2015 Washington Seminar Fact Sheets

Transitioning to Integrated and Meaningful Employment Act

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

The Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired, or Otherwise Print Disabled (“Marrakesh Treaty”)

Transitioning to Integrated and Meaningful Employment Act (H.R. 188)
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 allows the Secretary of Labor to grant to employers Special Wage Certificates, which permit them to pay workers with disabilities subminimum wages.

The original intent was to incentivize for-profit businesses to hire people with disabilities, but the provision has failed to achieve this outcome. Today, less than 5 percent of all certificate holders are for-profit businesses, and a complex network of 2,500 plus nonprofit, “charitable” businesses capitalize on this loophole.1

Section 14(c) is based on the false assumption that disabled workers are less productive than nondisabled workers.

In reality, the subminimum wage business model is what is unproductive, not workers with disabilities. Successful employment models, such as supported or customized employment, prove that with the proper training and support, people with disabilities can be productive, valuable employees.2 Some former 14(c) entities have already transitioned and found that they are more efficient than they used to be.3 Research shows that the subminimum wage model costs more but actually produces less and that people with disabilities have to unlearn the skills they adopted in subminimum wage jobs.4

14(c)-certificate-holding entities encourage Americans with disabilities to rely on government benefits rather than achieve self-sufficiency.

Over four hundred thousand Americans with disabilities are being paid subminimum wages—some mere pennies per hour.5 Instead of paying taxes, almost all employees who are paid subminimum wages must rely on government assistance such as Supplemental Security Income and Medicaid. Currently, 95 percent of people with disabilities who are paid subminimum wages never obtain the competitive integrated employment they strive for.6

Subminimum wage employment undermines taxpayer investment in job training.

Taxpayers invest billions in vocational rehabilitation, money that should be dedicated to helping people with disabilities discover their full potential using reasonable accommodations. This investment is undercut when people with disabilities are stuck doing mundane, repetitive tasks that do not improve their skillsets. Many 14(c) entities (SourceAmerica) are already receiving preferential federal contracts and public and charitable donations—they should not be allowed to pay people with disabilities subminimum wages.

The Transitioning to Integrated and Meaningful Employment Act:

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 Fair Labor Standards Act.

Three years after the law is enacted, the 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 and meaningful employment opportunities that encourage people with disabilities to reach their full vocational and socioeconomic potential.

Cosponsor Transitioning to Integrated and Meaningful Employment Act (H.R. 188)

Technology, Education, and Accessibility in College and Higher Education Act
Until colleges and universities have accessibility guidelines for technology, blind college students will be denied access to critical course material.

Technology has fundamentally changed the education system.

The scope of instructional materials used at institutions of higher education has expanded. Curricular content comes in digital books, PDFs, webpages, etc., and most of this content is delivered through digital databases, learning management systems, and applications. The print world is inherently inaccessible to students with disabilities, but technology offers the opportunity to expand the circle of participation. And studies have found that, of the six million plus students with print disabilities in the system, the number who go on to pursue postsecondary education is growing.7

Blind students are facing insurmountable barriers to education.

Instead of fulfilling the promise of equal access, technology has created more problems than the print world ever did. Data show that students with disabilities face a variety of challenges, including matriculation failure, solely because colleges and universities are sticking with the ad-hoc accommodations model instead of embracing accessibility.8 Schools deploy inaccessible technology and then modify/retrofit another version for blind students, usually weeks into class, creating a “separate-but-equal” landscape with nearly impenetrable barriers. With only a 20 percent employment rate,9 blind students should not be denied access by the very thing that could have ensured full participation.

Institutions of higher education need help to identify accessible material and comply with nondiscrimination laws.

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and Titles II and III of the Americans with Disabilities Act require schools to provide equal access, and in 2010, the US Departments of Justice and Education clarified that the use of inaccessible technology is prohibited under these laws.10
In the five years since, over a dozen institutions have faced legal action for using inaccessible technology,11 and complaints are on the rise. Most litigation ends with a commitment from the school to embrace accessibility, but that commitment does little in a vast, uncoordinated higher education market12 that mostly forgets about blind students.

