The Arc Reacts to President’s Executive Order Raising Minimum Wage for Federal Contract Workers, Including People with Disabilities

This week, President Obama signed an executive order raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour for federal contract workers, including people with disabilities.  This order applies to new contracts beginning January 1, 2015, and will apply to replacements for expiring contracts as well as new agreements.

“The Arc is pleased that President Obama took this step for federal contract workers, including people with disabilities.  This wage boost is an important step forward and will benefit the lives of many people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, helping them achieve their goals of greater financial independence.  We will be communicating with the Administration to ensure a smooth phase-in of this change and to encourage the Administration to put in place the infrastructure, safeguards, and supports for people who need more significant accommodations to succeed in the workplace,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc.

The Arc Applauds National Governors Association for Work to Promote Employing People with Disabilities

At the recent National Governors Association (NGA) meeting, outgoing NGA Chair Governor Jack Markell (DE) wrapped up his year-long Chair’s Initiative, “A Better Bottom Line: Employing People with Disabilities.” The initiative focused on the employment challenges that affect individuals with intellectual and other significant disabilities and the role that both state government and business can play in facilitating and advancing opportunities for employment.  At the NGA meeting, Governor Markell released a final Blueprint for Governors summarizing the initiative’s activities, findings, and recommendations.

“Governor Markell’s initiative has brought attention to an issue that is too often ignored in our society – what people with disabilities can do in the workplace.  People with disabilities, including people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, are an integral part of our economy. The Arc is thrilled with Governor Markell’s leadership to raise the profile of this important issue to the governors across the country.  Chapters of The Arc, found in 700 communities across the country, are ready to support states that make employment for people with disabilities a priority,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc.

The Arc Reacts to Historic Verdict on Behalf of Workers with Intellectual Disabilities

Washington, DC – Earlier this week a Davenport, Iowa jury awarded damages totaling $240 million to 32 men with intellectual and developmental disabilities who worked for Henry’s Turkey Service in Atalissa for decades.  It was the largest verdict in the history of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which filed the case, for disability discrimination and unlawful harassment.  Just one day after hearing closing arguments, the jury agreed with the EEOC that Henry’s Turkey Service subjected the men to severe harassment and discrimination that warranted punitive and compensatory damages for each man.

“While this verdict is a victory for the workers who can feel triumph knowing that the abuse they faced did not go unpunished, it’s also a harsh reminder to the disability movement that we must continue to be vigilant in this modern era of progressive employment practices to guard against these kinds of atrocities.  The abuse of these men didn’t end decades ago – it was still going on as recently as 2009, and that is unacceptable.  I applaud the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for their pursuit of justice for people with disabilities in the workplace and urge them to continue this important work. Individuals with disabilities have the right to work in a safe work environment free of exploitation, and this verdict sends a message that this kind of abuse will not be tolerated,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc.

Last year, EEOC claimed that Henry’s Turkey Service violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by paying 32 workers with intellectual disabilities severely substandard wages.  The company denied the workers their full wages by claiming a “credit” for substandard living conditions.  In September 2012, a district court judge ordered the company to pay its former employees a total of $1.3 million for jobs they performed at a turkey processing plant in West Liberty, Iowa between 2007 and 2009 for about 41 cents an hour.  Combining last year’s ruling and this week’s verdict, the total judgment in this case is $241.3 million.

How The Arc – Los Angeles & Orange Counties Helps Employ People with Disabilities

By Kevin P. MacDonald, Chief Executive Officer of The Arc – Los Angeles & Orange Counties

An employee at The Arc Los Angeles and Orange Counties new dollar store in the City of Long Beach, called Just-A-Buck, helps a customer check out.

It is an exciting time in Southern California for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD)!  On July 20, we celebrated the opening of a franchise to further our mission of employing people with I/DD. With an unemployment rate of 85% for people with developmental disabilities and state funding at a standstill for years – we decided to find a creative way to employ people with disabilities in our community.

Partnering with a New York based franchise called “Just-A-Buck” and with the assistance of a local benefactor we were able to make this dream come true.

