Commission for PwD Discriminates against those with IDD

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Seattle Commission for People with Disabilities – Accountability to the Community

Last week, Mayor Jenny Durkan signed into law that Seattle will no longer issues special certificates to allow specific employers to hire specific employees to do a specific job for a wage that may be less than minimum wage.  These certificates typically were used by employers as an accommodation to allow them to hire people with significant disabilities that interfere with their ability to be as productive as a non-disabled peer.

For the people who worked under these certificates the job is much more than a wage to them.  The people involved typically work 2-25 hours a week, also received SSI cash benefits (which are then reduced somewhat with the earned wages  – see formula for this reduction below) and other supports in the community and home to assist them in activities of daily living and community integration.

This legislation was based on lies propagated by the Seattle Commission for People with Disabilities.  The information they used to push this harmful agenda was also a series of half-truths with censorship of concerns leading this group to say there was unanimous agreement among disabled people .

It is true that this request for information sent out from the Office of Labor Standards generated the most response they have received on any request.  But the information shared by the Commission, and in particular Shaun Bickley, co-chair, took this a bit further into an outright lie.

The proposal to kill the exemption has generated “the largest amount of discussion the Disability Commission has ever received on a topic,” according to the letter. Subminimum wage is overwhelmingly opposed by workers with disabilities.” Commissioner Shaun Bickley says, he’s unaware of public opposition to the rule change

(From Seattle Weekly, August 18, 2017)

While Mr. Bickley tends to lies,  Karina Bull, Policy Manager for Seattle Office of Labor Standards, reports a different account in this Housing, Health, Energy and Worker’s Rights Committee meeting dated March 29, 2018, She states “we had our  most robust rule making processes.  We received more comments for this change than we have for any other – we had almost 70 people respond with a slight preference for prohibiting the practice of sub-minimum wage for people with a disability. 

“Thank you for writing Councilmember Herbold regarding the subminimum wage issue. The Seattle Commission for People with DisAbilities (PwD) conducted a four-month review of Seattle’s policy and practice as well as held a public comment session to hear from the community and organizations. Additionally, they reached out to all the businesses that currently utilize the subminimum wage. The PwD Commission received no comment opposing the elimination of the subminimum wage certificates. Some people contacted Councilmember Herbold’s office concerned that people need the subminimum wage to get jobs.  Yet, no people with disabilities contacted Councilmember Herbold’s office to say so.  Since the PwD Commission, through their individual lived experiences, can speak to these issues best, Councilmember Herbold asked that I share with you excerpts from the PwD Commission letter that outlines several specific points as evidence against these concerns specifically and opposing the subminimum wage as a policy.  ”  (from correspondence with Alex Clardy,  Legislative Assistant to Councilmember Lisa Herbold)

Of note, the PwD Commission just copied/pasted part of a report from the APSE Advancing Employment Connecting People  (The Association of People Supporting Employment First) without understanding the background and other recommendations in the bullet points shared.

Mr. Bickley and the Commission for PwD also lied about the numbers of people involved and their wages.   The total lack of understanding of what these jobs mean to the people actually involved is an outright act of discrimination.

Mr. Bickley, refuses to provide answers to critical questions with this legislation and the supposed research that was done.  Given that there was a transition plan for the enactment of the minimum wage law in Seattle and all the research that I have read on this issue (including the 3 reports the Commission used as their research) reports there needs to be a well planned and funded transition plan in place prior to elimination of special certificates.  Where is the transition plan and phase in of this legislation?  It appears that was not considered and there were immediate changes made which were harmful to those involved.

Unfortunately, again in an act of discrimination, there has been an elimination of these special certificates with no transition plan (at least that I have been aware even given my multiple requests for information on this issue).  Mr. Bickley’s responses to me on this issue accuse me of lying and spreading false information and publishing personal attacks and libel.

The interactions I have had with Mr. Bickley have been most frustrating.  Below are some of the first comments and interactions I had with him in my attempts to learn about the legislation.  I had been blocked from the Commission for PwD Facebook page so shared this to my personal page to which Shaun Bickley made these comments.

Cheryl Felak shared a post.

It needs to be noted that not ONE person on this commission has an intellectual and developmental disability and they do not understand the issues involved with the need for these certificates or that we all need to have choice and these certificates provide some choice for those who would be unable to work if they did not exist.

