Time to End Legal Discrimination Against One of America’s Largest Minorities

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Published October 8, 2019
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The Montclarion
Alexis Kitchmire | The Montclarion

Members of a certain U.S. minority group are legally allowed to be paid less than the minimum wage. This group is reported to be “one of the largest minorities in the United States.” That statement was made by Disabled World in 2017 about people with disabilities.

Prejudiced individuals assume that the blind population is incapable of being as productive as the general workforce. As a blind person who has tutored children and conducted research and training for the Sisters of Charity of St. Elizabeth, I beg to differ.

Section 14(C) of the questionably named Fair Labor Standards Act allows employers to pay people with disabilities subminimum wages to perform menial jobs with no training or opportunity for advancement, according to a fact sheet produced by the National Federation of the Blind (NFB).

The report declares: “This law only reinforces the stigmatic misconception that people with disabilities are less capable and creates an artificial barrier to future employment opportunities.”

Fortunately, there is a solution. The fact sheet details The Transformation to Competitive Employment Act (TCEA), a set of federal bills to eliminate Section 14(C) so people with disabilities will be paid equal wages.

The government will provide grants to employers who currently discriminate against people with disabilities in order to transition their business models to integrated, competitive employment with training and growth opportunities. Some argue that eliminating subminimum wages will put people with disabilities out of work, but evidence shows this is a false assumption.

According to the TCEA fact sheet, “a growing number of employers” have stopped paying subminimum wages. In the time that subminimum wages have decreased, employment among people with disabilities has increased, showing that integrative, competitive employment works.

As a proud member of the NFB for nearly five years, I agree with the philosophy stated by James H. Omvig.

Omvig and Joanne Wilson in the February 2008 issue of The Braille Monitor said: “Given proper training and opportunity, the average blind person can participate fully in society and can compete on terms of equality with his or her sighted peers.”

I fully believe that what’s true of blind people holds true for the wider disability community. People with disabilities, while individually often quite ordinary, as a whole make the workforce and society stronger through our different ways of working and of being.

October is Meet the Blind Month as well as National Disability Awareness Month.

Now is the perfect time to take action. Find out which federal district you live in and call or e-mail your representative about H.R. 873, the House bill.

I encourage you to contact Senator Cory Booker and Senator Robert Menendez about S. 260, the Senate bill. Urge them to cosponsor the bills to end the legal discrimination of one of America’s largest minority populations. Call the United States Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121 and ask for your senator or representative.

People with disabilities have the potential to be highly productive coworkers, employers and entrepreneurs. All we ask is that you give us a chance.

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