August 31, 2021

Microsoft Word – CPSD Support letter for TCIEA.docx

Dear Chairman Scott and Representative McMorris Rodgers:

Microsoft Word – CPSD Support letter for TCIEA.docx

As national organizations who are committed to the advancement of economic security for people with disabilities, we are writing to express our strong support for Transformation to Competitive Employment Act (HR 2373). Founded in 2007, the Collaboration to Promote Self- Determination (CPSD) is a national advocacy coalition of organizations representing people with intellectual, developmental, and other disabilities and their families, disability service agencies and individuals who have come together to bring about a significant modernization of the federal adult system of services and supports for persons with disabilities. The mission of CPSD is to push for major systemic reform of the nation’s disability laws and programs to advance economic security, enhance integrated community participation, and increase opportunities for people with disabilities so that they can lead self-determined lives.

Most people with disabilities want to work, live independently and be economically self- sufficient. Unfortunately, employment for people with disabilities continues to lag significantly compared to those without disabilities. For too many people with disabilities, their only option is to work in segregated settings called “sheltered workshops,” where they are isolated from co-workers without disabilities and the broader society and are legally paid pennies on the dollar under Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The bipartisan Transformation to Competitive Integrated Employment Act (TCIEA, H.R. 2373) will address barriers to employment and expand opportunities for competitive integrated employment (CIE) for people with disabilities while phasing out subminimum wage certificates under 14(c) of the FLSA over a six-year period. The TCIEA provides States, service providers, subminimum wage certificate holders, and other agencies with the resources they need to create CIE service delivery models and the inclusive wraparound services that some individuals with disabilities will need when subminimum wages are phased out.

CPSD strongly supports this bill that will end the discriminatory and unfair payment of subminimum wages to people with disabilities while increasing opportunities for CIE. We look forward to working with you towards its passage. If you have any questions, or to follow up, please reach out to Serena Lowe (, Heather Sachs ( or Julia Bascom ( For more information about CPSD, please see


Allies for Independence
Applied Self-Direction
Association of University Centers on Disabilities (AUCD)
Association of People Supporting Employment First (APSE)
Autism Society of America
Autistic Self Advocacy Network
Community Options, Inc.
Center for Public Representation
Marc Gold & Associates
National Alliance for Direct Support Professionals
National Association of State Directors of Developmental Disabilities Services National Disability Institute
National Disability Rights Network
National Down Syndrome Congress
Williams Syndrome Association


By David Michael Mank, Ph.D.**

There are two wrong ways to view the capabilities of people with significant disabilities. The first way is to meet someone, and automatically focus on their disability and assume that competitive integrated employment (CIE) is not possible. When, in fact, this individual has capabilities to work successfully. The second way is to meet an individual with a significant disability, see their potential and seek to discover that person’s interests, history and capabilities but, over time, fail to successfully support them in finding and sustaining employment. I first heard of this sentiment many years ago in the writings of Don Baer from the University of Kansas (a pioneer in discovering how to connect with people with significant disabilities through identifying their potential and preferred modes of communication and teaching). Don’s points were clear, concise and to the point: If we are going to be wrong about the ability and potential of a person, we must always be wrong in the second way. As a young man in graduate school at the University of Oregon many years ago, I was taught that any failure to learn by a person with a disability is my failure as a teacher and not the person’s failure. And, in the words of the customized employment guru Marc Gold, it is our responsibility to “Try Another Way”.

Now, in 2021, the debate continues among the broader community not only about the capabilities of individuals with disabilities, but about how and where people should spend their time. There continue to be ongoing presumptions underlying these arguments that are based on low expectations of people with significant disabilities about their competencies and potential to make significant contributions to their communities. This paternalistic attitude continues to be toxic in terms of how we approach public policies that directly impact the options individuals with significant disabilities have in terms of where they live, if they are allowed to work (and where), and what they can do during the day. 

This debate is never clearer than in a conversation about the employability of individuals with significant disabilities in the generic workforce.  Many self-advocates and other advocacy organizations assert competitive integrated employment first for all adults with significant disabilities, and the end of sheltered workshops and sub-minimum wages for all. Many proponents of maintaining sheltered workshops and the payment of sub-minimum wages argue that without these mechanisms, people with significant disabilities would not have any opportunities to work or contribute. Passions run high across these divergent perspectives.

