Most of us know what it was like to be on the playground when the playground monitor blew her whistle. This usually meant one of two things: either someone’s actions were in need of correcting, or recess was over. Sometimes I wish I could “blow the whistle” on the actions of others with respect to blindness, or just bring an end to some of society’s misconceptions and poor attitudes. So, here is my attempt at “blowing the whistle” on a recent observation in an effort to help change perceptions of blindness.
The issue I’m about to tell you sounds like something out of the early 1900’s, but unfortunately, it is something that is taking place today, 2012, all across the country. Did you know that it is perfectly legal for persons with disabilities to be paid less than the minimum wage? This means that businesses can pay less than $7.25 to someone with a disability for work they would otherwise pay a sighted person at least minimum wage to perform. It is aggravating to me that just because someone is blind, his or her work is not valued at the same rate as a sighted person. Of course there are many seemingly plausible arguments in support of this practice. For example, persons with disabilities cannot produce at the same rate as a non-disabled person (i.e., a blind person cannot produce at the same rate as a sighted person); persons with disabilities receive social security benefits so paying them less helps ensure that their benefits will not be reduced, or because most of these organizations are non-profits (like Good Will Industries for example) they simply cannot afford to pay the workers with disabilities the minimum wage despite the fact that their CEO makes over $500 thousand a year. Ironically, Good Will’s CEO happens to be blind, so you would think that he would be more empathetic to providing fair wages for his peers. Additionally, these organizations say that if they had to pay persons with disabilities the minimum wage, they would have to lay off some staff to be able to afford this and therefore “deny” those who are laid off “the “dignity of having a job.” But tell me, what is dignified about being paid $0.16 an hour? Yes, this is an actual documented wage.
I would encourage you to take a few minutes to learn more about this issue. Please visit The Fare Wages for Workers with Disabilities Act website to learn more. I would also encourage you to read a letter to The U.S. House of Representatives regarding this issue. Then, if you really want to make a difference, please contact your representative and encourage them to vote in favor of H.R. 3086. All it takes is a short email or phone call to his/her office. Let’s blow the whistle on inequality!