The store employs 5 people with I/DD, each of them earning a salary at or above minimum wage, working alongside employees without disabilities. The employees participate in all aspects of making the store a success.  The new store will also provide an added bonus: to have people come into the store and see our workers and what they are capable of instead of their disability, you just can’t measure that! We believe that work gives everyone, especially those with disabilities, purpose and dignity and it helps them achieve independence and economic self-sufficiency.

To learn more about the store visit our website: www.thearclaoc.org. Also, if you live in the Los Angeles area stop by and visit us: 141 E. Willow Street in Long Beach at the Wrigley Shopping Center (Willow & Long Beach Boulevard).

The Arc Commends Governor Jack Markell’s New Initiative to Employ Individuals with Disabilities

Washington, DC – This week, Delaware Governor Jack Markell was named Chair of the National Governors Association (NGA). Shortly after his appointment became official, the Governor announced that during his year-long term, his Chair’s initiative will be increasing employment among individuals with disabilities. The Arc fully supports Governor Markell’s efforts and applauds him for his work on behalf of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) and other disabilities.

“Individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities are capable of excelling in the workforce and giving back to the communities in which they live. We commend Governor Markell for bringing national attention to the employment challenges facing individuals with disabilities and for working to create employment opportunities for them through innovative public-private partnerships.  The Arc has long recognized the need for employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities, and we look forward to supporting the Governor’s initiative,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc.

A major emphasis of the Governor’s initiative will be on people who have significant intellectual and developmental disabilities and may require supports like job coaches and personal attendants in order to live and work in the community. Throughout the year he will convene governors, businesses, disability leaders, and other thought leaders. The initiative will focus on educating public and private sector employers and supporting state governments to join with business partners to develop and build out blueprints to promote the hiring and retention of people with disabilities.

The Department of Labor released statistics in 2011 stating that 17.8 percent of Americans with a disability are employed, compared to 63.6 percent of those with no disability.  The Arc’s own research suggests that the employment picture for people with I/DD may be even bleaker.  In 2010, The Arc conducted and received over 5,000 responses to a national online survey called the Family and Individual Needs for Disability Supports, or FINDS Survey, to obtain perceptions of people with I/DD and their families on a range of life-span issues. Only 15% of FINDS survey respondents reported that their family member with I/DD was employed.

“The bottom line is that there are so many people with disabilities who have the time, talent and desire to make meaningful contributions to interested employers,” Governor Markell said. “More companies are recognizing that creating greater economic opportunity for these workers improves their own bottom line as well. It doesn’t matter whether you were born with additional challenges to face or – in the case of our wounded veterans for example – acquired them later in life. What matters is what you have to offer.”

Achieving in the Workforce with Acadia Windows and Doors

An Arcadia Windows and Doors employee works in the company's factory

An Acadia Windows and Doors employee works in the company’s factory.

The Arc Northern Chesapeake Region (The Arc NCR) in Aberdeen, Maryland works closely with the business community to provide employment opportunities to individuals that they support. In 2005, The Arc NCR established a business partnership with Acadia Windows and Doors in Baltimore. This partnership has employed over nine workers with intellectual and developmental disabilities from The Arc NCR to date with great success. Today, five of those workers are making a difference on the manufacturing floor by performing tasks resulting in production line improvements. They earn wages comparable to people without disabilities doing the same job for Acadia and interact with their peers at the company in an integrated work environment.

Jessica Markle, one of the individuals receiving services at The Arc NCR, works on the manufacturing production line installing wool pile used as weather stripping in every window. She received on-the-job training and support from a job coach, as well as transportation support to the work site each day. Jessica works independently in a warehouse with 63 other co-workers with and without disabilities on the manufacturing floor. She is able to accomplish her job independently even though she is legally blind and developmentally disabled.  As a result of employing people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, Acadia Windows & Doors has a safer work environment and was awarded the Safety and Health Achievement Recognition Award from OSHA (Occupational Health & Safety Administration) in 2007 and again in 2011.

Here’s what Acadia’s Vice President of Manufacturing, Neill Christopher, had to say about this partnership with The Arc NCR:

Question:  How did Acadia Windows and Doors’ partnership with The Arc NCR begin?