Too often, in my view, this is argued as an “either, or” question. My question is this: what do we need to do to make the use of sub-minimum wages and sheltered workshops unnecessary? I have tried to make the point, to the disappointment of some, that eliminating such policy without any additional work around systems-change is but a Pyrrhic Victory, taking too great of a toll that negates the achievement. Instead, we must offer something better, one person at a time. Simply eliminating sheltered work or sub-minimum wages today and doing nothing else to promote the employment of people with significant disabilities does not provide a better tomorrow. We need a well- designed phase out of sub-minimum wages and we must engage in the important work of seeking to discover each person’s interests and capabilities in a thorough and authentic process. We must learn the methods (now well-developed) of customized employment strategies, systematic instruction, and positive behavior supports. We must have a direct support workforce that is well-trained, well-supported and well-paid.

Will we always succeed? Probably not. Will we succeed more often than not? Yes. Studies show that two-thirds of people in sheltered workshop settings have an interest in competitive integrated employment. Even given this clear interest, few are given the opportunity to leave sheltered settings for competitive integrated employment. Addressing this need alone is many years of work.

We also know that working at full productivity is less about the person and the disability than it is about the intersection of a person and what they are being asked to do. Any one of us can, in 60 seconds, list at least 5 jobs where our performance would be very poor. Many of us spend years finding the kind of work that suits us. Too often in sheltered work, people are offered work available rather that offered work that suits the person based on their interests, skills and experiences.

In this new Administration, we have the opportunity to move forward with decreasing the reliance of states and the disability community on sheltered work by implementing real systems change that leads to increased competitive integrated employment options for individuals with significant disabilities. The Transformation to Competitive Employment Act, to be re-introduced this Congress, is one important opportunity. It builds on the work of many researchers, practitioners, self-advocates, employers and families over several decades. I have written about this opportunity in the past [read HERE], and stand by my belief that passing legislation such as the Transformation to Competitive Employment Act is the most effective and comprehensive way to empower those with disabilities while still maintaining federal safety nets that protect both the people gaining their economic independence, as well as the businesses that used to employ them. It is long past time that people with disabilities be given opportunities on par with everyone else – to obtain real jobs for real wages and make real contributions to society.

Image description: Photo of Professor David Mank, Caucasian man with gray hair, tie and glasses sitting in front of a white board with water bottle.

** About the Author: David Mank, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus at Indiana University. He chaired the Advisory Committee for Increasing Competitive Integrated Employment for Individuals with Disabilities established by Congress in the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act of 2014.  He is an Advisory  Council Member of the Collaboration to Promote Self Determination.


CPSD Applauds the US Commission on Civil Rights Recommendations to End the Use of Subminimum Wages for People with Disabilities and Expand Opportunities for Competitive Integrated Employment

September 17, 2020

Today, the US Commission on Civil Rights (USCCR) released its report, Subminimum Wages: Impacts on the Civil Rights of People with Disabilities, calling for a phase out of Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act, which allows people with disabilities to be paid subminimum wages in segregated settings where they are isolated from their non-disabled peers and the broader community. The Collaboration to Promote Self-Determination (CPSD) commends the Commission for its recommendations to end the use of Section 14(c) while expanding capacity for competitive integrated employment — jobs in the community where people with disabilities work alongside, are paid the same wages and benefits, and have the same employment opportunities — as their co-workers without disabilities.

CPSD ( is an advocacy coalition of organizations representing people with intellectual, developmental and other significant disabilities and their families, disability service agencies and individuals who have come together to bring about a significant modernization and alignment of the federal system of services and supports for persons with disabilities. Since its founding in 2007, CPSD has been working to reform the nation’s disability laws and programs to advance economic security, enhance community participation, and increase opportunities for people with disabilities so that they are able to lead self-determined lives.

CPSD has long advocated for the elimination of subminimum wages to people with disabilities under Section 14(c). Subminimum wages create and reinforce a life of poverty, segregation, and dependency on public support. Section 14(c) is based on outdated expectations about the capabilities of people with disabilities. It is inconsistent with modern federal disability laws — like the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act — that focus on inclusion, community participation, and competitive integrated employment (CIE) for people with disabilities. Most importantly, subminimum wages do not represent what the vast majority of people with disabilities and families want: opportunities for competitive integrated employment.

