Blog Date: 
Monday, December 9, 2013
Anil Lewis

ACCSES, the American Congress of Community Supports and Employment Services, is the name of an nonprofit “charitable” organization that claims to represent disability service providers across the country and professes to be the voice of disability service providers speaking for people with disabilities. If ACCSES is indeed the voice of disability service providers, it is unfortunate that they choose to use their voice, and your charitable contributions, to support Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which is an unfair, immoral, and discriminatory provision that allows employers to pay workers with disabilities less than the federal minimum wage.  And although ACCSES states that it speaks for people with disabilities, organizations comprised of people with disabilities reserve the right to speak for ourselves, and we adamantly oppose this discriminatory provision.  

Some of the ACCSES member organizations rise to the higher calling of a true charitable organization and use your contributions to operate successfully without the use of a special “subminimum” wage certificate, proving that it can be done.  However, rather than supporting the evolution of all of its member organizations toward the adoption of this proven business model, ACCSES uses your charitable contributions to lobby members of Congress to keep in place this seventy-five-year-old provision that allows organizations to legally pay workers with disabilities pennies per hour.  ACCSES openly opposes our efforts to phase out the use of this discriminatory provision by circulating misleading documents and public service announcements that attempt to justify its use of this anachronistic practice.  

ACCSES and its less enlightened members sustain their exploitive business model by perpetuating the misconception that people with disabilities cannot be productive employees, and by asserting that Section 14(c) of the FLSA allows them to pay subminimum wages in order to provide disabled people with an opportunity to receive the “tangible and intangible benefits of work.”  This may have been a well-intended effort in 1938, but it has been proven ineffective and costly in today’s workplace. Today, people with disabilities speak for ourselves and we say: eliminate the excuses and allow the experts to assist people with significant disabilities to acquire competitive job skills and earn at least the federal minimum wage.  And if ACCSES, or its member organizations, are unable to provide appropriate training for workers with disabilities to become productive employees, they should not be allowed to impose their inadequacy and lack of expertise on individuals with disabilities.

ACCSES’s service model is founded on the belief that a person with a disability cannot work competitively, and it should be no surprise that this model results in over 400,000 people with disabilities being labeled as incapable of performing competitive work. This lack of belief in the employment potential of people with disabilities is contrary to the growing Employment First paradigm of assuming that everyone, regardless of disability, is employable when provided the proper training and support.  As a result of the emerging belief in the employment capacity of individuals with significant disabilities, we are seeing an increase in the competitive employment of people with disabilities who were formerly written off by society.    

Through its self-serving actions, ACCSES distorts the whole purpose of a charitable organization and takes advantage of the legal designation of a nonprofit business.  It is hypocritical that ACCSES and its member nonprofit organizations attempt to justify their payment of outrageous executive salaries while simultaneously trying to defend their right to pay individuals with disabilities subminimum wages.  Regardless of the state and federal regulations that govern executive compensation, we should expect ACCSES members to have a moral compass that governs the proper use of their tax-exempt status. Thankfully, as we continue to educate the public about this exploitive provision, we are finding that donors are offended that their charitable donations are being used to pay six-figure salaries to executives who pay their workers with disabilities pennies per hour, especially when proven, nondiscriminatory alternative models exist.  Until ACCSES member organizations agree to convert to a business model that replaces their segregated subminimum-wage workshops with proven competitive integrated training and employment service environments, ACCSES may as well be an acronym for All Charitable Contributions Sustain Exploitive Services.  

The Fair Wages for Workers with Disabilities Act of 2013, HR 831, will responsibly phase out and eventually repeal Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act. As a result, individuals with the most significant disabilities will no longer be trapped in segregated subminimum-wage workshops.  Entities will have three years to transition to a proven competitive integrated training and employment business model that assists individuals with significant disabilities to obtain real jobs at real wages.  Organizations opposing the adoption of this proven model only demonstrate their lack of expertise in the field of employment of people with disabilities, their inability to be competitive with similarly situated organizations, and their unwillingness to meet the true calling of their charitable status.