NCD Applauds Support for Fair Wages for People Who Are Blind or Have Significant Disabilities by the AbilityOne Commission

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Posted: March 22, 2016

The National Council on Disability—an independent federal agency—applauds the declaration by the U.S. AbilityOne Commission “for all qualified nonprofit agencies participating in the AbilityOne Program to commit to, and begin (if not maintain), paying at least the Federal minimum wage, or state minimum wage if higher, to all employees who are blind or have significant disabilities working on AbilityOne contracts.”

AbilityOne is the largest source of employment for people who are blind or have significant disabilities in the United States.  More than 550 nonprofit organizations employ disabled workers and provide services to the Federal Government as administered by the AbilityOne Commission, with assistance from National Industries for the Blind, and SourceAmerica.  The move comes after a grand jury investigation into AbilityOne was started earlier this year after a series of CNN investigative reports exposed allegations of corruption at the Commission.

The declaration issued by AbilityOne on March 18, reflects advances first proposed by NCD in its 2012 landmark report, “Subminimum Wage and Supported Employment,” which called for change to antiquated labor policies of the 1930s that presumed people with disabilities were incapable of gainful employment at a competitive wage – a flawed presumption that has come under increasing and appropriate scrutiny in recent years. Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act allows employers certified by the United States Department of Labor to compensate workers with disabilities at a rate below minimum wage.

“With programs like AbilityOne, the U.S. government has an opportunity to lead the way as a model employer of workers with disabilities, both directly and through socioeconomic initiatives in procurement,” said Clyde Terry, NCD Chair.  “The commitment to model best practices and to innovate pioneering strategies that lead to compensation at prevailing wages expressed by AbilityOne affirms that integrated, supported, and competitive employment is rapidly becoming the new normal for disabled workers. NCD applauds their call to action, welcomes the progress the declaration represents and looks forward to its swift and meaningful implementation." 

As a result of the declaration issued by AbilityOne, NCD reaffirms the following policy recommendations made at the publication of our 2012 report, specifically:

  • The Department of Labor should undertake rulemaking to require all participants of 14(c) certificate programs to provide twice annually to all workers the opportunities to transition from a 14(c) setting to a supported employment situation in an integrated worksite with competitive wages. Such notice should also include information about benefit work incentive counseling and peer support.
  • The Department of Justice should exercise its monitoring and enforcement authority to assure that all people with disabilities are transferred to an integrated employment setting and that such person receive a competitive wage.

To read NCD’s 2012 Report on Subminimum Wage and Supported Employment, go to: http://www.ncd.gov/publications/2012/August232012

About the National Council on Disability (NCD): First established as an advisory Council within the Department of Education in 1978, NCD became an independent federal agency in 1984. In 1986, NCD recommended enactment of an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and drafted the first version of the bill which was introduced in the House and Senate in 1988. Since enactment of the ADA in 1990, NCD has continued to play a leading role in crafting disability policy, and advising the President, Congress and other federal agencies on disability policies, programs, and practices.