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Independent Living News & Policy from the National Council on Independent Living

Employment & Social Security

Leading Organizations of Americans with Disabilities Call for Reform of AbilityOne Program: Organizations Set Forth Seven Reform Principles

Seven leading organizations comprised of Americans with disabilities announced today that they are calling for reform of the AbilityOne Program and set forth seven principles for overhaul of the program, which affects hundreds of thousands of American workers with disabilities. The announcement was made by the National Federation of the Blind (NFB), TASH, the National Council on Independent Living (NCIL), the National Disability Rights Network (NDRN), the Association of People Supporting Employment First (APSE), the Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN), and the United Spinal Association. The seven principles for reform put forward by the organizations are as follows:

  1. Commitment to the expressed integration mandate set forth by the Supreme Court of the United States in the case of Olmstead v. L.C.: Segregation of people with disabilities in work sites, such as sheltered workshops and enclaves, is inconsistent with Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act. People with disabilities must be supported to lead fully integrated lives in their communities, including throughout their workday.
  2. Implementation and development of best practices for employment of people with significant disabilities: People employed by contracts negotiated through the AbilityOne procurement process must have their employment goals supported by providers implementing recognized best practices, such as Supported Employment and Customized Employment, that result in good jobs in the community.
  3. Elimination of conflicts of interest that contribute to exploitation, fraud, and abuse: Conflicts of interest in AbilityOne contract implementation are rampant, and must be identified and prohibited. These include determination of employee eligibility by community rehabilitation programs (CRPs) implementing contracts, as well as the use of contract funds for lobbying and other purposes.
  4. Payment of prevailing wages and the elimination of subminimum-wage payments: Payment of subminimum wages to people with disabilities is intolerable in the United States. People with disabilities should be paid the prevailing wage for the task they are performing.
  5. Ensuring financial and operational transparency and accountability: AbilityOne contract use of funds must be transparent and readily available (online) to the public at every level, including the purpose and amount of funds used by the Central Nonprofit Agencies, executive compensation packages of nonprofits involved in the program, worker wage ranges, and purposes of funds used.
  6. Relationship with employer: The ultimate objective of a federally-sanctioned special procurement program should be to connect employees with mainstream employers, as opposed to having people with disabilities working for nonprofit entities under specialized, set-aside contracts.
  7. Prioritizing awarding of contracts available through the procurement process to disability-owned businesses, including self-employed individuals with disabilities: Rather than all contracts going to the non-profit organizations currently involved in the program, individuals with disabilities should be encouraged to compete for service contracts.

NCIL logo - National Council on Independent LivingThe AbilityOne Program must be brought up to contemporary standards of practice for supporting people with disabilities to access competitive integrated employment. When these reforms are adopted, an inspector general should be appointed to provide rigorous oversight to ensure that the days of exploitation and fraud are brought to an end.

Barb Trader, Executive Director of TASH, said: “The continued segregation of people with disabilities in employment is unjust, and the payment of subminimum wages is discriminatory and demeaning. Americans with disabilities must be freed from the overwhelming control of the entities that simultaneously determine their eligibility for services, administer those services, and function as their employers. The concentration of power in community rehabilitation programs and sheltered workshops is a fundamental flaw in the AbilityOne Program. Any federally-sanctioned program must be a positive force for workers with disabilities by providing them freedom, self-determination, and real employment and career development opportunities.”

Mark A. Riccobono, President of the National Federation of the Blind, said: “The principles we are setting forth today reflect the hopes and aspirations of all Americans with disabilities. Neither AbilityOne nor any other program that purports to serve us can do so without reference to our own determinations on how to live the lives we want. We urge all other organizations of Americans with disabilities and like-minded service providers to join us in calling for an end to discrimination and low expectations, and to work with us for a future in which we, as Americans with disabilities, have full control over our destinies.”

Sample Subminimum Wage Talking Points from Paraquad!

The City of St. Louis has quickly become a flash point in the disability rights movement’s ongoing effort to eliminate subminimum wages for people with disabilities. On August 28th the Board of Aldermen passed a local minimum wage bill (bb83) that gradually increases the minimum wage to $11 / hour in 2018. The historic part of the bill was the lack of exemption for sheltered workshops. People with disabilities and their allies have let the Alderpersons know that they believe people with disabilities should enjoy the same rights and protections as any other American worker and should be paid at least minimum wage. 

Paraquad Logo - The Disability ExpertsA bill, filed yesterday (bb173), would reinstate the exemption for sheltered workshops and allow the practice of paying workers with disabilities subminimum wage to continue in St. Louis.