Accessibility solutions are available, but guidelines are sorely needed to guide the market.

Equal access requirements have no criteria for accessibility that schools can use when selecting technology. Innovations in text-to-speech, refreshable Braille, and other accessibility features are widely available, but developers and manufacturers will incorporate only solutions that are demanded by the market. Accessibility guidelines are needed so that schools can streamline demand, stimulate the market, and better identify accessible material. If schools seeking to avoid litigation embrace this voluntary path to compliance, blind students will truly attain equal access.

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

Develops accessibility guidelines for instructional materials used in postsecondary education.

A purpose-based commission is tasked with developing accessibility criteria for instructional materials and the delivery systems/technologies used to access those materials so that schools and developers can identify what makes a product usable by the blind.

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

Institutions of higher education that use only 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.

Offers flexibility for schools while reiterating that pre-existing obligations still apply.

Colleges and universities are permitted to use material that does not conform to the guidelines as long as equal access laws are still honored. Compliance with the guidelines is only one path to compliance; schools can pursue a different path, but will forfeit the safe harbor legal protection.

Cosponsor the TEACH Act

The Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired, or Otherwise Print Disabled (“Marrakesh Treaty”)13
An international copyright treaty will give blind Americans access to millions of published works and improve the distribution of books across the globe.

300 million blind and print-disabled people around the world, including Americans, are denied access to published works.14

Despite the ability to convert print books into accessible formats like Braille, audio, and digital copies, over 95 percent of published works are unavailable to people with print disabilities.15 Literacy and equal participation in society are critical elements of a fulfilling and independent life, but until uniformity is built into the international copyright system, blind Americans will be excluded from accessing works. A blind student seeking to learn Spanish will likely struggle to find an accessible format;16 a work printed in English may have already been converted into an accessible format overseas, but because copies are not exchanged across borders, domestic publishers might need to make a duplicate copy or just might deny access altogether by failing to reproduce the work.

A coordinated legal approach to modifying the international copyright system is needed.

Unlike the United States, where copyright code includes the Chafee Amendment and other exceptions,17 two-thirds of the world’s nations do not have domestic copyright laws that permit making copies for the blind, limiting the number of works available in an accessible format. Moreover, many countries consider distribution of accessible copies an infringement as well, and even amongst nations that permit distribution, limitations vary. Instead of exchanging books across borders, works are needlessly duplicated, and circulation is significantly limited.

The Marrakesh Treaty was adopted by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) to achieve this goal.

On June 27, 2013, a diplomatic conference convened by WIPO in Morocco adopted the Marrakesh Treaty with outspoken support from the US delegation. The treaty, signed by the US on October 2, 2013, currently has eighty-one signatories and has been ratified by five countries.18 Because the treaty calls for contracting parties to adopt copyright exemptions similar to those found in US law, the administration is developing a ratification package that should call for only a sleek, narrow set of modifications.

The Marrakesh Treaty has broad stakeholder support.

Blind people should have full and equal access to all works that enrich lives, further education, and share critical information, and the treaty balances this priority with the interests of rights holders. WIPO’s adoption of the Marrakesh treaty was supported by American-based companies,19 the international publishing community,20 legal experts,21 and blindness advocates.22 The treaty will have tangible benefits for all involved.

The Marrakesh Treaty calls for contracting parties to provide in their national copyright laws for a limitation or exception that allows for the:

Reproduction of works, by an authorized entity, for the purposes of converting them into accessible format copies exclusively for beneficiary persons.

Distribution of accessible format copies exclusively to beneficiary persons.

Export of accessible format copies, for the purposes of making them available to a beneficiary person in another country.

Import of accessible format copies, for the purposes of making them available domestically.

Support Ratification of the Marrakesh Treaty

[1]United States Department of Labor. “Wage and Hour Division (WHD) Community Rehabilitation Programs (CRPs) List” Last modified November 1, 2013. http://www.dol.gov/whd/specialemployment/CRPlist.htm.

