2014 Washington Seminar Fact Sheets

The Fair Wages for Workers with Disabilities Act of 2013

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

Air Carrier Technology Accessibility Act

The Fair Wages for Workers with Disabilities Act of 2013 (H.R. 831)
Current labor laws unjustly prohibit workers with disabilities from reaching their full vocational and socioeconomic potential.

Written in 1938, Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) discriminates against people with disabilities.

The provision allows the Secretary of Labor to grant Special Wage Certificates to employers, permitting them to pay workers with disabilities less than the minimum wage. This is based on the false assumption that disabled workers are less productive than nondisabled workers, but successful employment models have emerged in the last seventy-five years to assist people with significant disabilities in acquiring the job skills needed for competitive work. Section 14(c) sustains segregated subminimum wage workshops that exploit disabled workers, paying some only pennies an hour for mundane, repetitive tasks.

This discriminatory policy is not necessary for the successful operation of a disability-training program.

In reality, the overwhelming majority of Goodwill Industries Affiliates, and all but one of the National Industries for the Blind (NIB) affiliates, operates successfully without paying subminimum wages. Countless entities have successfully transitioned their subminimum wage business model of low expectations to an innovative model of competitive integrated training and employment, meeting the growing needs of mainstream employers with the proven talents of employees with disabilities. Only outdated workshops argue they will be unable to manage worthwhile programs without the use of the Special Wage Certificate.

The subminimum wage model fails to provide adequate training or employment to disabled workers.

Data shows that less than five percent of the 400,000 workers with disabilities in segregated subminimum wage workshops will transition into competitive integrated work. Moreover, research shows that the subminimum wage model costs more but actually produces less! In fact, workers must unlearn the useless skills they acquire in order to obtain meaningful employment. It is poor policy to reward such failed programs with wage exemptions, preferential federal contracts, and public and charitable contributions.

After seventy-five years of demonstrated failure, it is time to invest in proven, effective models for employment.

This discriminatory model sustains the same segregated subminimum wage environments that existed in 1938. Section 14(c) has proven to be extremely ineffective and offers no incentive for mainstream employers to hire people with disabilities. The Employment First Movement promotes new concepts such as “supported” or “customized” employment that are successful at producing competitive integrated employment outcomes for individuals with significant disabilities that were previously thought to be unemployable.

The Fair Wages for Workers with Disabilities Act of 2013:

Discontinues the issuance of new Special Wage Certificates.

The Secretary of Labor will no longer issue Special Wage Certificates to new applicants.

Phases out the use of Special Wage Certificates over a three-year period.

Using the following schedule, entities will be able to transition to the proven-model of competitive integrated employment:

  • Private for-profit entities will have one year to transition;
  • Public or governmental entities will have two years to transition; and
  • Nonprofit entities will have three years to transition. (These entities make up 95 percent of the Special Wage Certificate holders.)

Repeals Section 14(c) of the FLSA.

Three years after the law is enacted, this practice of paying disabled workers subminimum wages will be officially abolished. This will result in the elimination of segregated, subminimum wage workshops and in the development of integrated environments that encourage people with disabilities to reach their full vocational and socioeconomic potential.

Cosponsor H.R. 831: Fair Wages for Workers with Disabilities Act.

Technology, Education, and Accessibility in College and Higher Education Act (TEACH Act) H.R. 3505
Colleges and universities need an education about accessibility. Students with disabilities need accessibility to get an education.

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 digital databases, learning management systems, and applications. Traditional print materials are inherently inaccessible to disabled students, but technology creates opportunities to expand the circle of participation. These opportunities are missed when the majority of these materials are inaccessible to students with disabilities.

The use of inaccessible technology by institutions of higher education is a violation of law.

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and Titles II and III of the Americans with Disabilities Act prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability, but these laws were written before technology permeated the classroom. In 2010, the U.S. Departments of Justice and Education issued guidance to institutions of higher education clarifying that the use of inaccessible technology is a form of discrimination. In the four years since, several of the country’s leading institutions have faced legal action for continuing to use inaccessible technology.

Accessibility solutions are widely available, but schools and manufacturers are resisting.