CPSD has also advocated that the phase out of 14(c) should be combined with building capacity in service systems that lead to CIE and economic advancement of people with disabilities. CPSD members have worked with state systems, educational settings and providers across the country that have been successful in helping people with disabilities – including people with significant support needs – obtain and retain CIE. We know the best practices and strategies to help people 2 with disabilities obtain CIE. Instead of focusing any more resources on sheltered workshops, CPSD strongly believes states should be focusing on expanding capacity of services that could make CIE a reality for all people with disabilities. That is why CPSD has played a leading role in developing and advocating for legislation like the Transformation to Competitive Employment Act (S. 260/ H.R. 873) that phases out subminimum wages under Section 14(c) while providing resources to states and providers to expand capacity for providing CIE.

CPSD strongly supports the recommendations of the USCCR Report, including its recommendation to phase out 14(c) together with expanding capacity for CIE. The Commission’s recommendations are consistent with the 2016 report of the federal Advisory Committee on Increasing Competitive Integrated Employment for Individuals with Disabilities created by Congress in WIOA and multiple reports from the National Council on Disability, the independent federal agency charged with advising the President, Congress, and other federal agencies regarding policies that impact people with disabilities.

We thank the US Commission on Civil Rights for today’s report and call on Congress and federal agencies to implement the critical recommendations in the report. It is long past time to end those discriminatory practices that have kept disabled people trapped in poverty and segregated from their nondisabled peers and broader community.

Submitted on behalf of CPSD Member Organizations:

Association of People Supporting Employment First

Autistic Self-Advocacy Network

Autism Society of America

Community Options, Inc.

Marc Gold & Associates

National Association of State Directors of Developmental Disabilities Services

National Disability Institute

National Disability Rights Network

National Down Syndrome Congress


Williams Syndrome Association


The Collaboration to Promote Self-Determination and the National Council on Disability celebrated National Disability Employment Awareness Month with a Congressional Briefing on Monday, October 28 2019.


Attendees learned about competitive integrated employment (CIE), community jobs where people with disabilities work alongside co-workers without disabilities and are paid competitive wages. They also heard success stories about transitioning to CIE from people with disabilities and their families and about states efforts to expand opportunities for CIE.  Learn more about CIE at   

This briefing was presented in collaboration with the House Bipartisan Disabilities Caucus and its co-chairs Rep. Jim Langevin (D-RI) and Rep. Don Young (R-AK), Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS), Senator Bob Casey (D-PA), Senator Jerry Moran (R-KS), Senator Maggie Hassan (D-NH) and Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA). 

With generous support from the Autism Society of America and Anthem 

Briefing Handouts

Speaker Bios


Lekisha Logan is a lifelong resident of Danville, Virginia and graduated from Dan River High School.  She works at Dell’Anno’s Pizzeria in Danville, where she has worked since 2011 when she transitioned from a sheltered workshop where she was paid subminimum wages.  Lekisha started in the dining room cleaning and clearing tables, and now works as a dishwasher.  Lekisha has presented at The Arc of Virginia’s Annual Convention, sharing her experience in competitive integrated employment.  She also has presented to a group of college students at Averett University about the importance of inclusion in all aspects of life.  

Joe Carroll, Acacia McGuire Anderson, Lekisah Logan, Eric Cottrell

Eric Cottrell works at Piedmont Regional Feeding Clinic in Danville Virginia, where patients receive therapies to improve eating and health.  Eric grew up in Pittsylvania County, Virginia, where he graduated from Chatham High School and later moved to Danville. He has worked in several types of industries, but has always come back to the helping field because his passion is helping people.  Eric transitioned to competitive integrated employment from a sheltered workshop where he was paid subminimum wages in 2011.  Eric has presented on his experiences to attendees of The Arc of Virginia’s Annual Convention and was interviewed for a video on competitive integrated employment created by Virginia Commonwealth University’s Rehabilitation Research and Training Center.  

Tonya Milling, originally from North Carolina, has worked in the disability field for over 20 years and has a passion for the rights of people with disabilities. Her career brought her to Virginia in 2011, where she joined The Arc of Southside as executive director and led the agency through a transformation from segregated services to inclusive supports that are built around the person and not their disability.  At that chapter of The Arc, she and the leadership team successfully closed all of the segregated facility-based programs, which included a group home for 15 people, a sheltered workshop for 130 people, and a private day school serving 30 students with disabilities.  She and the leadership team developed and implemented new support services that partner with people with developmental disabilities to build their own lives with the supports they need to live the lives that they choose.  In January 2018, Tonya became the executive director of The Arc of Virginia, where she is advocating for change, so that every person with a developmental disability can have access to supports to live their life in their community. 


