by Tanner Gers

New York City sets standards high in creating employment opportunities for people with disabilities in 21st century jobs!

On October 11, 2018, Neil Ramano’s team at the National Council on Disability submitted to President Trump the 2018 Report National Disability Employment Policy, From the New Deal to the Real Deal: Joining the Industries of the Future.

Three weeks earlier, September 21st, 2018 in New York, The Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities has launched the abilITy Cisco Academy powered by NYC: ATWORK at the Institute for Career Development (ICD), proudly funded by the UJA-Federation of New York and J.E. & Z.B. Butler Foundation, with corporate sponsorship by BNP Paribas and Standard Chartered Bank. This program uses a train-to-place model that will prepare individuals with disabilities to secure employment in the cyber security industry. It delivers an industry-recognized Cisco certification program through a curriculum adapted to suit various learning styles.

Here’s the extraordinary significance of New York’s action in supporting people with disabilities achieving 21st century employment outcomes in jobs exceeding poverty lines and minimum wages:

In the National Council on Disability (NCD) 2018 report, you learn of over 1000 employers who are paying sub-minimum wages under Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act. Even more shocking is how high the number of people with disabilities are being paid sub-minimum wages and how low these wages are. The wages are so low in fact, it boggles the mind to even think how something like this is possible, let alone being legal.

These are work centers, hospitals, rehab centers, schools, businesses and “nonprofits” like Goodwill paying these sub-minimum wages to Over 300,000 Americans. One of the most chilling tables outlines the wages paid to patient workers. A patient worker is an individual with a disability who receives treatment at a hospital or residential care facility and is employed by that same hospital or residential care facility.

One of the employees that participated in the survey from Conway Human Development Center in Arkansas stated that she assumed that the employees with disabilities participating in Conway’s workshop were earning minimum wages, but, nevertheless, maintained that without a certificate such employees were not capable of working because in her view “their disabilities hinder higher pay.” Data from Conway’s 14(c) certificate application reveals that its reported 182 workers perform such tasks as “packaging rocks,” and “inserting card[s]” and “shredding paper” for far below minimum wage: an average wage of 90 cents per hour, with some workers being paid as little as 13 cents per hour. In fact, the wages across the top 10 PWL certificate-holders were unusually low, even for 14(c) programs.”

Table 7- Top Ten PWL Certificate-holders Reported Wages

PWL Top 10 Program State Lowest Wage Reported Highest Wage Reported Average Wage of Reported Participants
Booneville Human Development Center AR 0.13 5.22 0.90
Conway Human Development Center AR 1.67 1.88 1.70
J Iverson Riddle Development Center NC 0.07 7.25 1.20
Lambs Farm IL 0.11 6.92 2.50
Murdoch Development Center NC 1.89 7.86 5.67
Tacachale Industries FL 0.03 7.98 1.62
Utah State Development Center UT 0.02 7.23 0.80
Average N/A 0.56 6.33 2.06

Data Source: WHD, 2018

While the lowest wage reported is absolutely depressing, the average wage column cements these organizations as manipulators of people with disabilities funneling them through what could be identified as modern-day slave labor camps.

I am very grateful to Mr. Ramano’s team and everyone at the NCD for making us aware of these horrific facts and employment practices happening hear in the United States. Our awareness is the first step in taking action to stop the proliferation and unregulated use of these programs without significant federal oversight.

One of the best ways to move beyond the antiquated beliefs and social stigmas of the past is by driving change through innovation, technology, and the empowerment of people. Three individuals leading such initiatives are Victor Calise, Commissioner of the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities, Dr. Richard Weber and Susan Scheer, the Institute for Career Development’s Board President and CEO respectively.

This program is monumental for the PWD community in a multitude of ways. While it does take a special vision, mission and belief to create such a historic employment opportunity for PWD, jobs in cyber security, IT, sales, human resources, government, education, law and beyond are now more possible than ever because of advancements in technology; specifically assistive technology.

Assistive technology includes softwares like screen readers and braille displays for people who are blind or visually impaired, voice-to-text and facial recognition softwares for people who have mobility impairments, and other technologies that enable individuals with sensory, mobility, cognitive or learning impairments execute in life. Now, this ability to execute is being more and more recognized by decision makers in the business world.

I couldn’t agree more with Deputy Mayor Phillip Thompson saying, “Technology gives us the power to invest in untapped talent pipelines. Smart businesses will follow the lead of this public- private partnership to improve their workforce and invest in future success.”

Technology does give us the power to tap into untapped opportunities, specifically people with disabilities. Never before have people with disabilities been able to harness and demonstrate their value and human capital for employers and decision makers. But now we can.

Thank you Victor Calise, Dr. Richard Weber, Susan Scheer, and Deputy Mayor Phillip Thompson. When we leverage technology and make digital platforms accessible to people of all abilities, we create infinite possibilities!

And if cyber security isn’t your thing, NYC ATWORK will be connecting with businesses to identify where the demand for qualified employees is greatest, so they can replicate this model in other sectors. The next cohort of the abilITy Cisco Academy at ICD starting will begin recruitment in October. More info about the NYC ATWORK program

Additional Resources and Information

Original Press Release by the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities

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