2012 Washington Seminar Fact Sheets

The Fair Wages for Workers with Disabilities Act of 2011

The Home Appliance Accessibility Act

The Americans with Disabilities Business Opportunity Act

The Fair Wages for Workers with Disabilities Act of 2011 H.R. 3086
Disabled workers have been unfairly excluded from the federal minimum wage for seventy-four years, and today over 300,000 disabled workers are working for subminimum wages.


Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) discriminates against people with disabilities.

This section allows the Secretary of Labor to grant special wage certificates to employers, permitting them to pay their workers with disabilities less than the minimum wage, often in sheltered work environments. In some instances disabled workers are being paid pennies per hour.

This discrimination is rooted in low expectations based on misconceptions about the capabilities of disabled people.

The law falsely implies that people with disabilities cannot be productive employees, and subminimum wage employers prey on society’s misconception that disabled people are incapable of being competitively employed. In reality, when provided the proper rehabilitation training and tools, workers with disabilities can be productive and financially independent.

Subminimum wage supports an outdated business model that fosters the underemployment of workers with disabilities.

Section 14(c) was only to be used “to the extent necessary to prevent curtailment of opportunities” for employment of people with disabilities. Instead, subminimum-wage sheltered workshops have eroded into day custody centers, limiting opportunities for workers with disabilities ever to transition into integrated, competitive work. These institutions instill a philosophy of incapacity, which becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy resulting in long-term underemployment.

The sheltered work system is a cash cow for the subminimum wage employer.

Many employers insist that paying the minimum wage to disabled employees would result in lack of profitability and a reduction in their workforce, but most benefit from philanthropic donations, preferred status when bidding on federal contracts, and federal funding. Moreover, while their disabled workers receive subminimum wages that are subsidized by Social Security and public assistance, some workshop executives are earning salaries far above industry norms. The economics overwhelmingly favor subminimum wage employers, encouraging the perpetuation of subminimum wage employment and leaving workers with disabilities little to no choice for real employment.

The Fair Wages for Workers with Disabilities Act of 2011:

Discontinues the practice of issuing special wage certificates.

The Secretary of Labor will no longer issue special wage certificates to new applicants.

Phases out all remaining special wage certificates over a three-year period.

Entities currently holding special wage certificates will begin compensating their workers with disabilities at no less than the federal minimum wage, using the following schedule:

  • private for-profit entities’ certificates will be revoked after 1 year;
  • public or governmental entities’ certificates will be revoked after 2 years; and
  • non-profit entities’ certificates will be revoked after 3 years.

Repeals Section14(c) of the FLSA.

Three years after the law is enacted, the practice of paying disabled workers subminimum wage will be officially abolished, and workers with disabilities will no longer be excluded from the workforce protection of a federal minimum wage.

Cosponsor the Fair Wages for Workers with Disabilities Act H.R. 3086

The Home Appliance Accessibility Act
Digital technology has improved the ease and efficiency of the way we live our lives—but now blind people can no longer operate most fundamental home appliances.

Home appliance manufacturers are constantly incorporating advanced technology into their products.

Most new stoves, dishwashers, washing machines, and other home appliances require interaction with digital displays, flat panels, touch screens, and other user interfaces that are inaccessible to people who are blind or have low vision. Knobs, buttons, and other tactile methods of use are disappearing.

Technology exists to make home appliances accessible to blind people.

Manufacturers often claim nonvisual access cannot be achieved, but text-to-speech technology is inexpensive and more prevalent than it has ever been—Apple has incorporated VoiceOver (a text-to-speech function) into its touch-screen products, making the iPhone, iPod, and iPad fully accessible to blind people right out of the box. All ATMs manufactured in the United States are accessible, and every polling place provides a nonvisually accessible voting machine. Frequently, a simple audio output or vibrotactile feature can make a product fully accessible at minimal cost, as well as more dynamic and appealing for all users.

Unfortunately most manufacturers refuse to incorporate nonvisual access technology in their products.

