing that some people are offended by these terms, I feel strongly that the most inclusive course is to avoid them and adopt a vocabulary that feels respectful to everyone.
As champions of diversity, we have the opportunity—and the responsibility—to set standards for how our people, organizations and society speak and think about people with disabilities. By shifting our language, we can help shift perceptions and promote the culture of inclusion that is the backbone of healthy diversity in all aspects of life.
— Lori Golden, EY, Abilities Strategy Leader
Golden leads EY's internal initiatives in the Americas to create an enabling environment and inclusive culture for people working with disabilities.
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