Acacia McGuire Anderson is the Statewide Employment First Coordinator for Oregon. Her role includes overseeing the transformation of Oregon’s employment services for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities to focus on community employment and inclusion. Her previous experience includes working as a services coordinator and as a program manager and prior to that a direct support professional for an employment provider in Oregon.

Tad Carroll, pictured above.

Joe Carroll, and his wife Linda, are the parents of Jeremy “Tad” Carroll, a 45 year old man with developmental and other disabilities.  The Carrolls have been involved as advocates in the developmental disabilities community, including starting an early intervention program in their community with educators and other parents when Tad was three years old and serving on the boards of The Arc of Oregon and The Arc Mid-Columbia and as a member of the Oregon Council Developmental Disabilities.  Tad worked in a sheltered workshop being paid subminimum wages, often earning less than 10 cents an hour, for almost 20 years.  Starting in 2017, Tad began working with Vocational Rehabilitation Counselors and his employment team to transition to competitive integrated employment. Tad was hired in November 2018 by a local restaurant delivering meals.  He is paid above minimum wage and is paying taxes for the first time in his life.  Because of his job, Tad has become more integrated into the local community, improved his communication skills and made new friends.


Bill and Kyle Stumpf

Kyle Stumpf is a 29 year old man from Dubuque, Iowa. Kyle graduated from high school in 2009. After graduation, Kyle was employed in a sheltered workshop earning subminimum wages for approximately four years.  In 2014, Kyle was hired at a local franchise for a major pizza chain in Dubuque, where he works alongside co-workers without disabilities and is paid above minimum wage.  Kyle just recently celebrated his five year anniversary there.  Kyle is also a very active participant in the community.  He volunteers and participates in numerous events and recreational activities throughout the community.  He has attended statewide conferences on self-advocacy and on competitive integrated employment.  He currently attends many political events, telling his story and encouraging candidates to support disability rights.

Bill Stumpf lives in Dubuque, Iowa with his son, Kyle, and is a licensed practical nurse working with people with intellectual disabilities.  Prior to pursuing nursing, Bill was employed in a paper factory for 30 years. He became active in the disability movement shortly after his son Kyle, who has Down syndrome, was born in 1990.  He has been active on numerous local, state and national organizations over the years.  He currently serves on the board for Disability Rights Iowa and is a member of the Iowa Coalition for Integration and Employment.  Along with Kyle, Bill has been engaging political candidates at the local, state, and national levels supporting disability rights, including related to voting rights for people with disabilities, healthcare reform, and competitive integrated employment.


Joshua Laird previously worked in a sheltered workshop doing piece work and on an enclave lawn crew, both jobs where he was paid subminimum wages and had no co-workers without disabilities.  At the sheltered workshop, he had behavioral challenges, did not communicate much and seldom smiled.  Beginning in 2016, Josh began attending a training program to help him transition to competitive integrated employment in anticipation of the sheltered workshop closing.  Through this program, Josh expressed an interest in finding a job where he could work outside and independently and was introduced to the manager of a local marina.  For the last three years, Josh has been working for the marina three days per week during the months of May through September and has received Certificates of Appreciation after each season.  In the last year, Josh has taken a second job working at Salisbury University in the dining services building approximately 20 hours per week.  He has enjoyed and is succeeding at this second job too.  

Joshua Laird (right).


Colloboration to Promote Self Determination logo


Comment Today to Support Equal Pay for People with Disabilities!

This week the Department of Labor announced its new website, “the Section 14(c) National Online Dialogue.”  The purpose of the website is to collect comments from the public about the impact of paying subminimum wages to people with disabilities under section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act.  Employers with 14(c) certificates can legally pay people with disabilities less than the federal minimum wage, often times pennies on the dollar.  Section 14(c) certificates are typically used in “sheltered workshops,” where people with disabilities are segregated from the broader community.  The vast majority of disability advocates view Section 14(c) (created in 1938) as outdated, discriminatory, and reinforcing a life of poverty, segregation, and dependency on public support for people with disabilities.  It is critical that you make your voice heard!   

Input from people with disabilities, families, employment providers and employers is important. Share your perspective online here before Friday, June 14th.  