Another article about the Commission’s work in ending subminimum wage in Seattle.

About this article

 

Some workers now make 36 cents an hour, according to the Seattle Commission for People with Disabilities.
SEATTLEWEEKLY.COM
Maura Wachsberger
Maura Wachsberger Out of the 120 people who lost their jobs at my agency, 3 have jobs. All are part time and 2 out of the 3 are 1 hour a month. People are so angry and upset that there is no option for them to work. Makes me furious! It’s so obvious that it’s ridiculous!!!!! Keep options open!!!
Cheryl Felak

Cheryl Felak I plan on going to their next meeting – probably will get shouted down because I’m a guardian and according to this group do not speak for my son.

Seattle Commission for People with disAbilities
Seattle Commission for People with disAbilities Commission meetings are open to the public. Members of the public get 2 minutes for comment. You are welcome to attend, but I would appreciate you not spreading misinformation about the Commission as there are multiple members with intellectual and developmental disabilities even if you don’t like what we have to say.
Maura Wachsberger
Maura Wachsberger Sounds like you don’t like what Cheryl has to say.
Bonnie Sullivan
Bonnie Sullivan That’s a two-way street. Since she knows her son best she should be respected for that knowledge.
Carol Jackson Fenske
Carol Jackson Fenske …so why was she blocked from your comments section for talking about her son?
Cheryl Felak
Cheryl Felak since I am not able to make comments on the Seattle Commission for People with disAbilities Facebook page or reply to the comment you made on my page, I would like to know who you are who is responding to me. I’m not spreading misinformation, I have taken information from your own website – if it is wrong, please correct it.
Shaun Bickley

Shaun Bickley I’m not sure why you can’t respond when you can share from the page but okay. You’ve already been told that multiple members have an I/DD. I told you I did (I don’t see myself in that wall of text). Not everyone on the Commission is verbal. Multiple people with ID/IDD submitted testimony on this issue. Just because you don’t like what we have to say doesn’t mean it’s okay to pretend we’re not I/DD.

Post what you like, I would just appreciate you not spreading misinformation especially when disabled advocates have told you otherwise.

Cheryl Felak

Cheryl Felak Shaun Bickley Thank you for your response. I’m sorry but the testimonies are not on the website and the meeting minutes state that business and families declined testimony. There is quite a bit of misinformation that is being shared by this committee and when people who have questions about some of these issues are blocked from comments it perpetuates the spread of the false information.

Also, the tone of your writing is very disrespectful and undiplomatic. Accusing a guardian of not understanding the issues involved of living with a disability and denying the guardian the ability to perform their court appointed and legal responsibility is discrimination against those who have chosen to have a guardian.

Shaun Bickley

Shaun Bickley Declined public testimony. We still talked to them. OLS has talked to them. No one is objecting except people like you who aren’t impacted by it.

If I need a plumber, I’m going to talk to someone who understands the issue, not someone who lives with aplumber. If I want to hear about women’s health experiences I’m not going call and center husbands, fathers, brothers, and sons. Living around DD person is not interchangeable with BEING a DD person and I’m sorry if this is the first time anyone’s told you that.

And if I can level with you, suggesting you’re going to go to a meeting to shout down disabled people is pretty scary. Just because you can observe or make comment doesn’t mean you have a right to shout at people, to disrupt the meeting or to intimidate people.

Shaun Bickley

Shaun Bickley I’m not particularly interested in debating whether you subsume your child’s personhood here or anywhere else. If you want to see the letter the Commission wrote to the City Council dated June 21 it should be on the FB page. You’re free to submit comment on this or something else. I just ask that you not spread misinformation about people and that you not come to the meeting with the intention of shouting people down. Several of us have been in institutional/segregated settings or experienced violence at the hands of caregivers, so that kind of tone is an unwelcome abuse of power.

Cheryl Felak

Cheryl Felak Shaun Bickley Again, you have totally misinterpreted what I said – I never said that I would shout but that I would be shouted down – big difference.

