Why The Arc of Larimer County Supports the Reform of Ability One and Segregated Employment Programs for People with Disabilities

Letter from Marilee Boylan, Executive Director of The Arc of Larimer County
Published April 2nd, 2018 

After a recent opinion piece in the Coloradoan titled, “Disabled workers in Fort Collins lose jobs with government rule change,” we feel it is important to discuss why The Arc of Larimer County supports the reform and overhaul of The Ability One Program, including SourceAmerica contracts.

The Ability One Program dates back to 1938, when the Wagner-O-Day Act was passed and signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.  It was designed, at the time, to provide employment opportunities to people who are blind.  In the decades since, the program was modified and amended to expand the scope of the programs, including adding eligibility to people with other disabilities.

These programs were created during a time it was believed that people with disabilities could only work in segregated settings.  The employment opportunities typically involved only working alongside other people with disabilities, did not necessarily match the person with a disabilities interests or skills, and frequently pay less than minimum wage.  The Arc of Larimer County firmly believes such practices violate the civil rights of people with disabilities.  All people, regardless of their ability, should earn minimum wage or more and have the opportunity to have a job in an integrated setting that matches their skills and interests.

Many national advocacy organizations have called for the reform and overhaul of the AbilityOne Program.  These organizations include: National Federation of the Blind (NFB), TASH, the National Council for 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.

In a joint press release from Sept. 2015, Mark A. Riccobono, President of the National Federation of the Blind, said:  “The principles we are setting forth today (Referring to the Reform of Ability One) 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.”

According to Tile II of the ADA, 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. Legally, people with disabilities must be supported to lead fully integrated lives in their communities, including throughout their workday. Ability One contracts do not fit under the definition of inclusive employment. Even though the jobs may be in the community, employees are only working with other employees with disabilities and not working with others without disabilities in the general public

We feel for Mike and the individuals who lost their positions and the employer who lost talented and consistent workers.  For any of us, these transitions are very stressful.  I am left wondering why the employer was not able to directly hire these valued individuals?  As with any employee, any employer can hire people with disabilities directly, or an employer can contact Division of Vocational Rehabilitation for a source of motivated and talented employees looking for employment.

We believe that it is important to understand why advocates with disabilities across the nation have called for this type of reform.  People with disabilities want real jobs for real wages.  We at The Arc of Larimer County feel these changes and requirements under the Workforce Investment Act protect people with disabilities from being underpaid and segregated from living and working in our communities.  We all benefit when everyone is included!
Video Link about efforts to reform Ability One:

About Us:

The Arc of Larimer County is an advocacy agency dedicated to protecting the civil rights of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families. We work to ensure that all individuals have equal access and are included in every aspect of community life. We believe that the entire community gains when people with intellectual and developmental disabilities are fully included, including in employment.

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