Ideas to include in your comments are:

  • If you are a person with a disability or a family member, talk about why a community job at fair pay is important to you/your family.  Think about relationships with co-workers, how you/your family member have grown in your job, and opportunities to go into the broader community.  If you/your family member have ever been paid subminimum wages, talk about how that made you feel and about your transition from sheltered work to CIE.
  • If you are an employment provider, talk about how you support people with disabilities in competitive integrated employment.  If you are a provider who has transitioned away from using 14(c) certificates, talk about that experience.
  • If you are an employer, talk about your experience with employees with disabilities.  Think about their contributions to your workplace and how you have been able to ensure their success.
  • If you are an advocate familiar with disability employment trends in your state, share information about that progress.  Think about what policies have advanced CIE and how your state may be moving away from using sheltered workshops.  

Disability advocates have made significant progress towards eliminating Section 14(c) and establishing the legal right of people with disabilities to be paid the same as everyone else.  In 2014, Congress passed the bipartisan Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), which made competitive integrated employment (CIE) a priority, limited the use of subminimum wages for youth with disabilities, and required people currently being paid subminimum wages to be given other employment options.  In 2016, the Federal Advisory Committee for Increasing Competitive Integrated Employment for Individuals with Disabilities recommended to Congress and the Labor Secretary that Section 14(c) be phased-out, together with capacity building for competitive integrated employment.  In 2019, Congress introduced bipartisan legislation, the Transformation to Competitive Employment Act, to phase-out 14(c) and help providers transform their models to CIE.  Numerous states have already prohibited the use of subminimum wages, and other states are currently considering legislation.  It is critical that we urge the Department of Labor to continue the progress towards ending this outdated and discriminatory practice.

Remember, you only have until June 21st to make your voice heard here!


By Greta Harrison

Picture this. You are at a conference attending the opening breakfast. A presentation begins and within minutes you see a picture of a man in a wheelchair with one arm. The executive who is speaking is also a nurse.  She tells you that this man does not use language, and cannot count or read. Yet she shows you pictures of him at his job rehabbing a piece of hospital equipment, so it can be recycled, instead of thrown away. Because he cannot count, they put notches in a wheel and he knows to just fill up that wheel, and what to do with them afterwards. This man makes a living wage and receives benefits. He is happy and proud. The hospital saves hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. It is a win / win for all.

The next picture shows a young lady working in a very large hospital emergency room set up. She is stocking many rooms. She is very busy—and always on task. She is known for her work ethic. So much so, that the head of the very large dental clinic a few floors up, asks the executive nurse if this young woman would mind going to their department. The young woman goes there and quickly learns to sterilize dental instruments for over 20 operatories.  She gets a significant raise and is still there over twenty years later. That woman has Down syndrome. 

Those two examples sold me on Project SEARCH back in 2007. I knew then and there that we needed this program in Virginia. I also knew we had the right community to bring this together. So a year later, Hampton had the first official Project SEARCH site in Virginia. Now there are many sites in Virginia and hundreds all over the world. Project SEARCH has been around since 1995. All due to one nurse executive who was looking to stop turnover at Cleveland Children’s Hospital, the third largest hospital of its kind in the US. She had no kids of her own, and did not know any people with disabilities personally. The program was born out of employer need—and now runs globally on her passion that germinates quickly. 

So when people tell me things like, “my child just can’t work”, or “it is a fantasy for my child to make minimum wage” – the visions of the man rehabbing equipment and the woman sterilizing dental instruments are in my head. I know that many parents, educators, and non- profit staff are unaware of possibilities in 2019. They are stuck in a time sixty years ago when sheltered workshops were the progressive choice. Some of these well – intentioned parents actually pay a non – profit so their loved one can ‘work’. For pennies or a few dollars an hour. They think that is all there is. They have very low expectations. And they don’t know what their loved one can really do.

Instead, we need to be pooling our resources to support employment in the community. We need to properly fund entities like Virginia’s Department of Aging and Rehabilitative Services (DARS) and provide better training for large employers, so they too can expand their workforces. 

Yasmine in front of DARS.

For the very small percent of the population that truly cannot work, and that is a very small number, we should have enrichment programs for them that offer continuing education, art, drama, photography, etc. The traditional day programs are also a sixty – year old idea—that started with good intentions. We can do better—and we should. 

Fear, and overprotective natures often guide parents to petition for segregated regressive services. If we all move forward—proudly showing the great examples out there of supported employment—we can help these families move forward with us. Change is never easy. Every radical movement forward in American society has also faced people who did not believe. Let’s talk this out and make sure everyone’s fears are addressed. Let’s address each person left in a sheltered workshop individually and make sure person centered planning , and time, equal the best result for them. Let’s put an absolute stop to putting new graduates into sheltered workshops. Then let’s all move forward together. 