Cheryl Felak
Cheryl Felak Shaun Bickley interesting that you assume that I am not impacted by this recommendation. You have made many assumptions and I would suggest that you listen and have a conversation with others who may have a different perspective than your view. There are ways to work together.
Shaun Bickley

Shaun Bickley You are not impacted. Every worker and family member who will be impacted by this change has been talked to already. I know their names, you are not one of them. At best this is a hypothetical option you wanted for someone else, but that’s not the same as being paid subminimum wage or even supporting a family member who is.

I appreciate the clarification re: shouting. Nobody needs to shout, there hasn’t been any shouting yet.

Cheryl Felak

Cheryl Felak Shaun Bickley I’m sorry that you have many misunderstandings regarding this issue and who it will impact – now or in the future. I am very interesting in reading the studies and testimonies of those who have submitted them. Are they referenced on the website too.

Cheryl Felak

Cheryl Felak Shaun Bickley the issue is much more complex than the minimum wage aspect and the impacts of such an elimination of choice will be far reaching. I would urge a more thorough investigation and study of the topic.

Have you or other commissioners looked at an overall increase in costs that may result from an increased need for more intense employment supports or other opportunities to help those with IDD interact and be involved in their communities?

Shaun Bickley

Shaun Bickley Cheryl Felak I will email you information if you’d like to provide it. However:

1) You still have a post up claiming that no one on the Commission has an I/DD when you’ve been told otherwise. That is lying.
2) It’s incredibly creepy that you’ve put up a public post listing out everyone on the Commission and whether or not you think they’re actually disabled. This is bordering on stalking behavior.

It’s kind of ironic because by virtue of BEING on a Commission you’ve automatically assumed that everyone there is Not Like Your Child, but actually listing out and evaluating non-elected, unpaid disabled volunteers is super sleazy.

Cheryl Felak

Cheryl Felak Which of the people on the commission have an intellectual and developmental disability? I see other disabilities but none that are intellectual and developmental. It’s interesting that the website gives these bios of the people – I was curious who made up the commission and so I read what was on the website. If it is incorrect than take it up with whoever from the commission posted the incorrect information.

I do not recall my ever giving an opinion if I thought the people on the commission had a disability or not – that is something that you have imagined. I did say that not ONE has an intellectual and developmental disability and I believe that is the case.

Shaun Bickley
Shaun Bickley It’s none of your business. I told you I’m not going to give you people’s diagnosis information. I am. Multiple others are. It’s fair to ask if anyone has an I/DD but it’s not appropriate to expect detailed personal information.
Cheryl Felak
Cheryl Felak So no one has IDD – I’m sorry but having a diagnosis of autism is not the same as intellectual/developmental disability. I would think that you would be aware of that. Maybe you are not aware of what an intellectual/developmental disability is if you believe that the people listed on the website have this combined disability.
 
Shaun Bickley

Shaun Bickley Autism is a developmental disability. Maybe a trip down wikipedia would be helpful to your level of information.

Yes, several people have both intellectual and developmental disabilities. The fact that you don’t like what we have to say doesn’t change that. Your behavior is disgusting, if you do feel the need to come please limit your interaction with me to something professional instead of screeching about what you think people’s disabilities are and are not.

Cheryl Felak
Cheryl Felak I am fully aware that autism is a developmental disability – as is cerebral palsy and other disabilities. But I have a hard time believing that people with advanced college degrees have an intellectual disability.
Carol Jackson Fenske

Carol Jackson Fenske Shaun Bickley But why, why are you quoted in the Seattle Weekly as having had NO negative response to your initiative? Looks/sounds like misrepresentation to me. Perhaps you don’t really know what it’s like to spend 20-30 years of your life totally focused on a loved one with severe disabilities, advocating every single day for what seems to make them happy? Maybe that loved one is able to communicate, but not to strangers, and not in a way that would be understandable to a stranger. Cut us a little slack here, really.

Maura Wachsberger I have never seen such unprofessional responses from someone who represents a government agency. At least in NY they pretend to listen to us before they ignore us. It’s not people first, it’s money first and closing this option for people who truly need it will save money. Terrible!

 

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Seattle Commission for People with Disabilities – Accountability to the Community

Fallout: Loss of jobs and hours in Seattle

Social Justice Activists in the Seattle Commission for People with Disabilities are showing how little they understand about the lives and choices of people with complex and profound intellectual and developmental disabilities.  With no planning in regards to transition for employees, employers, vocational training and job development, this commission has pushed for the rapid elimination of certificates which allow special wages for a certain population.

