A Subminimum Wage For Workers With Disabilities? TAKE ACTION!


It’s the 21st anniversary of the American with Disabilities Act, a law that univocally bans discrimination against individuals with disabilities in the public and private sectors. The US was the first country to adopt national civil rights legislation that calls for equal access to jobs, transportation, public services, public spaces and much more. The ADA also made possible the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), under which children up to the age of 21 like my 14-year-old son Charlie have the right to a free and appropriate education in the least restricted environment.

Nearly one in five Americans — some 36 million people — has a disability and about 5 percent of children aged 5 to 17 are disabled. In a presidential proclamation, President Obama emphasized how, thanks to the ADA, individuals with disabilities lead “fuller lives in neighborhoods that are more accessible and have greater access to new technologies” while students with disabilities “now enjoy the same educational opportunities as their peers and are gaining the tools necessary to reach their greatest potential.” But much remains to be done to ensure that individuals with disabilities do not face discrimination in housing and in the workplace. 72 percent of those with disabilities do not work, compared to 27 percent of those of the same age without a disability. as Nirvi Shah writes EdWeek’s On Special Education blog.

Shah takes those figures from the US Census and also notes that

  • 21 percent of people 16 and older have disabilities and live in poverty, compared to 11 percent of those without a disability.
  • For those with a disability, median income is $18,865, which is about $10,000 less than those without a disability.

28 percent of those with a disability do not have a high school diploma, in comparison to 12 percent for those without a disability. Nearly 75 percent of students with disabilities in Texas have been suspended or expelled, versus 55 of students without a disability.

In other words, we’ve got a very long way to go in ensuring equal access and opportunities for individuals with disabilities. Disability advocates protested in Washington, D.C. and throughout the US today against a proposal that would make workers with disabilities something less than equal by setting guidelines on when they can be paid less than minimum wage. Under the proposal, individuals with disabilities could work for less than the minimum wage “if they meet certain age-related requirements and if they do so while receiving job training designed to prepare them for competitive employment,” says Disability Scoop. Workers are not supposed to stay in such  subminimum wage situations for longer than six months unless they wish to.

Says Disability Scoop about Tuesday’s protests:

Members of the National Federation of the Blind are holding “informational protests” outside the district offices of members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on Tuesday….

Tuesday’s events are designed to urge senators to reject a proposal that would outline the circumstances under which people with disabilities could be employed at less than the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, organizers say.

“Unequal pay for equal work on the basis of disability is unfair, discriminatory and immoral,” said Marc Maurer, president of the National Federation of the Blind.

The Senate committee is expected to consider the proposal covering so-called subminimum wage next week as part of a reauthorization of the Workforce Investment Act.

Members of TASH, the National Down Syndrome Society and other disability rights advocates have been speaking out against the proposal which, they say, “creates several loopholes that may put more youth at risk of being placed in sheltered workshops and earning below the minimum wage.” The guidelines are not really safeguards, but could end up giving sheltered employment providers a “checklist to meet in order to deem people with disabilities eligible for subminimum wage jobs.” The proposal could indeed have the result of increasing the number of those with disabilities employed in low paying environments.

However, some disability organizations including The Arc support the proposal, saying that the fact that it creates guidelines for a “system that currently has little oversight” is welcome.

The proposed legislation is not only in direction contradiction to the ADA, but also sends the message that individuals with disabilities are worth less in the workplace and, indeed, are simply worth less.  Last month, Philip Davies, a Tory MP from Shipley in the UK made a similar proposal that disabled people be paid less than the minimum wage, to increase the likelihood of them getting a job. Employers, said  Davies, could hire individuals with disabilities and then, after seeing if they might be as “productive as those without a disability,” consider moving “up the pay rates. ”

Davies’ remarks sparked a public outcry — “backward anti-disabled rhetoric,” wrote Lucy Glennon in the Guardian. A petition demanding an apology for disabled Britons has gotten over 17,000 signatures and got petition has also gotten the attention of Davies, who wrote to Care2 and demanded that the petition be taken down.