I am writing this for three reasons. I have a daughter named Yasmine who is now nineteen. Yasmine has Down syndrome. Last summer she completed a successful internship with the City of Hampton working in their human resources department. It was such a positive experience that words cannot describe the joy she, my husband and I, and the City of Hampton all feel when we talk about it. Now my daughter has an internship with DARS-working in their local office.  Thanks to my daughter’s inclusive and challenging education, and to DARS Pre-Employment Transition Services (Pre-ETS) program that targets people with disabilities before they graduate, she has many possibilities for the future that range from working for the city to working in the medical field, to starting her own business. She may go to community college as well. Working for subminimum wage is not even on the radar. In different circumstances, a different family, different support system, different schools, that is still an option for young women just like her. That should not be. Her future, full of possibilities, is what we should all be shooting for.

Yasmine speaking at the congressional briefing in September of 2018.

The second reason is that my daughter Yassy spoke to a congressional committee in September 2018, talking about her summer internship experience. What a parental moment that was—one etched permanently in my mind. Who thinks their child is going to give a speech before a congressional committee? My guess is not many parents—regardless of the fact that their child does or does not have a disability. She is a shy, but strong and articulate, self-advocate.  You can read her testimony here (and I also spoke, my testimony is here).

The third reason is because in March I launched a podcast called Born Fabulous. It features in depth discussions with the parents of very accomplished individuals who just happen to have disabilities. Every single case shows examples of what can happen when there are high expectations. I did this because these successes need to be highlighted and need to be the norm. Youth, parents, business, community, and political leaders all need these positive examples.  In future seasons I will interview the self- advocates themselves. 

The data, continuing education, and decades of experience all back up what I am saying. There is no data that supports segregated education or employment. And definitely none that supports a subminimum wage. Substitute the words black, Hispanic, gay, or any other minority into this equation. Sub minimum wage is not human in 2019. 

When you are confronted with naysayers, please remember they are scared. Then make sure you are part of the solution that will not only assay their fears but will also move us forward. Please help make this world a kinder, gentler, and more productive place. 

Let’s all move forward together!

About the Author: Greta Harrison

Pictured above: Greta with her daughter, Yasmine.

Greta hosts Born Fabulous Podcast which explores the lives of very successful young adults with significant disabilities. A former retail manager and business owner, she has been a civic leader for 19 years with various organizations that work with people with disabilities. She has been married almost 39 years, and is the mother of Nia, 31, and Yasmine, 19. Yasmine has Down syndrome. Yasmine is fully included in Hampton City Schools, where she has made honor roll each year, and will soon be a senior. She has had two internships via her participation with DARS Pre-ETS program. The first was in the Human Resources Department at the City of Hampton last summer. The second is a current placement at the Hampton DARS office where she does office work. Yasmine is an artist, and loves her anatomy class. She is pursuing ‘a life like yours’.  


By:  David Mank, Ph.D.**

I have spent the majority of my career researching and developing best practices related to helping people with the most significant disabilities get real jobs with real wages in the community. During my tenure, I have seen thousands of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities become successfully employed and economically self-sufficient.  We know how to do this. Unfortunately, as a nation, I believe we have failed to invest sufficient resources to disseminate the information and to transform systems so that the majority of people with disabilities now successfully exiting high school and postsecondary programs can get well-paying jobs alongside their peers without disabilities. In spite of what we know works, far too many continue to languish in sheltered settings receiving way below subminimum wages, often being paid pennies on the dollar an hour. This is due to outdated federal law, section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act, which continues to allow providers to pay people with disabilities subminimum wages. Thirty years after the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act to prevent such discrimination, this unfair discrimination against people with disabilities must end.

That is why I am hopeful to see legislation introduced which will responsibly phase-out the use of subminimum wages for people with disabilities, in addition to other important and needed actions. The Transformation to Competitive Employment Act is designed to build capacity and improve the disability employment service system and increase opportunities for competitive integrated employment for individuals with disabilities. Key features of this bill include:

  • Creating a competitive state grant program (Transformation Grants) to assist states to develop competitive integrated employment and transition from 14(c) certificate (sub-minimum wages) to competitive integrated employment.
  • Creating a competitive grant program for current 14(c) certificate holders to transition their business models to support individuals with disabilities into competitive integrated employment.
  • Establishing a national technical assistance center to support states and providers across the country making this transformation.
  • Supporting the development of “wraparound” services, in addition to competitive integrated employment, to support an individual’s integration and community participation when they are not working.