Seattle Commission for People with Disabilities

Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda and members of Seattle Commission for People with Disabilities

Specific employers to pay specific employees a specific wage for a specific job

These certificates are not a “catch-all” loop-hole to allow employers to pay any person with a disability less than the minimum wage.  The commission leads people and legislators to believe that these certificates are easy to get and allow employers to exploit their employees.  ACTIVISTS – PLEASE GET YOUR FACTS STRAIGHT

There is no “loop-hole” and there is no exploitation.  There is choice and alternatives that are based on an individual’s person-centered planning. These activists have literally pulled the rug out from under those who were employed with this certificate and those in the future who would have benefitted from this choice.  It is no longer available and there are no substitutes.

The people affected by this new law were working in integrated, community settings.  These jobs were a route to inclusion and community.  This is what people with disabilities and their advocates have been wanting.  Things were working well for the employee with a disability, the employer, the community and the family/caregivers of the employees.

That is until someone (Shaun Bickley – co-chair of Seattle Commission for People with Disabilities) threw a monkey wrench into the lives of people he does not know or understand.  Mr Bickley has greatly misinterpreted research on the issue, misinterprets the law behind the certificates and how they are used and totally disregards the choices of those most affected.  He has led community members and our City Council to believe these employees are exploited and has twisted the truth to outright lied about the situation in order to push his personal agenda.

Contrary to what Mr. Bickley claims,  there were many concerns voiced by people with disabilities and disability advocates against the elimination of the special certificates.  Unfortunately, Mr. Bickley does not think that these people have the right to voice an opinion and so discounts them.

What happened to “nothing about us, without us,”  Mr. Bickley?

 


There is inaccurate information regarding the sub-minimum wage laws and certificates, false information regarding the laws and actions in other states regarding sub-minimum wage and employment trends for people with intellectual disabilities.

SubminimumWageLetter from PWD commission


Social Justice?  Making people with disabilities unemployable in Seattle

Sub-minimum wage – godsend or exploitation?

Seattle has rapid elimination of sub-minimum wage

Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda – thank you for the concern you have for our community members with disabilities. While I understand this has just passed into law, I believe there was some very critical information that was left out, not addressed and misrepresented by members of the Seattle Commission for People with disAbilities .

The first issue is that these certificates are not “general purpose” to allow any employer to pay a person less than the minimum wage just because that person has a disability. They were for specific employers for specific employees for specific jobs. Generally, they are used for people with complex and often intellectual disabilities. It is an fact that those with intellectual disabilities, just be definition of the disability itself, may not be as productive as a person with a different type of disability – such as autism. Autism is NOT an intellectual disability but it is a developmental disability. This issue is one that the Seattle Commission for People with disAbilities has failed to acknowledge and understand.  (Particularly co-chair Shaun Bickley)

The second thing is that for people working in these job, they tend to work 10 hours or less a week and most often have a job coach to assist them in their job. The job coach may be 1:1 or only check in occasionally – depending on the support needs of the disabled person. The funding for the job coach is typically paid for through the Developmental Disabilities Administration through the counties. Without a job coach, many of these people would not be able to get and maintain employment.

One example of this is the issue of my son. He does work in a supported integrated employment setting within Seattle. He does earn a bit more than the minimum wage and works 9 hours a week with a 1:1 job coach. The vocational vendor agency is paid $2700 per month to provide the job coach for his 9 hours of work a week. If for some reason a job coach is sick or on vacation and they cannot get a sub, my son is not able to go to work that day.

For people like my son, they are not working at these jobs for their sole income and they all tend to live in poverty. They most likely receive SSI which will be reduced from the $750.00 to something less based on their earned income. Due to the earned wages my son makes, his SSI is reduced to $532.00. He then needs to pay rent, utilities, food, household necessities, clothes, healthcare supplies not covered by insurance, and other necessities of daily life out of his SSI and earned wages.

People like my son (who needs to have 1:1 supervision during all waking hours) are generally linked with several agencies, family members, friends (natural supports) a healthcare team, community members and paid support staff to navigate daily life. It is collaborative web that can work very well – until someone tweaks one part without working with the rest of the team and it can then all fall apart.

