In October, my library, the Georgia Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled (GLS) observed National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM). The purpose of NDEAM is to raise awareness about disability employment issues and celebrate the many and varied contributions of America’s workers with disabilities. As a library that serves and employs individuals with disabilities, we felt it was important to acknowledge these ongoing issues in disability employment, as well as the advancements that have been made. To commemorate NDEAM, my colleague Sarah Trowbridge interviewed Doug Crandell, disability advocate and author of Twenty-Two Cents an Hour: Disability Rights and the Fight to End Subminimum Wages.
In his book, Crandall discusses how individuals with disabilities are often paid sub-minimum wages and forced to work in hard working conditions. In many states, particularly Georgia, it is legal to pay certain individuals less than minimum wages. As an African American woman, I am well aware of the unequal pay compared to my counterparts. Black women earn 63 cents for every dollar earned by white, non-Hispanic men. So, to learn that it is legal to pay individuals with disabilities even less was both surprising and not surprising. I was shocked to learn that there are laws in place that prevent someone from being paid a fair wage. While the Fair Labor Standard Act (FSLA) was passed to set standards for basic minimum wages and overtime pay, it also created special exemptions that allow employers to pay individuals with disabilities lower wages. Crandall covers this, as well as current cases in the fight for equal pay.
Although the month that acknowledges disability employment awareness has passed, we can still highlight the importance of equitable employment for all people. There are resources available such as the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Employment Policy, which provides resources for promoting disability inclusion in the workplace. Also, here in Georgia, we have Advancing Employment, which advocates for inclusive employment. Particularly, if you are in a position to hire people, please advocate that individuals with disabilities are paid fairly and accommodations are made to promote inclusivity.
Notes Between Us (NBU) is a blog about conversations and topics of interest to the writers. The writers are expressing their personal opinions solely. The essays represent their personal beliefs and not that of their workplaces or any organization they are associated with.