2013 Washington Seminar Fact Sheets

The Fair Wages for Workers with Disabilities Act of 2013

The Technology, Education, and Accessibility in College and Higher Education Act (TEACH)

Equal Access to Air Travel for Service-Disabled Veterans (H.R. 164)

The Fair Wages for Workers with Disabilities Act of 2013
Current labor laws unjustly prohibit workers with disabilities from reaching their full socioeconomic potential.

Written in 1938, Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) discriminates against people with disabilities by allowing the secretary of labor to grant Special Wage Certificates to employers, permitting them to pay workers with disabilities less than the minimum wage.

Despite enlightened civil rights legislation prohibiting discrimination on the basis of disability, this antiquated provision is still in force, with some disabled workers making only three cents an hour.

The subminimum wage model actually benefits the employer, not the worker.

Subminimum wage employers receive taxpayer and philanthropic dollars because the public believes they are providing training and employment for people with disabilities. The executives use the substantial proceeds to compensate themselves with six-figure salaries on the backs of disabled workers they pay pennies per hour. People who raise their own standard of living while taking advantage of those who do not have the same rights as every other American are engaging in discrimination, not charity.

This discrimination persists because of the myths that Section 14(c) is:

  • Myth 1…a compassionate offering of meaningful work.

    Although the entities that engage in this practice demand the benefits that come from being recognized as employers, subminimum wage work is not true employment. These so-called employers offer days filled with only repetitive drudgery for which workers are compensated with third-world wages, leading disabled employees toward learned incapacity and greater dependence on social programs.

  • Myth 2…an employment training tool for disabled workers.

    Fewer than 5 percent of workers with disabilities in subminimum wage workshops will transition into integrated competitive work. In fact data show that they must unlearn the skills they acquire in a subminimum wage workshop in order to obtain meaningful employment. Therefore Section 14(c) is a training tool that perpetuates ongoing underemployment.

  • Myth 3…a controversial issue among the disability community.

    More than fifty disability-related organizations and counting support the repeal of Section 14(c) of the FLSA, and many former subminimum wage employers have abandoned the use of the Special Wage Certificate without terminating anyone. Only entities profiting from this exploitive practice refuse to acknowledge that it is discrimination.

The Fair Wages for Workers with Disabilities Act of 2013:

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 one year;
  • public or governmental entities’ certificates will be revoked after two years; and
  • nonprofit entities’ certificates will be revoked after three years.

Repeals Section 14(c) of the FLSA.

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

Create opportunities for real work at real wages.
Cosponsor the Fair Wages for Workers with Disabilities Act.

The Technology, Education, and Accessibility in College and Higher Education Act (TEACH)
Inaccessible technology in the classroom creates a separate-but-equal approach to learning that discriminates against disabled students.

The evolution of technology has fundamentally changed the education system.

The scope of instructional materials used to facilitate the teaching and learning process at institutions of higher education has expanded. Curricular content comes in the form of digital books, PDFs, webpages, etc.; and most of this content is delivered through technology such as courseware, library databases, digital software, and applications. These advancements have revolutionized access to information, but the majority of these materials are partially or completely inaccessible to students with disabilities.

Barriers to access for disabled students create a separate-but-equal approach to learning.

According to a 2009 Government Accountability Office report, approximately 10.8 percent of students enrolled in postsecondary institutions had some disability. The mass deployment of inaccessible electronic instructional materials creates barriers to learning for millions of disabled students. When a website is not compatible with screen-access software, a blind student is denied access to online course information; if nondisabled students are using an inaccessible e-reader, a student who cannot read print has to petition the school for an accessible device and thus potentially different content. This approach to access is discriminatory and places unnecessary barriers in the way of students with disabilities.

Technology exists to remedy this discrimination, but postsecondary institutions are not investing in accessibility.

Innovations in text-to-speech, refreshable Braille, and other technologies have created promise for equal access for disabled students; yet an unacceptable number of postsecondary institutions do not make it a priority to purchase accessible technology. Schools are buying inaccessible instructional materials and then separate, accessible items on an ad-hoc basis for students with disabilities. Some resort merely to retrofitting the inaccessible technology, which sometimes makes accessibility worse. Until postsecondary institutions harness their purchasing power, the market for accessible instructional materials will remain limited, and disabled students will continue to be left behind.

Equality in the classroom is a civil right.

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability. The deployment of inaccessible instructional materials violates these laws.

Technology, Education, and Accessibility in College and Higher Education Act:

Develops accessibility guidelines for instructional materials.

The Access Board will consult experts and stakeholders to develop technical specifications for electronic instructional materials and related information technologies so that those materials are usable by individuals with disabilities.

Establishes a minimum accessibility standard for instructional materials used by the government and in postsecondary academic settings.

The Department of Justice will implement the guidelines developed by the Access Board as enforceable standards applicable to all departments and agencies of the federal government and institutions of higher education covered in Titles II and III of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Promotes competition while ensuring equality.

The guidelines provide guidance to manufacturers on how to develop products that are fully accessible to disabled users, and the required standards will ensure that all colleges, universities, and federal agencies procure and deploy only fully accessible instructional materials, ending the separate-but-equal approach to learning.

Cosponsor the Technology, Education, and Accessibility in College and Higher Education Act (TEACH).

Equal Access to Air Travel for Service-Disabled Veterans (H.R. 164)
The Space Available Program denies 100 percent of Service-Disabled Veterans the opportunity to participate.

Discharged service-disabled veterans are not entitled to air travel privileges to which other members of the military have access.

The Space Available program allows members of the active military, some family members, Red Cross employees, and retired members of the armed services to travel on military aircraft if space is available. However, members of the military who are 100 percent service disabled do not qualify for this program because they do not fall into one of those categories.

This unintentional exclusion denies discharged service-disabled veterans a privilege to which they would be entitled had they not been disabled during service.

Those service members who are disabled during active duty and are medically discharged do not have the chance to stay on active duty or fulfill the twenty years requirement to become qualified for this program. Had they not been medically discharged, 100 percent service-disabled veterans are likely to have served until retirement. These men and women have earned the right to space-available travel just as others have because they have defended our country.

Equal Access to Air Travel for Service-Disabled Veterans would:

Provide travel privileges to totally disabled veterans.

This bill amends Title 10 of the U.S. Code, to permit veterans who have a service-connected, permanent disability rated as total to travel on military aircraft in the same manner and to the same extent as retired members of the Armed Forces entitled to such travel.

Cosponsor H.R. 164.