For instance, my son lives in supported living with 3 other disabled young adults. Luckily, their agency does provide a reliable van for them to use but they need to coordinate transportation based on the residents schedules. They are the ones who transport my son back and forth to work each morning since my son needs 1:1 hand off from his support staff to his job coach – Access bus is not an option – nor is any type of public transportation.

It’s extremely unfortunate that the Seattle Commission for People with disAbilities did little research on this issue and how it impacts the lives of those how work in these jobs. I have asked repeatedly for the research and Mr. Bickley has refused to provide it – but continues to refer to this non-existent research. I did provide the Seattle Commission for People with disAbilities with links to a report from the National Council on Disabilities which had clear outlines for a transition from sub-minimum wage to integrated employment and their timeline was from 2-10 years. Not a rapid, sudden elimination of certificates.

I also provided another very useful resource from the Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation which had very useful discussions and resources on how to encourage and create integrated work for those with significant intellectual disabilities. Again, this looked at a period of transition and planning for funding to be stable and sustainable for the required job skill building and training of job coaches.

I do not believe that either of these extremely useful and national resources were even discussed at a commission meeting because their decision had been made and any information from a person who did not agree totally with the proposed agenda by Mr. Bickley was not brought to the table.  Mr. Bickley has stated many times that there was unanimous opinions regarding the elimination plan by disabled people and advocates denying the fact that there were many who had a different opinion.
Regarding other states who do not use certificates:

New Hampshire did not have any businesses using the certificates but updated their policies to officially end the practice if they were used. The minimum wage in New Hampshire just $7.25 an hour and disabled people can be paid less if part of an approved work training program.

According to the NH Developmental Services Employment Data Report – the average number of hours worked a week is 11 and the average weekly pay is $92.73. More than 50% of the jobs are 2-9 hours per week.

A case study of the transition from sheltered workshops to integrated employment of disabled people in Maine done by the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health, Department of Health Policy and Management highlighted the fact that when people leave the sheltered workshop, many work fewer hours per week and make less money than if they remained in the sheltered workshop.

Alaska recently banned the subminimum wage. Robert Dinerstein, a law professor at American University and director of the schools’ Disability Rights Law Clinic believes that Alaska will be able to accomplish an integrated work force by giving workers a job coach who goes to work with the person for the first month to help them “learn the ropes.” Evidently this professor does not understand the fact that some people may need the 1:1 support to remain employed – it’s not a “learn the ropes” and then on their merry, independent way.

Maryland has a 4 year phase out of “sheltered workshops” which they hope to have completed by 2020. The plan involves moving people from sheltered workshops to competitive integrated employment. Each individual making less than minimum wage will receive an individual plan for the phase out.

According to the United States Department of Labor “Subminimum wages must be commensurate wage rates – based on the worker’s individual productivity, no matter how limited, in proportion to the wage and productivity of experienced workers who do not have disabilities performing essentially the same type, quality, and quantity of work in the geographic area from which the labor force of the community is drawn. ”

The documentary “Bottom Dollars” by Disability Rights Washington and Rooted in Rights states “If people are given the proper services and supports and proper assistive technology, the sky is the limit for many, many individuals.” This I believe to be true but there is a big IF and that included funding needs to provide supports and sustain them. Did the Commission for PwD look at these issues?

Please ask the Seattle Commission for People with disAbilities  about the research they have done and the transition plan they have developed for our citizens in Seattle.

Seattle Outlaws Subminimum Wage

Council votes to eliminate sub-minimum wage

Seattle bans lower wages

Sub-minimum wage in Seattle update coming soon

Seattle eliminated the ability of employers to utilize special certificates that could enable some profoundly disabled citizens to be employed.

Some history of this decision can be found in this Seattle Times Article from August, 2017

Shaun Bickley, Seattle Commissioner for People with Disabilities, commented many times that NO ONE would lose their job with the elimination of the sub-minimum wage law.

I have written to the Commission on several occasions asking for their research in addition to providing some well documented national reports with clear guidelines for a transition.  Unfortunately, the Commission was not able to produce any of their research and I never did receive a repose to discuss a transition plan for such a rapid elimination the special certificates.  Below is a comment that I posted to the Seattle Commission for People with Disabilities page on October 16, 2017.

