July 26, 2016 marks the 26th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This article provides helpful information on this groundbreaking law that changed the lives of Americans with disabilities.
1. Talkin’ ‘bout the ADA Generation.
Young people with disabilities are often called the “ADA Generation” because they were born or grew up after the ADA became a law. Laws such as the ADA exist thanks to the leadership of dedicated disability rights advocates, including Justin Dart, Jr., Ed Roberts and Judith Heumann. These individuals are positive role models that youth with disabilities should know about as they become the next generation of disability leaders. Justin Dart, Jr., called the “father of the ADA,” traveled around the U.S. gathering stories from people with disabilities about the discrimination they faced. These accounts directly impacted the creation of the ADA. Ed Roberts helped create the Independent Living Movement, formed the first Center for Independent Living and co-founded the World Institute on Disability with Judith Heumann. Heumann assisted with the passing of the ADA, served as the Assistant Secretary for Special Education and Rehabilitative Services and is now the State Department’s Special Advisor for International Disability Rights. Young people with disabilities who wish to follow in the footsteps of these leaders can start by reading these self-advocacy guides.
As a result of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), new restrictions on subminimum wage went into effect on July 22, 2016. These new requirements under Section 511 of WIOA should be used to divert people from subminimum wage employment, and move individuals from subminimum wage jobs into competitive integrated employment.
As stated in WIOA, the goal of the Act is to “ensure that individuals with disabilities, especially youth with disabilities, have a meaningful opportunity to prepare for, obtain, maintain, advance in, or regain competitive integrated employment, including supported or customized employment.”
The sub-minimum wage provision of the Fair Labor Standards Act dates to 1938, which allows employers to obtain special minimum wage certificates from the Department of Labor. The certificates give employers the right to pay disabled workers according to their abilities, with no bottom limit to the wage.
Segregating people with disabilities limits their opportunities for advancement and economic mobility. The provision is based on the false assumption that workers with disabilities are less productive than workers without disabilities. However, successful employment models have emerged in the last 78 years to assist people with significant disabilities in acquiring the job skills needed for competitive work. The goal of employers should be to transition workers into a traditional workplace, not perpetuate their segregation.
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For more than 25 years, Disability Rights Nebraska has provided a powerful voice for vulnerable individuals with disabilities.