Companies claim that adding accessibility features is too expensive, but no public data demonstrate that claim. Furthermore, it is proven to be more cost effective to include accessibility features during the design phase rather than after, but manufacturers generally do not invest in this approach. Simply put, if companies include access technology in the design of home appliances, they will sell more products.

No laws exist to require companies to make home appliances accessible.

Although the Americans with Disabilities Act and many other laws mandate physical accessibility for people with disabilities (e.g., wheelchair ramps, Braille in public buildings), no laws protect blind consumers’ right to access to fundamental home appliances. This trend of inaccessibility will continue to grow as technology becomes more advanced and accessibility solutions are ignored.

The Home Appliance Accessibility Act:

Calls on the Access Board to conduct a study.

The Access Board (a small government agency fully equipped with the resources to review the current marketplace, consult with stakeholders, and commission research on issues of access) will issue a report with findings and recommendations for a minimum nonvisual access standard for home appliances and at-home medical equipment.

Establishes a minimum nonvisual access standard for home appliances.

Six months after the Access Board publishes the above-mentioned report, the Board will begin a rulemaking period, not to exceed 36 months, to establish a minimum nonvisual access standard for home appliances. The final standard will go into effect three years after the rule is finalized.

Gives the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) authority to enforce the standard.

Having already been given consumer protection enforcement powers by Congress, the FTC will handle violations, conduct investigations, and levy civil penalties against manufacturers who fail to comply with the standard.

Provides flexibility to manufacturers.

The legislation does not mandate a single, one-size-fits-all solution for all products. Additionally, manufacturers who can demonstrate that meeting a minimum nonvisual access standard creates an undue burden and companies with gross annual sales less than $250,000 are exempt from the law.

Sponsor the Home Appliance Accessibility Act

The Americans with Disabilities Business Opportunity Act
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than two-thirds of Americans with disabilities are unemployed or vastly underemployed.

The Small Business Act (SBA) is meant to promote an entrepreneurial spirit.

To a substantial degree America’s economic success is tied to the freedom to engage in entrepreneurial activity and create one’s own wealth. It has long been the policy of the United States to promote the economic well-being of traditionally disadvantaged groups by creating a variety of business incentive programs that allow these groups to participate in the mainstream of the nation’s economy.

Section 8(a) of the SBA is a powerful program allowing businesses owned by racial, cultural, and ethnic minorities or women to secure federal contracts.

However, this program is not extended to Americans with disabilities. Individuals with disabilities seeking 8(a) certification must take on the onerous task of proving that they are socially and economically disadvantaged, while individuals who are from a racial, cultural, or ethnic minority or women are presumed to be socially disadvantaged.

Census Bureau statistics indicate that people with disabilities occupy an inferior status in our society and are severely disadvantaged socially, vocationally, economically, and educationally.

Yet physical or mental disabilities in no way diminish a person's right to participate fully in all aspects of society. Many people with disabilities have been precluded from doing so because of commonly held misconceptions about their abilities. The continued exclusion from these programs denies people with disabilities the opportunity to compete on an equal basis and to pursue those opportunities for which our free society is justifiably famous.

Disabled people are also excluded from federal procurement practices.

Under current law businesses attempting to secure large federal contracts must guarantee that they will subcontract a portion of the work to small businesses that are owned by traditionally disadvantaged populations. Again individuals with disabilities are not considered a traditionally disadvantaged population; thus businesses owned by individuals with disabilities cannot benefit from these entrepreneurial opportunities.

The Americans with Disabilities Business Opportunity Act:

Amends section 8(a).

People with disabilities will be added to the list of those who are presumed to be socially disadvantaged. Doing this will extend the opportunity to secure federal contracts to disabled people.

Changes federal procurement practices.

For-profit businesses attempting to secure large federal contracts can satisfy procurement requirements by subcontracting with businesses owned by individuals with disabilities.

Sponsor the Americans with Disabilities Business Opportunity Act