Answer: We didn’t partner with The Arc NCR to be altruistic; we partnered with them because to do so makes sense as a business decision. This is a great pool of workers.  We had a great deal of trepidation when The Arc NCR first approached us.  This is a manufacturing environment, with large sheets of glass, saws, and presses, all capable of inflicting serious injury.  What we learned is that everything that we did to make things safer for our team members from The Arc NCR, made it safer for everyone else as well.  We’re an OSHA SHARP site; proud of our safety record while striving to always make our facility safer for all who work or visit here. 

Question:  What are a few of the outcomes that have been evident through this partnership?

Answer: As promised, our team members from The Arc NCR are reliable.  They consistently have exemplary attendance records, and always hit their production goals.  As our partnership with The Arc NCR developed, we found that our company was changing in several positive ways.  First of all, we worked better as a team.  In planning to assimilate our new employees, we problem solved in a way that was different for us, and this new ability carried over into all aspects of our teamwork.  We were learning to think differently, and forming interdepartmental relationships that hadn’t existed before.

Question:  Are there any changes that surprised you as a result of hiring people with disabilities?

Answer: We found ourselves becoming a kinder company.  Along with looking out for our team members from The Arc NCR, we began to look out for one another, too.  It was a subtle change at first, but we’ve learned to embrace this change as we work together on a daily basis. 

If I’m having a tough day, I’ll take a quick walk around our factory floor.  Our team members from The Arc NCR take visible joy in their accomplishments, and are always eager to show what they’ve produced so far each day.  Their joy is contagious, and I return to my office recharged and inspired by their example. 

Finding Your Perfect Summer Job

Man at Work

With summer’s arrival, thousands of teens across the country are looking for their perfect summer job. Individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) have a lot to consider as they start applying for summer jobs, and we hope the following resources will be useful as they begin the process not only for summer employment, but for a meaningful long-term career.

For a comprehensive list of terms that will help you or your loved one as they begin to look for a job, visit the Autism NOW Center’s employment glossary.  This compilation will explain some terms that may otherwise be confusing and answer questions about different work environments.

Planning is key.  If you break your job search down into a series of small, workable tasks, the process will be more manageable. One way to keep tasks in order is to create a 30-Day Placement Plan. The following brief provides a placement plan form, along with instructions about how to use it: The 30-Day Placement Plan: A Road Map to Employment.

The Arc’s Resource Center has a number of links to help you learn about additional programs, and how to utilize the transition services that you already have in place to find employment.

There are also a number of resources available in your community:

  • Contact your state or local I/DD agency or State Vocational Rehabilitation Agency for information about employment services for people with disabilities in your area.  Find your State Vocational Rehabilitation Agency.
  • If you are a student age 16 or older who receives special education services, your Individualized Education Program, or IEP, should include a transition plan with goals for your transition to adult life, including employment.  While you are still in school, you should be learning how to find a job or continue your education after you graduate.
  • Contact your local chapter of The Arc. They can assist you in finding out what you need to do and who to contact in your area.  You can find your local chapter’s contact information by visiting www.thearc.org and clicking on Find a Chapter at the top of the page.

Employment Stories Wanted!

The Alliance for Full Participation, an organization of which The Arc is proud to be a founder and partner to help increase employment opportunities for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD), is seeking short videos telling stories of integrated employment for people with I/DD. These can be success stories, job searches in progress, or stories about a job that didn’t work out. We are looking for videos and stories from people with intellectual and developmental disabilities; employers; direct support providers; family members; co-workers—all those who have an employment story to share.

How to Share

Keep it simple, short (about 2 minutes) and to the point. Whether you’re using an expensive camera, a smart phone, or something in between to shoot your story, try to keep the camera steady and balanced. Use a tripod if you can. If you don’t have an external microphone, try to have the speaker close to the camera so the audio will be clear.

Include visuals that show your story—you working at your job, looking for a job, the people you work with, etc. Try not to make a “talking head” video that only shows one person talking. Be creative, and most importantly, HAVE FUN! This is your chance to share your story with hundreds, maybe even thousands, of viewers.