 I have written to all Councilpersons regarding my questions about this recommendation and have received a very odd response from Alex Clardy, Legislative Assistant for Councilperson Herbold.

One quote from the letter is ” The PwD Commission received no comment opposing the elimination of the subminimum wage certificates. Some people contacted Councilmember Herbold’s office concerned that people need the subminimum wage to get jobs. Yet, no people with disabilities contacted Councilmember Herbold’s office to say so” This is absolutely not true. There were many letters that were written in opposition to the recommendation.

Also, the letter contained information that had been provided to the council by the commission with statements of “evidence”. There are no references included and I have asked previously to have the sources of the research that was done during the “4 month review of Seattle’s policies and practices.”

I have also provided resources to the commission from the National Council on Disabilities and their quite extensive review of sub-minimum wage certificates and their concerns regarding elimination together with an extended timeline to phase certificates out. This recommendation is extremely different than the approach that the Seattle Commission has recommended.

In addition to the phase out, what planning for funding, transportation, job coaching, job skill building and other services for transition have been planned for this rapid elimination recommended by the Commission?

I provided information regarding integrated work for people with significant intellectual disabilities and provided an excellent resource with specific skill building and individual considerations that need to be addressed in transition plans for young adults. The article from the Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation entitled” Integrated work for those with significant intellectual disabilities” is one such article with realistic goals and assessments to take into consideration with regards to supported employment.

Please contact me so that I may review the resources and data that the Commission used in the 4-month study and send an outline of a transition plan covering some of the issues mentioned above”

I am finishing up some interviews with employers, employees, families, caregivers, guardians and will post the information soon.

Commensurate wage information from US Dept. of Labor

 

What’s all this about sub-minimum wage?

In recent years there has been a push to end sub-minimum wage jobs.  I totally agree that people should be paid a fair wage regardless if one has a disability or not.  If the person is able to do the job – with our without supports – that person should be paid at least minimum wage.  No argument from me at all on this point.

But, there is also another side of the story that is not heard (or ignored) with regards to employment and those with profound and complex multiple disabilities.  This population is often the population that if employed, is employed at a “sub-minimum”  or commensurate wage based on productivity at the job.

What is also often missed in this issue is that fact that a job is much more than a paycheck and for a specific segment of our population, this job, even though it pays sub-minimum wage, is much more than a job and money to the people who are actually involved.  We cannot lose sight of this fact in the quest “to do the right thing” without understanding the whole situation.  Most of these people do receive public benefits already due to the fact that the majority have some sort of intellectual and developmental disability.  The wages they earn are not what they live on for food and rent – although every little bit helps because what they receive from public benefits is clearly at poverty level.

Recently, Liz Plank, a video blogger and journalist,  recently posted a video titled “Divided States of Minimum Wage”   This is a great story about Collette and how she has started her own cookie business and hires other people with disabilities to work in her shop. This is a great story and one of wonderful accomplishment.

It’s a very complex issue though and it does not help that people such as Sarah Launderville,  the Executive Director of the Vermont Center for Independent Living.  Unfortunately, Ms. Launderville misinterprets the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA – DOL)  law and goes on to say that people get paid based on what percentage of disability the person has and goes on to say “so you’re saying you’re half a person.”

There is a public Facebook group called Disability Visibility Project

Disability Visibiilty Project - Facebook

I posted my concerns regarding this video on the DVP site and was lambasted by others.  My comments were major triggers for many people on that site and I was since blocked from the site.  While I eventually self-identified as being disabled myself (I am and have even lost a job due to asking for an ADA accommodation) I was repeatedly called out as an ableist and other nasty terms.  Even when I asked one person to read what I wrote before swearing at me and making judgments this is the comment I received:
ableist shit comment

Once labeled – there is no opportunity to clarify since every comment is twisted and misinterpreted.   I followed the commenting guidelines more closely than most of those who swore and labeled me – but since I was reported to the moderator, I was blocked from the site (as were a couple of other people who spoke some truth).  If you are interested in reading the comments, here is a link to a PDF (DVP Banned Facebook Comments March 2 2018the of the post or you can go to the Facebook page of Disability Visibility Project and read/comment there.

