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Michigan Developmental Disability Network Releases Report on Employment for Individuals with Disabilities

Sub-minimum wages, sheltered work, high unemployment among findings

The Developmental Disabilities Network - comprised of Michigan Protection & Advocacy Service, Inc. (MPAS), the Developmental Disabilities Institute at Wayne State University, and the Developmental Disabilities (DD) Council - released their Employment First report at a press conference today outlining the dismal employment circumstances in Michigan for individuals with disabilities, particularly those with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD).

"This report uses data never before collected to paint an accurate picture of the actual state of employment for individuals with disabilities in Michigan," said Elmer L. Cerano, Executive Director of MPAS. "While so much effort is going into assisting our state in its economic recovery, Michigan must be more aggressive in including what is the country's single largest untapped workforce.  People with disabilities in Michigan have marketable skills and a documented strong desire to work. The fact that we have over 8,000 of our citizens being placed in segregated work environments making an average $2.75 per hour is simply unacceptable. The workers deserve better and we must do better.”

Nationally, and in Michigan, individuals with disabilities, especially those with I/DD, consistently have significantly higher under- and unemployment rates compared to those without disabilities. Further, an alarming number of individuals with disabilities in Michigan who are deemed to be "working" are doing so in non-integrated settings (often known as "sheltered workshops") and being compensated a fraction of the federal minimum wage.  While these practices are legal, they have sparked a significant amount of attention across the country and have motivated several states to establish executive orders and/or pass legislation geared toward increasing opportunities for competitive, integrated employment for people with disabilities, including those with I/DD.

The data collected for this report were obtained from various sources including the U.S. Department of Labor, Wage, and Hour Division through Freedom of Information Act requests. Key findings from the report include:

  • 60 percent of individuals with disabilities in Michigan want a job in their community; however, only 17 percent of them have one;
  • There are over 70 non-profit Community Rehabilitation Programs operating sheltered workshops (located in 39 Michigan counties) paying their workers with disabilities significantly less than minimum wage;
  • These sheltered workshops account for over 8,000 individuals with disabilities being compensated an average wage of $2.75/hour;
  • Approximately 23 percent of employees with disabilities earned under $1/hour, while 47 percent of all employees earned below $2 per hour and;
  • 69 percent of individuals with developmental disabilities who are "working" and served by Community Mental Health Services Programs (CMHSPs) in Michigan are working in segregated, non-competitive employment settings.

The Michigan Developmental Disability Network is calling on policy makers to establish meaningful statewide policy through legislation and/or an executive order aimed at strategically increasing opportunities for people with disabilities, including those with I/DD, to establish and maintain competitive, integrated employment.   Additionally, the network is recommending that the potential policies mirror what has been considered best practice by the Office of Disability Employment Policy within the U.S. Department of Labor and are known as "Employment First" policies. Employment First is a nationally recognized philosophy based on the expectation that all individuals with disabilities can, with proper training, job matching techniques, assistive technology and reasonable accommodations, earn a fair and prevailing wage alongside individuals without disabilities in fully integrated settings. This philosophy lays the foundation on which a productive, valued workforce of individuals with disabilities can be built.

"While this report may shed light on more areas of concern than areas of encouragement, we believe it ultimately provides the state of Michigan the opportunity to address this issue in a swift yet responsible manner," said Kate Pew Wolters, MPAS Board of Directors President. "When implemented correctly, these policies should yield greater independence among individuals with disabilities, less reliance on publically funded supports, and increased contributions to the state's economy and the businesses within."

Employment First in Michigan - PDF

Picture: Melina Bucci holds her ticket scanner while at work for the Great Lakes Loons at Dow Diamond Stadium in Midland.

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Posted on:
September 19, 2014