A lot of time people want to share a lot of facts in their videos, like where they work, how long they’ve been working somewhere, how many hours they work, and the exact tasks they do. Facts are important, but feelings help make a good story. Make sure you are telling how the employment experience makes you feel.

Once you have created your video, create an email. In the email message, include your name and email address. If you want, you can also include a brief description of the video. Attach your video file to the email and send to: df6w0q165cv4@m.youtube.com

This will automatically upload the video to the AFP YouTube Channel.

NOTE: YOUR VIDEO FILE SIZE MUST BE SMALLER THAN 25MB.

If the video file size is bigger than 25MB, contact Carol Walsh cwalsh@allianceforfullparticipation.org and she will coordinate with you.

The AFP YouTube channel is located at: http://www.youtube.com/user/RealJobsAFP

A national team of reviewers will watch your video and choose several to premiere during the plenary session at the Alliance for Full Participation Summit: Real Jobs—It’s Everyone’s Business, November 17-19, 2011 at the Gaylord National Harbor, in Washington, DC. We will also create a compilation of all the submissions to show at the exhibit hall at the conference. If you would like to attend the Summit, register now here. Early bird rates end July 31.

If you have any questions, please contact Carol Walsh at cwalsh@allianceforfullparticipation.org, www.allianceforfullparticipation.org. Please note The Arc is not collecting these videos and cannot answer any questions. We are helping to spread the word as part of our partnership with the Alliance for Full Participation, so please direct any questions or comments to them. Thanks!

The Arc Begins Affiliation with the US Business Leadership Network to Improve Employment for People with Disabilities

WASHINGTON – Today, The Arc, the largest organization advocating for and serving people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD), is announcing it has become  an affiliate of The US Business Leadership Network® (USBLN®).  The USBLN® seeks to help build workplaces where people with I/DD are valued for their talents and contributions.

“It’s partnerships like this one that will help advance employment for people with I/DD.  The Arc aims to be a resource to businesses large and small that see the value in employing people with all kinds of skill sets so that they can contribute to society in a meaningful way and live a fulfilling life,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc.

The Arc advocates for and serves people with I/DD, including Down syndrome, autism, FASD, cerebral palsy and other diagnoses.  The Arc has a network of over 700 chapters across the country promoting and protecting the human rights of people with I/DD and actively supporting their full inclusion and participation in the community throughout their lifetimes and without regard to diagnosis.

The Arc’s network will help the USBLN®, which is the national disability organization that serves as the collective voice of over 60 Business Leadership Network affiliates across North America and represents over 5,000 employers, advance employment opportunities for people with I/DD.  In this tough economy, with the national unemployment rate at 9%, people with I/DD face huge obstacles to gaining employment in the private sector.  While there are federal programs to help those with I/DD find employment within the federal government, in recent years the percentage of federal employees with disabilities has decreased.

The USBLN®  promotes the business imperative of the preparation and inclusion of people with disabilities in the workplace, marketplace, and supply chain while supporting the development and expansion of its BLN affiliates. The USBLN® recognizes and supports best practices in hiring and advancing employees with disabilities, marketing to consumers with disabilities, and encourages contracting with vendors with disabilities through the development and certification of disability-owned business enterprises. To learn more, visit www.usbln.org.

“This is a tremendous opportunity for The Arc to take a step forward in our goal of increasing employment for people with I/DD.  We look forward to what this affiliation will bring across the country to the people we serve,” said Berns.

Discrimination in the Workplace – Has It Happened to You?

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is taking up a troubling employer discrimination lawsuit. Jason O’Dell of Maryland applied for work as a lab technician through a major national employment agency. The opportunity seemed promising, but shortly after disclosing his Asperger’s diagnosis, the lawsuit states that Jason was told that the position was “on hold.” But the agency allegedly kept on recruiting to fill the job.

So the federal government stepped in and slapped a lawsuit against the firm, called Randstad. Since this is a huge, national employment agency, The Arc wants to know – has anyone out there had a similar experience with the company? We can’t allow discrimination like this to be tolerated.

Share your story with us in the comments, or email Kristen Bossi at bossi@thearc.org.