Advocates there are asking for your help. A list of Twitter handles for the Aldermen and Mayor of St. Louis is available below.

Civil Rights:

  • Systemic wage discrimination on the basis of disability status should end.
  • No other minatory group is exempt from fair labor laws purely by virtue of their minority status be it race, sexual orientation, gender, circumstances of birth, or any other identity which an individual brings to the workplace.  [Read more…]

Justice Department Reaches Proposed ADA Settlement Agreement on Oregon’s Developmental Disabilities System

Source: Department of Justice

The U.S. Justice Department announced today, along with private plaintiffs, that it has entered into a proposed settlement agreement with the state of Oregon that will resolve violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and will impact approximately 7,000 Oregonians with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) who can and want to work in typical employment settings in the community. The private plaintiffs were represented by the Center for Public Representation, Disability Rights Oregon and the law firms of Miller Nash Graham & Dunn LLP and Perkins Coie LLP. The proposed agreement resolves a class action lawsuit by private plaintiffs in which the department intervened. The parties’ proposed settlement agreement must still be approved by U.S. Magistrate Judge Janice Stewart of the District of Oregon, who is presiding over the lawsuit. The agreement will be filed with the court in the coming weeks.

The department alleged that Oregon’s employment services system unnecessarily placed people with I/DD in, or at risk of entering, sheltered workshops instead of in integrated jobs in the community, in violation of the ADA. As interpreted by the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Olmstead v. L.C., the ADA affords individuals with disabilities the right to receive services in the most integrated setting appropriate to their needs. Sheltered workshops are segregated facilities that exclusively or primarily employ people with disabilities. They are usually large, institutional facilities in which people with disabilities have little or no contact with non-disabled persons besides paid staff. People with I/DD in sheltered workshops typically earn wages that are well below minimum wage, sometimes pennies per hour. By contrast, supported employment services assist people with I/DD to prepare for, gain and succeed in integrated employment at competitive wages. Approximately 450,000 people with I/DD across the country spend their days in segregated sheltered workshops and facility-based day programs. Approximately 1,900 Oregonians with disabilities currently receive services in sheltered workshops. Since the initiation of the lawsuit, approximately 3,900 Oregonians with disabilities have received services in sheltered workshops, and historically hundreds of students have transitioned each year from Oregon public schools to sheltered workshops.  [Read more…]

Rethinking Disability: A Policy Proposal for Our Time

Source: Justin Harford, NCIL Employment Subcommittee Co-Chair and Author of Blind Yanqui Reflections

CareerACCESS logo - Career ACESSAt the Annual Meeting of the National Council on Independent Living in July 2014, a delegation of approximately 700 individuals with disabilities passed a resolution urging NCIL to push for a redefinition of disability as it relates to the Social Security Act. Since 1982, NCIL, a cross-disability organization that is populated by those whom it represents, has been one of the most significant voices of the disability community in Washington DC, advocating a variety of issues from public transit, to employment. Interest in redefining Social Security’s definition of disability over the last year with organizations like National Council on Disability and the World Institute on Disability has grown. That little section in chapter II of title 42 of the US code has had all sorts of far-reaching effects in the world of employment for people with disabilities since 1956, and we must update it.

As it is, disability is defined as a medically determinable physical or mental impairment, expected to last longer than 12 months or to result in death, and which prevents the individual from doing work of any kind. There is no possibility of partial disablement – you are either completely and totally disabled, or not. The first question that adjudicators ask is whether or not you are working, and your very character as someone who is employed is enough to disqualify you immediately.

Mundane as it may sound, the way that the Social Security Administration delineates between who is and isn’t disabled not only impacts whether or not someone can get on cash benefits, but a variety of other important matters as well. It also factors and eligibility for Medicaid, a federal program that offers personal and health care services to people with disabilities and people on limited incomes. Personal assistance services are what enable individuals with disabilities to take care of activities of daily living including bathing, grooming, eating and getting out of bed among other things. A personal attendant might cost anywhere between $20,000 and $30,000 per year. Medicaid is not only the only way for someone to get these kinds of services, it is also the only resource for covering expensive medical costs such as catheters, which can go for $1500 per month, and which are not covered by private insurance.  [Read more…]

Owning Our Stories Event Connects Storytelling, Empowerment, and Employment

By Jaggar DeMarco, NCIL Summer Intern

Owning Our Stories Logo - Supported by a grant from the HSC FoundationOn June 8th, over 40 people gathered together in the back room of Potter’s House, a community space and café in Washington, DC for the sole purpose of empowering people with disabilities through storytelling. Hosted by NCIL and supported through a grant from The HSC Foundation, the Owning Our Stories open mic night was the first event of its kind to connect storytelling to individual empowerment and finding employment.