 

I have made efforts to clarify issues regarding the certificates and advocating for people who chose to work in these types of employment settings.  I have attempted to illustrate various types of obstacles that would be difficult to overcome, even with appropriate supports, for many of these same people to work in an integrated employment setting.    It’s not as simple as just paying someone minimum wage when one needs intensive supports.  There are issues of transportation, funding and training for job coach who needs to be there at all times and issues with personal care assistance (typically job coaches are not able to help with personal care giving) just to start the list.

Another huge issue is the fact that in supported employment for people with intensive support needs, the work hours usually top out at 10 hours a week.  Vermont has an average of 8 hours a week and New Hampshire has an average of 11 hours per week.  So even though the person earns minimum wage the income earned is minimal.

This then creates another major issue – if the person is now only working 8-11 hours a week, what is that person going to do the rest of the day?  While working in a “sheltered workshop” people may receive their physical therapy on site, make and eat their meals, have personal caregivers and peers on site.  There are many opportunities to engage with others and be out in the community.  When work hours are drastically cut, many people have nothing to do but sit home alone.

How do we progress and move forward?  I’ll keep advocating for my son and others and I’m sure I’ll be called more names and blocked from other sites too  – but hopefully, someone will read it and understand and help to advocate for those who are not able to advocate for themselves.

 

Elimination of Sub-minimum wage in Seattle

The Seattle Commission for People with disAbilities  has made a recommendation to the Seattle City Council to eliminate certificates which enable employers to pay people with specific disabilities a commensurate wage.  I know that there are discussions all across the country that are looking at issues of employment and wages for people with disabilities.

This is a quick update on this very heated discussion.  From what I can assume by the articles that I read and the correspondence I have had with at least two of the commissioners regarding this issue vie Facebook,  there has been little research or collaboration with those in our community who may be, now or in the future, affected by this proposal.

Attempts to offer insight, requests for research, transition plans and funding plans have been ignored and people who expressed concerns have been rudely and aggressively mistreated by at least one of the commissioners.

Seattle Commission for people with disabiltiies Shaun Bickley and Cindi Laws

Below is the first letter that I submitted on the Facebook page.  This led to the Facebook page administrator blocking me from further comments or reacting to any posts – and this post was removed.

I am the parent and guardian of a young adult with significant intellectual/developmental and mental health disabilities – all of a degenerative nature and I network with many other families, caregivers, guardians and people with IDD who totally disagree with the assumptions that you and others are making about those with disabilities.

Yes, the members of the commission may have disabilities but is the specific population of those with significant intellectual/developmental disabilities represented?  The population which identifies as disabled is extremely heterogeneous and we need to have choices available to ensure that all have a chance and opportunity to work. We are all very concerned regarding this issues. For many of these people who work under these certificates it’s not about making a living wage – it’s about having a job and being a member of the community, participating, sharing experiences and having daily goals and activities – basically adding meaning to their lives. 


Unfortunately, my son and others who experience some of the same types of issues he does, are not able to articulate their ideas, attend meetings, and speak in coherent sentences – even with the help of assistive technology, and so their voices are not heard. 


You do not speak for them – in fact, it is quite the opposite because you deny the people who know, love and understand them, the opportunity to provide their ideas and choices. These people are their friends, families, guardians, caregivers, coaches, case managers, co-workers. These are the people who are all better equipped to fill in and be a proxy for their voices. 


The fact that you make assumptions that you are speaking for all people with disabilities without taking into consideration those who are affected by this issue is an act of discrimination and devaluation of their personhood. 


We need these certificates to ensure choice – remember the saying “nothing about us, without us” – Please take it to heart!

Mr. Shaun Bickley, one of the commissioners, took offense with my letter, stating “”nothing about us, without us” refers to disabled people, not to parents, siblings, neighbors,  co-workers and other allies”.  He wrote that they (the commission) were all disabled and therefore can speak for all people with disabilities – whereas, guardians’ concerns are only self-serving.  He wrote that all people, even if they can just move one muscle, can make their choices known – regardless if others understand them or not.  (I am very confused by this since if others do not understand, how are their choices known?)

In looking at the members of the commission I noticed that several are lawyers, a few have PhDs and several others have a variety of advanced college degrees, one is a filmmaker and an artist,  one is a medical doctor  – I’m curious which one has an intellectual/developmental disability?  This is the question that got me blocked from the Facebook page as it was seen as using “degrading language and making people feel unsafe.”

