Welcome to the bonus round!
If I have my Jewish holidays right, today marks the end of Passover. I hope everyone had a blessed one and was able to celebrate their spiritual and physical freedom to the fullest. I’m also guessing most of you are (figuratively) dying for a croissant or a sandwich right now. My admiration goes out to those who sacrifice carbs for a week; this bread-lovin’ gal could not do it.
Passover, of course, brings to mind the Exodus story. It’s a story told in many mediums over and over again, because it’s so valuable and epic. It’s the story of a journey of an entire nation out of oppressive, terrible slavery. Jewish or not, when most of us hear the Exodus story, we feel exWtra grateful for our freedoms. We may even say, “It’s a good thing slavery no longer exists.”
That’s a natural thought, but it’s flawed. Slavery does exist–yes, even in America, land of the free. We had it until 1865 and considered it normal, even moral. Today, the sex trafficking industry enslaves millions each day, especially children. People walk as the slaves to twisted and evil forms of religion, marriage, you name it. And yes…
Persons with disabilities are some of America’s last remaining slaves.
That’s not something I say often, because of how easy it is for people to get offended. (Honestly, sometimes I think we should all have to wear buttons proclaiming, MAD ABOUT EVERYTHING!) I also don’t say it because I often hear the argument that, “Some people with disabilities are happy to work in sheltered workshops/at menial, minimum-wage jobs.” Okay, fine. But get real.
Let’s get down to where we live. Let’s say we have two teenagers, Adam and Carly. Adam does not have a disability. He gets a job at the local market bagging groceries, for which he is paid. Carly is set up with a job bagging groceries at the same market, as part of an IEP. She is not paid, even though she does the same work as Adam. When and if this is questioned, the questioner is told, “Oh, she’s part of an outreach program/this is an IEP goal/Carly cannot handle money.”
Remember the last post, folks. Stop the sugary excuses. This is slavery. Carly is that market’s slave.
Another example: Lily and Jasmine work at the same content writing company, where the going rate is $10/hr. But because Jasmine has a physical disability, her weekly output is 50% of Lily’s. For that reason and that reason alone, Lily is paid $10. Jasmine is paid $5.
Slavery? Yes, because even though Jasmine is being paid, it is below the minimum, and based on disability. Her skills are not rewarded or even acknowledged. Actually, she’s effectively punished for being slower. As a result, if Lily works 8-10 hours a day, she pockets $100 for that day. Yes, taxes are a factor, but Lily could probably pay a bill with that money. She could take care of some groceries or otherwise provide for herself. Over time, she could get another, higher-paying job, or save up her wages for something important.
By contrast, Jasmine gets $50. She may be able to spend it on something small, but not to provide for herself significantly. Because she is likely in a “program” for “the disabled,” Jasmine may not have other job choices. She may never be trusted to handle money or able to be independent.
Last example. Vincent has a cognitive or physical disability deemed too severe for typical work. He enters a sheltered workshop. There is no minimum or maximum wage; he is paid based solely on speed and/or how many widgets he can make or boxes he can pack. If a supervisor decides a “fair” wage is $3 (four and a half dollars below minimum) then that’s what Vincent receives. His wage can change arbitrarily, withheld as punishment for slowness, or otherwise be affected. He has no choice in the jobs he does, who he does them with, or how long he will do them. He may never be able to provide for himself, nor given the chance to experience the world outside the workshop.
Slavery? Oh yeah, and it’s gross. If we have to have sheltered workshops, this is far from the way to do it.
I realize this post is probably gonna offend somebody, somewhere. Guess what? Slavery is offensive to me, especially when it comes to PWDs. They are my “people” just as the Hebrews of old were Moses’. We’ve got to call slavery what it is and stop enacting it.
How? Here are a few simple rules:
- Jobs for PWDs should be above minimum wage, and as skilled as possible.
- Jobs are based on skill, not speed (and if speed happens to be a factor, that should not be the sole determining one in wages)
- Employees with disabilities should have the freedom to choose other jobs when they like, and the opportunity to gain seniority and privileges
- The goal of every supervisor who hires a PWD should be, “Let’s help this person provide for him/herself and make it in our economy and world, no matter how tough it is.”
So the next time you see or hear an example like the ones here, call it what it is. Then, do what you can, small though it may be, to help PWDs gain all the freedom they can, at work and otherwise.
L’chaim. (To life).