[1] United States Department of Labor. “Customized Employment Works Everywhere.” Last modified October, 2009. https://www.hdi.uky.edu/setp/materials/vignette_v3_blue_508_FINAL.pdf.

[3] Melwood. “Cari DeSantis: Fair Pay for Workers with Disabilities.” Last modified November 28, 2014. http://www.melwood.org/articles/articles/view/127.

[4] Cimera, Robert E.; Wehman, Paul; West, Michael; & Burgess, Sloane. “Do Sheltered Workshops Enhance Employment Outcomes for Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder?” Autism. 16 (2012): 87.

[5] Government Accountability Office. “Centers Offer Employment and Support Services to Workers With Disabilities, But Labor Should Improve Oversight” Report to Congressional Requesters. 01-886 (2001): 18.

[6] Government Accountability Office. “Centers Offer Employment and Support Services to Workers With Disabilities, But Labor Should Improve Oversight” Report to Congressional Requesters. 01-886 (2001): 4.

[7] Association of Research Libraries. “Report of the ARL Joint Task Force on Services to Patrons with Print Disabilities.” Research Library Issues. (2012) 6. 

[8] “Report of the Advisory Commission on Accessible Instructional Materials in Postsecondary Education for Students with Disabilities.” (2011) 13

[9] United States Department of Labor. “Current Disability Employment Statistics.” Last modified December, 2014. http://www.dol.gov/odep/.

[10] Department of Justice Civil Rights Division and Department of Education Office of Civil Rights letter to College and University Presidents, June 29, 2010. 

[11] National Federation of the Blind. “The Technology, Education and Accessibility in College and Higher Education (TEACH) Act.” Last modified December, 2014. https://archive.nfb.org/TEACH

[12] Government Accountability Office. “Education Needs a Coordinated Approach to Improve Its Assistance to Schools in Supporting Students.” Report to the Chairman, Committee on Education and Labor, House of Representatives.10-33 (2009).

[13] Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired, or Otherwise Print Disabled, June 28, 2013 http://www.wipo.int/edocs/mdocs/diplconf/en/vip_dc/vip_dc_8_rev.pdf

[14] World Health Organization, Fact Sheet, Visual impairment and blindness, <http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs282/en/> last modified August 2014.

[15] World Blind Union, FAQ Sheets on UN and Human Rights Instruments, Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons who are Blind, Visually Impaired or Otherwise Print Disabled, http://www.worldblindunion.org/English/resources/Pages/Global-Blindness-Facts.aspx  last modified March 2014

[16] LaBarre, Scott. “Literacy Without Borders: The Road to Marrakesh,” Braille Monitor, August/September 2013. “Originally I had planned on a double major in government and Spanish. Ultimately I dropped that Spanish major precisely because I could not get access to Spanish novels and other materials.” <https://archive.nfb.org/images/nfb/publications/bm/bm13/bm1308/bm130811.htm>

[17] 17 U.S.C. § 121

[18] World Intellectual Property Organization, WIPO-Administered Treaties webpage http://www.wipo.int/treaties/en/ShowResults.jsp?treaty_id=843, Last modified on December 16, 2014

[19] Association of American Publishers, Statement on Completion of WIPO Treaty, Press Release, June 27, 2013 http://publishers.org/press/112/

[20] International Publishers Association, Closing Statement by the International Publishers Association, 27 June 2013 http://www.internationalpublishers.org/images/stories/copyright/statements/closing_statementFinal.pdf 

[21] American Bar Association, Resolution 100, August 11, 2014 http://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/administrative/mental_physical_disability/2014_hod_annual_100%20Marrakesh.authcheckdam.pdf  

[22] National Federation of the Blind, National Federation of the Blind Joins Stevie Wonder and World Blind Union Calling Upon International Negotiators to Conclude Successful Treaty for the Blind and Print Disabled, Press Release, June 24, 2014 https://archive.nfb.org/national-federation-blind-joins-stevie-wonder-and-world-blind-union-calling-upon-international