We are only halfway through the summer, but it has already been a busy one for AFB’s Public Policy team. In addition to bringing on board our new Director of Public Policy, Stacy Cervenka, we have been hard at work lending our expertise to the federal government on issues affecting people who are blind or visually impaired. Keep reading for an insight into the recent positions we have taken and comments submitted!
Eliminating Subminimum Wages and Realizing Our Employment Potential
The Transformation to Competitive Employment Act (H.R. 873 and S. 260) and ODEP 14(c) Online Forum
This spring, AFB joined other disability advocates to oppose the Section 14(c) exemption to the minimum wage in the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938. We believe that by allowing employers to pay lower wages to individuals on the basis of their disability, this 80-year old legal exception lowers expectations and perpetuates a system of discrimination that stymies individuals’ potential for fulfillment and self-sufficiency.
Responding to new legislative and policy proposals, AFB endorsed the Transformation to Competitive Employment Act, which would grant states and private entities funding to transform job opportunities for people currently paid a subminimum wage. Importantly, AFB recognizes that time and appropriate supports for individuals with disabilities are a necessary prerequisite to eliminating the current subminimum wage system. Our endorsement of this legislation hinges on these conditions.
In May, the Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) also announced a listening session and online forum to collect public feedback on the current 14(c) certificate system. AFB lent its voice and experience to the conversation by reiterating that people with disabilities deserve equitable opportunities to live and work independently and that a coordinated system of supports is needed to move individuals into employment that meets their full potential. How ODEP uses the information collected in the forum remains to be seen, but AFB hopes that ODEP will take steps that realize the potential for and right to competitive, integrated employment for people with disabilities.
Folding Disability Rights Into Every Part of U.S. Foreign Policy
Office of International Disability Rights Act (H.R. 3373)
While most of AFB’s work takes place here in the United States, we have long been members of the World Blind Union (WBU) and the International Council for Education of People with Visual Impairment (ICEVI). Just as Americans with disabilities deserve every right to full access and opportunities in education, employment, civic life, and independent living, we believe that disability rights are human rights and extend to every person around the globe.
Accordingly, AFB was excited to see draft legislation from Rep. Dina Titus (NV-1) that would create a permanent Office of International Disability Rights. The office would not only ensure that U.S. Foreign Policy is inclusive of disability rights, but it would also work to ensure that employment at the Department of State and its affiliated agencies fully include and take advantage of the talents of employees with disabilities, both domestically and at overseas postings. Thank you to Reps. Titus and Don Young (AK) for introducing this legislation!
Enforcing the Prohibition Against Discrimination in Employment
OFCCP Focused Reviews for Compliance of Section 503
The Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) enforces the civil rights requirements that federal contractors must follow. In addition to the Americans with Disabilities Act, federal contractors also must adhere to parts of the Rehabilitation Act that set certain standards for hiring and retaining employees with disabilities (Section 503). Because approximately one-quarter of American firms are government contractors, AFB was pleased to have the opportunity to comment on the process that the OFCCP will use to strengthen its enforcement of the rights of people with disabilities in the federal contracting workforce.
We appreciated the plan that the OFCCP put forward to collect relevant data from employers and further suggested that OFFCP investigate the accessibility of the application process, along with other efforts, to ensure that people with vision loss consistently have equal opportunity to apply for challenging, well-paid jobs with federal contractors.
Understanding the Barriers to Employment
Bureau of Labor Statistics: Current Population Survey Disability Supplement
The Current Population Survey (CPS) is one of a few national, reliable sources of data on labor market activities by people with disabilities. Disability programs and organizations rely on these data and estimates to evaluate the employment environment and to correct the low labor force participation rates of people with disabilities. Therefore, AFB is pleased to see that the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has proposed renewing the Disability Supplement to the CPS.
Last collected in 2012, this data offered an insight into the work history of people with disabilities, the programs that prepare them for employment, and barriers to employment. We look forward to analyzing the results of the next iteration of the survey and hope that BLS will take steps in the future to collect even more detailed and useful information about Americans with disabilities in and out of the workforce.
Ensuring Access to All Parts of Daily Living
FCC Audio Description Comments
AFB frequently supports the work of other organizations who share our mission to create a world of no limits for people with vision loss. Much of our work with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is carried out in this spirit. Twice this summer, AFB has joined a coalition of other organizations representing the interests of people who are blind, visually impaired, deaf, hard of hearing, and deafblind to highlight our concern that all FCC decisions should take into account their intended or unintended impact on equal access for people with disabilities to programming, devices, and other technology regulated by the FCC.
We specifically highlighted the concern that changing the rules covering educational and children’s content could impact whether those programs are audio described. On a separate issue, we also noted our concern that almost ten years after the passage of the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act, our industry partners still do not always incorporate accessibility into their product development from the very beginning. As AFB continues its service on the FCC’s Disability Advisory Committee, we will commit to emphasizing the importance of accessibility, inclusion, and the power of technology to contribute to a world of no limits.