Legislative Agenda of Blind Americans: Priorities for the 113th Congress, FIRST Session

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The National Federation of the Blind (NFB) is the nation’s oldest and largest nationwide organization of blind people.  As the voice of the nation’s blind, we represent the collective views of blind people throughout society.  All of our leaders and the vast majority of our members are blind, but anyone can participate in our movement.  There are an estimated 1.3 million blind people in the United States, and every year approximately 75,000 Americans become blind.  
The NFB’s three legislative initiatives for 2013 are: 
·        The Fair Wages for Workers with Disabilities Act 
This legislation phases out Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act, which allows employers to pay disabled workers subminimum wages.  By ending this exploitative, discriminatory practice, disabled Americans will receive equal protection under the law to earn at least the federal minimum wage and reach their full employment potential.   
·        The Technology, Education and Accessibility in College and Higher Education Act 
Electronic instructional materials and related technology have replaced traditional methods of learning in postsecondary settings.  Although it would be inexpensive to create e-books, courseware, applications, and other educational devices and materials in accessible formats, the overwhelming majority of these materials are inaccessible to disabled students.  This bill calls for minimum accessibility standards for instructional materials, ending the “separate but equal” approach to learning.
·        Equal Access to Air Travel for Service-Disabled Veterans (HR 164)
The Space Available Program allows active-duty military, Red Cross employees, and retired members of the armed services to travel on military aircraft if there is space available.  HR 164 reverses the exclusion of 100 percent service-disabled veterans who were discharged before retirement and entitles them to the program’s privileges.   
The real problem of blindness is not the loss of eyesight; it is the misunderstanding and lack of information that exist.  Given the proper training and opportunity, blindness can be reduced to a physical nuisance.  Blind Americans need your help to achieve these goals and reach economic security and full integration into society.  Supporting these measures will benefit more than just the blind, as promoting our economic welfare increases the tax base.  We urge Congress to hear our demands for equality and support these legislative initiatives.  

The Fair Wages for Workers with Disabilities Act of 2013
Current labor laws unjustly prohibit workers with disabilities 
from reaching their full socioeconomic potential.
Written in 1938, Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) discriminates against people with disabilities 
by allowing the secretary of labor to grant Special Wage Certificates to employers, permitting them to pay workers with disabilities less than the minimum wage.  Despite enlightened civil rights legislation prohibiting discrimination on the basis of disability, this antiquated provision is still in force, with some disabled workers making only three cents an hour. 
The subminimum wage model actually benefits the employer, not the worker. 
Subminimum wage employers receive taxpayer and philanthropic dollars because the public believes they are providing training and employment for people with disabilities.  The executives use the substantial proceeds to compensate themselves with six-figure salaries on the backs of disabled workers they pay pennies per hour.  People who raise their own standard of living while taking advantage of those who do not have the same rights as every other American are engaging in discrimination, not charity.  
This discrimination persists because of the myths that Section 14(c) is:
Myth 1…a compassionate offering of meaningful work.  Although the entities that engage in this practice demand the benefits that come from being recognized as employers, subminimum wage work is not true employment.   These so-called employers offer days filled with only repetitive drudgery for which workers are compensated with third-world wages, leading disabled employees toward learned incapacity and greater dependence on social programs.
Myth 2…an employment training tool for disabled workers. Fewer than 5 percent of workers with disabilities in subminimum wage workshops will transition into integrated competitive work.  In fact data show that they must unlearn the skills they acquire in a subminimum wage workshop in order to obtain meaningful employment.  Therefore Section 14(c) is a training tool that perpetuates ongoing underemployment.
Myth 3…a controversial issue among the disability community. More than fifty disability-related organizations and counting support the repeal of Section 14(c) of the FLSA, and many former subminimum wage employers have abandoned the use of the Special Wage Certificate without terminating anyone.  Only entities profiting from this exploitive practice refuse to acknowledge that it is discrimination.   
The Fair Wages for Workers with Disabilities Act of 2013:  
Discontinues the practice of issuing Special Wage Certificates.  The secretary of labor will no longer issue Special Wage Certificates to new applicants.  
Phases out all remaining Special Wage Certificates over a three-year period.  Entities currently holding Special Wage Certificates will begin compensating their workers with disabilities at no less than the federal minimum wage, using the following schedule:  
·        private for-profit entities’ certificates will be revoked after one year; 
·        public or governmental entities’ certificates will be revoked after two years; and 
·        nonprofit entities’ certificates will be revoked after three years.  
Repeals Section 14(c) of the FLSA.  Three years after the law is enacted, the practice of paying disabled workers subminimum wages will be officially abolished, and workers with disabilities will no longer be excluded from the workforce protection of a federal minimum wage.  
For more information contact:
Anil Lewis, Director of Advocacy and Policy
National Federation of the Blind
Phone: (410) 659-9314, Extension 2374    email:alewis@nfb.org

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