Here in the US, we also need to take action and tell the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee that the proposal for a subminimum wage for workers with disabilities is discriminatory. As an ad the National Federation of the Blind ran in The Washington Post says,

“Unequal pay for equal work on the basis of disability is unfair, discriminatory and immoral.”

It’s hard to believe that, even as we’re celebrating the ADA, one of its core principles — that individuals with disabilities have the right to equal access and accommodations  in all areas of the public and private sector — is being challenged and even threatened. Please take action and tell the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee that the proposed legislation puts workers with disabilities in danger of being exploited and violates the rights of individuals with disabilities under the ADA.

In the words of disability activists: “Nothing about us without us.”

Related Care2 Coverage

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$450 Billion: What Family Caregivers of Elderly, Disabled Would Earn

British MP Responds to Care2 Petition

Teaching Today’s Autistic Students to be Tomorrow’s Workers

Photo of students at the Gong-Gong Garden and Putt-Putt Golf Course Grand Opening by gkhorticulture


Christopher M.
Christopher M.4 years ago

The state of Maryland had offered to partly subsidize my earnings back in August 1999 when I began, but I believe the offer was rejected and that I was competitively hired (under conditions of labor scarcity)

Wendy F.
Wendy F6 years ago

Work is work! Why the hell should some workers get less for their work?! NO! What does disability have to do with your work? If you got the job your disability is not an issue for that situation. Saying some people deserve less pay is really saying some people are simply worth less! NO!

Patrick F.
Patrick f6 years ago

2 days now and only 2 more people signed the petition that I created to stand up for human rights. What happens half-way round the world eventually comes to North America.....

AnnMarie S.
AnnMarie S6 years ago

To quote Temple Grandin "different not less" you can understand that people with disabilities just want to be treated like anyone else they can be taught if we take the time to teach for anyone to under value them in sny way is an outrage we need to build them up not take advantage of them.

timothy m.
timothy m6 years ago

"Equal wages for equal work" -- precisely. And unequal wages for unequal work.

Patrick F.
Patrick f6 years ago

Another related story was published here a little while ago and I had to start a petition.


If you want to be treated fairly in the labor market, put a stop to this practice and sign the petition as well as the one above.

Patrick F.
Patrick f6 years ago

This is just another minor step towards a new form of slavery. WHO do you think came up with this idea? It was greedy businesses who want more and more profit. This not only affects the disabled but EVERYONE looking for work. WHO do you think the employer will hire, someone abled and expensive or someone disabled and cheap. You do the math.

Seriously people, if you want job opportunities, tell these corrupt companies that you will not support a business that looks to undermine fair labor practices with this and shipping jobs overseas to save costs.

Mrs Shakespeare
Mrs Shakespeare6 years ago

People speak about how its only fair to pay kids with special needs less for needing more care and supervision, which makes perfect sense of course. However, I dont agree with you. Is it really impossible-financially-for them to be kind to those kids? They make millions if not billions of dollars annually, so are you telling me they cant afford to raise their wages a little bit? I know its businesses we are talking about here, so profit is all they care about, but its run by humans and not robots, so you'd expect them to understand that NOT everything we do in life has to benefit us or make us richer.

Cheryl M. D.
Cheryl Dare6 years ago

I can't imagine why anyone would think we deserve only part of the minimum wage for us to thrive on. What, are people afraid of us, don't want us to intrude on their minds or lives or just don't want any disabled people to exist? Living on minimum wage is hard enough for anyone and being paid less for being disabled does violate the ADA. Why on Earth do some legislators think we can get by on less than minimum wage when sometimes our costs are higher than what most able-bodied people squeak by on. We often need specialized equipment and aid that we could never afford on just minimum wage or our Social Security checks. I dare those legislators to live comfortably on my less than $800 monthly check.

myra d.
myra d6 years ago

Petition signed.