A 2009 Congressionally-authorized study found that, despite innovations in text-to-speech, refreshable Braille, and other accessibility features that create promise for equal access, there is still persistent unmet need. Developers claim there is not enough demand to justify making accessible products, and schools claim to have limited options and a lack of knowledge about accessibility to properly guide procurement. Because of this blame-game, developers are moving too slowly and schools are openly violating the law.

Guidelines are sorely needed to guide the market and lift burdens off of disabled students.

While schools and manufacturers are waiting for the other to take action, blind students are facing insurmountable barriers to their education. No student can be expected to succeed in college if he or she is denied access to course material, and yet the solutions available to remedy this discrimination are ignored! Universally-accepted accessibility guidelines will give direction to manufacturers, clarity to schools about how to meet their legal obligations regarding technology, and long-overdue equal access for disabled students.

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

Develops accessibility guidelines for instructional materials and related information technology.

The Access Board will consult experts and stakeholders to develop functional performance criteria for electronic instructional materials and related information technologies so that those materials are usable by individuals with disabilities. The guidelines will serve as a flexible prescription for accessibility for both developers and institutions of higher education.

Provides incentive for institutions of higher education to follow the guidelines.

Institutions of higher education that use technology that conforms with the guidelines will be deemed in compliance with the provisions of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and Titles II and III of the Americans with Disabilities Act that pertain to schools’ use of technology.

Establishes a minimum usability standard for all technology in the classroom.

Institutions of higher education may only use materials that do not conform to the guidelines if that material allows disabled students to enjoy the same educational benefits in an equally integrated and equally effective manner, with substantially equivalent ease of use as nondisabled students.

Cosponsor the Technology, Education, and Accessibility in College and Higher Education Act (TEACH Act) H.R. 3505

Air Carrier Technology Accessibility Act
To allow blind and low vision individuals equal access to technology used in all phases of air travel.

Despite anti-discrimination laws, airlines continue to deny access to blind passengers.

In 1986 Congress passed the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) to prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability during all phases of air travel, including purchasing a ticket, checking-in, boarding and deplaning, receiving in-flight services, and assistance getting around the airport. Air travel has changed significantly since 1986, and most services now require interaction with technology; however airlines have failed to honor the ACAA by ensuring that those services are usable by blind travelers. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) also prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in public transportation, but because of unique security issues in air travel, airlines were explicitly excluded from the law, compounding the problems facing blind air travelers. Technology creates opportunity to expand the circle of participation, so the law needs to be updated to capture the prospect and ensure equal access.

Passenger interaction with technology is a fundamental requirement of air travel.

Passengers have multiple options of accessing flight information that replace endless phone calls and check-in lines. For booking and accessing boarding passes, flyers use web sites, mobile apps, or kiosks. Mobile apps provide real-time updates on departure and arrival information, and even make it possible to scan a digital boarding pass at security check points. On board, passengers can make in-flight purchases of movies, drinks, or Wi-Fi by using consoles on the seatback in front of them. Technology enhances the flying experience, and who knows what innovative tools might emerge in the future? Blind passengers pay the same price to fly the friendly skies as everyone else, and yet cannot use any of these services.

Airlines should stop this discrimination by embracing readily available solutions.

Technical criteria for accessible web content and best practices for mobile apps were released back in 2008, and accessibility standards for ATMs and usable kiosks have been on the market for years. Rather than utilize these options and deploy accessible technology, airlines “meet the needs” of their disabled passengers by offering internet rates over the phone to those who self-identify as blind and giving priority access to blind flyers in line. Technology can meet the unfulfilled promise of equal access, yet airlines choose to use an ineffective method of “access” that relegates blind passengers to antiquated methods of service.

The Air Carrier Technology Accessibility Act:

Provides equal access throughout the air travel process by requiring that all methods of booking flights, checking-in, obtaining boarding passes and making in-flight purchases are accessible to blind passengers.

All newly-created or purchased web content, airport kiosks, mobile apps, and other technology-based services operated by air carriers will be usable by the blind.

Establishes a complaint mechanism to resolve issues of non-compliance with the Air Carrier Technology Accessibility Act.

Sponsor the Air Carrier Technology Accessibility Act