While the setting of the room was simple, four off-white walls with a single tapestry in one corner and a handful of disability rights posters illuminated by a string of draped lights at the back of the room, what happened there was quite profound. A group of individuals with disabilities proudly shared their stories, both original works and meaningful written pieces, to the audience. There is rarely a space designed specifically for embracing one’s identity as person with a disability, but this evening did just that.

The presenters represented a cross generational intersection of advocates in different parts of their careers. The group of diverse speakers allowed the audience to hear a wide array of stories.

The night was hosted by Allie Cannington, Youth Transitions Fellow at NCIL and the individual behind the Owning Our Stories concept, and MCed by Lawrence Carter-Long, a local disability rights advocate and Public Affairs Specialist with the National Council on Disability. Carter-Long kicked off the night’s storytelling with a preview of his upcoming radio piece on the takeover of the Mutter Museum in Philadelphia by a group of disability advocates. Cannington shared Laura Hershey’s powerful poem and disability anthem, “You Get Proud by Practicing” to honor the love and legacies of Ki’tay D. Davidson and Stella Young. NCIL’s Executive Director, Kelly Buckland, spoke about his experience as a person with a disability in college before the ADA and how a single person got him interested in disability rights work and changed the trajectory of his whole life. Interestingly enough, the ADA was signed into law on the 20th anniversary of the day of his accident.

Other speakers included Maria Town, Associate Director in the Office of Public Engagement at the White House, and Rebecca Cokley, Executive Director of the National Council on Disability. Their titles didn’t matter that evening, as they each shared personal stories of people that had been instrumental in their growth as leaders in the Disability Rights Movement. Sara Vogler read a powerful original poem. Jeremiah Perez shared his personal story to highlight importance of education and activism in finding employment and personal growth.

As both a member of the audience and a speaker at the event, I was in awe of the supportive nature of the room. Too often people with disabilities feel as if they cannot speak up for themselves. But the Owning Our Stories open mic night allowed every participant to be their truest authentic self.

Join Our Partner, The LEAD Center, for WIOA From a Disability Perspective Part 3: Understanding Changes Regarding Youth Services

The LEAD Center, funded by the US Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Policy, is hosting a four-part webinar series titled “WIOA From a Disability Perspective.”

LEAD Center LogoThe Workforce Innovation and Opportunities Act (WIOA) places expanded emphasis on funding activities for youth, including out-of-school youth and youth with disabilities. WIOA also amends the Rehabilitation Act requiring VR agencies to collaborate with local education agencies to improve coordination of pre-employment transition services to students with disabilities.

Join this webinar to learn more about cross-system collaboration and WIOA opportunities to support career counseling, skills training, job exploration, leadership development, and financial literacy education for youth with and without disabilities.

This is the third of a four-part webinar series. After registering for this webinar, be sure to view the previous webinar’s archive and register for the remaining webinars in the series – space is limited:

Please note: This webinar will be captioned and a link to download the presentation will be sent to registrants prior to the webinar. To request any other reasonable accommodations, please contact Brittany Taylor at within 48 hours of the webinar.

Redefining Social Security’s Definition of Disability: Why People of All Ages Should Get Engaged

By Emily Ladau, CareerACCESS Intern

Social Security policy reform is critical as we approach the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

CareerACCESS logo - Career ACESSYoung adults with disabilities who receive Social Security benefits face serious dilemmas navigating their world: they can either pursue a successful career and lose all support from SSI/SSDI, or remain on SSI/SSDI and lose opportunities to find lucrative work.

If you’re tired of unfair policy barriers directed at people with disabilities, this is your time to be part of the advocacy to make change!

CareerACCESS Now!

CareerACCESS, a grassroots initiative supported by NCIL, will be holding a forum:

Reforming Social Security’s Definition of Disability

July 27, 2015; 1:00 p.m.
Grand Hyatt Hotel in Washington, D.C., Main Ballroom
NCIL’s Annual Conference on Independent Living

We need the ADA generation, this country’s workforce, to be there to speak out!

We must modernize current Social Security policies for people like Kathleen, a young woman about to graduate college who is concerned about finding employment while maintaining financial support to keep the personal care attendants she needs to go about daily life. We must continue our activism for people like Derek, who has experienced several roadblocks on his path to a career due to SSI/SSDI.