It is important to consider these and other provisions of the bill in the context of the 2014 Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) and the resulting recommendations issued in 2016 by an advisory committee created by this law. The Advisory Committee for Increasing Competitive Integrated Employment for Individuals with Disabilities (the Committee) was created by Congress in WIOA and comprised of 25 members.  These members, appointed by the Secretary of Labor, included 18 citizen members and 7 federal officials. The members represented broadly diverse perspectives on employment of people with disabilities. 

The citizen members included self-advocates with disabilities, representatives of national advocacy organizations, providers of rehabilitation services, experts with a background in academia or research on employment, representatives from the employer community, providers of disability employment services (including both those who do and do not pay subminimum wages using 14(c) certificates), and others with expertise on increasing competitive integrated employment.

The federal officials included: the Assistant Secretary of the Office of Disability Employment Policy, the Assistant Secretary of the Employment and Training Administration, and the Administrator of the Wage and Hour Division, all of the U.S. Department of Labor. The Committee also included: the Commissioner of the Administration on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, the Director of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the Commissioner of Social Security, and the Commissioner of Rehabilitation Services.

In reality, this Committee represented a very broad range of expertise, backgrounds, knowledge bases and personal and professional perspectives about employment of people with disabilities. The charge to the Committee was twofold: advise the Secretary and Congress on ways to increase competitive integrated employment, and advise on the use of 14(c), sub-minimum wage, and other such certificates. After a twenty-one month process of substantial discussion and more than a dozen public meetings, with significant public input and testimony, a final report with recommendations was sent to Congress and the Labor Secretary in September 2016 (a summary of the report is here). All of the recommendations of the report represented the consensus of the entire Committee. Each of the recommendations was adopted by consensus and without objection. Given the broad and diverse perspectives of the members, a report and recommendations by consensus of the entire Committee is a unique deliverable in the disability community.

The heart of the final report and recommendations of the Advisory Committee can be summarized in two words: Capacity Building. These two words and this concept represent the need to support states and local communities to deliver and support competitive integrated employment for individuals with disabilities, including people currently working at sub-minimum wages under 14(c) certificates. The Committee recommended the well-designed phase-out, over time, of the use of sub-minimum wages in conjunction with capacity building at the local level to deliver competitive integrated employment, one person at a time.

The Committee heard wide ranging testimony from experts, people with disabilities and families.  We heard about ways to achieve competitive integrated employment (including for people with the most significant disabilities), the work needed to develop competitive and integrated jobs, based on individual interests and abilities wherein sub-minimum wages are unnecessary, as well as the need for other services and supports to participate fully in community in addition to competitive employment. The Committee heard both success stories from people with disabilities and families, as well concerns about people with disabilities who are currently not achieving competitive integrated employment.

The Transformation to Competitive Employment Act provides specific action steps for the nation on ways to increase competitive integrated employment and proposes ways to phase out the use of sub-minimum wage over time in a way that ensures a smooth transition.  It incorporates the critical recommendations of the Committee.

The Transformation to Competitive Employment Act addresses the strong desire and unmet need from people with significant disabilities for competitive integrated employment. Its focus is capacity building in communities across the nation. While the Transformation Act eliminates the use of sub-minimum wages over time, it is designed to do so responsibly and in conjunction with helping states and providers build their capacity to deliver competitive employment suited to each individual’s interest, capabilities and potential. 

Given our nation’s current low unemployment rate and high need for a reliable workforce, it does not make sense to allow individuals with disabilities to languish in subminimum wage settings. Putting an end to Section 14(c) would not only benefit those with disabilities, but the entire United States through an increased workforce, additional tax revenue, and boosted workplace diversity. This can be achieved in this Congress. 

By passing the Transformation to Competitive Employment Act, Congress will be putting into law an effective and comprehensive way to empower those with disabilities while still maintaining federal safety nets that protect both the people gaining their economic independence, as well as the businesses that used to employ them. Federal oversight, combined with public and private grant programs, will ensure that people with disabilities make a successful transition into competitive integrated employment and, in turn, are given the same opportunities in life that we all want – being valued, learning new skills, being part of a diverse community, and becoming economically empowered.