More to come – letters have been sent to The Seattle Commission for People with Disabilities, the Mayor’s office, the Office of Labor Standards and to each member on the Seattle City Council.

 

“Sheltered Workshops” or “Community Employment”

I have some major concerns regarding the push for community employment for those with intellectual disabilities.  While I fully support employment and finding the right job for the person with IDD, I wonder how this is really feasible  – both from an economic standpoint and looking at productivity.

I would love to have some people explain to me how this system really works and how it can be sustainable if the so-called “sheltered workshops” are closed and cease to exist.  With regards to the issues of minimum wage and competitive wage, one does need to take productivity into account.

It also needs to be explained that in “sheltered workshops” the wages are not by the hour but generally by the work completed. So, it may seem that the person working there is making far below minimum wage but then again if the person only completes one task isn’t it only right to get paid for what is completed?  If one got paid for the time it took to complete it, the productivity would be so low that the costs to maintain employment would be astronomical.

My son is involved in the School to Work Program.  He is transitioning from high school into adulthood and this will be his last year of school at age 21.  He has the opportunity to work in a sheltered workshop, and currently does that on school breaks and during the summer.  He LOVES this opportunity – but not because he is working and earning money, but because he is around people he knows and talks with, he knows the schedule of snacks, lunch and they listen to music on the radio.  Any “work” that he actually does is very, very minimal and he has to be guided extensively to stay on task as his attention span is about 2 seconds at the maximum.  He is not driven to earn money since he does not have the concept of what money really is.  He knows one needs money to buy things but that’s about the extent of his understanding.

Even though my son loves the adult training center, I also know that he has abilities that could take him much farther and I want him to have the opportunity to be out in the community.  He is very interested in community events and current events and the fact that school will be ending (an environment in which he has thrived his whole life) his ability to continue learning in an educational environment will end.  There are no continuing educational opportunities for people like my son.  There are no community colleges or universities that have “special education” classes for those with IDD to continue learning.  School is done and it’s time to work.

Yet for people like my son, why does this have to be the way?  Why can’t we look at life long learning opportunities or continued educational opportunities in subjects they may be interested in – just like everyone else?  My other children had the opportunity and choice for education after high school but my son with IDD does not have that choice.

The school to work program is for students living in the community.  My son was going to be excluded because he lives in an intermediate care facility.  Even though he has attended public school his whole life and has been integrated into many community activities and events in our local community, the funding for program for those with developmental disabilities does not cross boundaries – one is either “in the community” or “in the institution” and this is where I really question the rigid boundaries of funding that prohibit choice and growth.

With the push for community integration, if we are not going to allow those who need the residential and health supports of the intermediate care facility to tap into funds and programs that all others have access too, how are we ever going to really see what could be possible?  This is a continuum of care and we need to have access to both sides of the fence.

But back to my questions regarding feasibility, productivity and jobs.  I am looking at this realistically knowing my son and his abilities.  Even though he has some wonderful skills and even extra-ordinary skills, the fact that he can not focus for more than 2 seconds and has very limited ability with fine motor skills, job opportunities are very, very limited.  He will need a 1:1 job coach at all times with him on any job and that is something that would have to remain in place continuously with any job placement.

So, where do the funds for this come from?  Does the employer pay both my son and his coach a wage?  That hardly seems economically feasible to pay two people for one job.  In addition to that, would the job be done up to standard (quality and/or quantity) by my son (or other person with IDD?) I really do not understand how anyone could expect that someone with my son’s abilities would be able to hold a job earning a competitive wage – in my mind this is not realistic knowing my son.

I would love to see both educational and vocational opportunity choices for people with IDD to access after high school.  Why is it assumed that their education is over and done with?

What happens to those who will not be able to work independently if that is the only job choice that is given?  What happens to the families? What happens when the parent needs to stay home with their adult child because there are not opportunities – work or recreation – during the day for the adult child?  How does anyone in the family earn a wage if the parent then needs to become the full-time caregiver of the adult child?

There are many questions and few answers which take into the account the fact that we have a large heterogeneous population but the population is seen as “all alike” in their support needs.  We forget there is a continuum and we need to account for people all along that continuum.