It is up to people of all ages to support the ADA generation of the disability community so we can all thrive. This is why we need you at our forum!

Showing your support for Social Security SSDI Reform and CareerACCESS will be a huge step in the right direction for positive Social Security reforms.

CareerACCESS is a proposed program of reforms to the Social Security Administration’s Supplemental Security Income Program to provide services and supports to propel youth into careers, enable them to build assets, and allow them to keep their disability benefits when they develop careers. The young adult drives their own individual career plan with access to coaching, counseling, and employment support services.

What do we want? CareerACCESS! When do we want it? Now!

Join the ADA Generation hosting this forum. For more information, see the Facebook event page and visit the CareerACCESS website at

The United States owes it to all generations to make it possible for people with disabilities to have equal opportunities to thrive!

Act Today and Tomorrow: Cuts to Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) on the Table

Today, Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) filed Amendment 667 to the Senate Budget Resolution, in order to create a deficit-neutral reserve fund to “ensure that individuals do not simultaneously receive unemployment compensation and disability insurance benefits”.

Read CCD’s Fact Sheet about Amendment 667 (PDF or plain text).

As the U.S. Senate considers its 2016 budget resolution, cuts to benefits for people who receive both SSDI and Unemployment Insurance (UI) are on the table are.

Senators Flake and Manchin’s amendment would cut these extremely modest but vital benefits. More amendments are possible. Action on amendments and the budget resolution is expected today and tomorrow.

SSDI and UI are earned benefits, paid for by workers and their employers. Workers who qualify for both should be able to receive the insurance benefits they have earned. SSDI beneficiaries who try to work should not be treated differently from other American workers. UI should be there for them when they need it.

75 national organizations (PDF) have opposed harmful cuts to concurrent SSDI and UI benefits. Get the facts and take action!

Today and tomorrow, call your Senators. Tell them:

  • Please oppose Flake Amendment 667 to the Senate Budget and any similar amendments to cut Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) for people who also receive Unemployment Insurance.
  • Any cuts to Social Security or SSDI would harm the financial security of people with significant disabilities and their families.
  • SSDI beneficiaries who try to work should not be treated differently from other American workers. Unemployment Insurance should be there for them when they need it. It’s fair and it’s right.
  • For decades, Congress has passed bipartisan laws to open up employment opportunities for SSDI beneficiaries. Cutting SSDI for people who also receive Unemployment Insurance would instead penalize SSDI beneficiaries who have tried to work — creating new, harmful work disincentives.

Announcement of DOL Grant Funding for Training of People with Disabilities

On March 9, the President announced our TechHire initiative in a speech to the National League of Cities. To kick off TechHire, 20 regions, with over 150,000 open technology jobs in 2014 and more than 300 employer partners, announced plans to work together to create more fast track tech training opportunities. The President is challenging communities across the country to follow their lead.

As a part of this announcement, the Administration announced a commitment to make $100 million available through the Department of Labor to support innovative approaches to moving lower skilled workers with barriers to training and employment on the fastest paths to mid- to high-skill information technology jobs in high growth jobs in industries like healthcare, advanced manufacturing, financial services, and other in-demand sectors. Each grantee will agree to develop strategies that serve one or more groups of individuals with barriers to employment, including those with child care needs, people with disabilities, people with limited English proficiency, and disconnected youth, among others.

Read the fact sheet on this opportunity (PDF). The Administration plans to have a full application ready by the end of 2015.

SSA: Free Monthly Webinars on Work Incentive Seminar Events (WISE) Teach Beneficiaries about Ticket to Work and Work Incentives

Source: Social Security Administration

A person using the Ticket to Work WISE webinar website - Ticket to Work LogoSocial Security’s Ticket to Work program provides free employment support services to Social Security disability beneficiaries age 18 through 64 who want to work so that they can successfully transition from receiving cash benefits to full-time employment. Ticket to Work connects beneficiaries to services, such as interview coaching, résumé development, benefits counseling, vocational counseling and job placement. It also helps many beneficiaries take advantage of Social Security Work Incentives to safely transition from cash benefits while keeping their health care coverage. These services and incentives can help beneficiaries on their journey to employment and financial independence.

SSa hosts free monthly Work Incentive Seminar Events (WISE) webinars to teach beneficiaries and their supporters (both individuals and disability organizations) about the Ticket to Work program and Work Incentives.  [Read more…]