Release Date: 
Monday, September 30, 2013
Chris Danielsen
Director of Public Relations
National Federation of the Blind
(410) 659-9314, extension 2330
(410) 262-1281 (Cell)

National Federation of the Blind Comments on Senator Harkin Report “High Expectations: Transforming the American Workforce as the ADA Generation Comes of Age”

Baltimore, Maryland (September 30, 2013): The National Federation of the Blind (NFB) today commented on a September 26 report submitted by Senator Tom Harkin, chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP).  The report, entitled “High Expectations: Transforming the American Workforce as the ADA Generation Comes of Age,” provides compelling justifications for members of the U.S. Senate to offer and support the following two amendments to the Workforce Investment Act (WIA):
  1. Strike Title V., Section 511, which, if passed, would incorporate the subminimum wage language of Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) into the Rehabilitation Act.
  2. Remove the language that would transfer the Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA) to the U.S. Department of Labor, while keeping the Older Blind Services within RSA. 
Dr. Marc Maurer, president of the National Federation of the Blind, said: “The National Federation of the Blind sincerely hopes that Senator Harkin is committed to the development of policies consistent with the findings and recommendations in his report, and that he is willing to fix WIA in order to achieve those goals.  We urge the Senate not to play politics with the lives of people with disabilities who need quality services to become fully participating members of the workforce, and instead to implement nonpartisan language that solves the real education, training, and employment problems we face.”
In the report, Senator Harkin provides a very compelling argument for striking Section 511 from the WIA through an example of a woman who stopped working for a sheltered workshop and became successfully self-employed.  This example supports the research demonstrating that sheltered workshops are not viable conduits to competitive integrated employment.  In fact, if the woman had not quit the sheltered workshop after two years of “training,” the data show that she would have had less than a 5 percent chance of ever transitioning into competitive integrated employment.  Therefore, the National Federation of the Blind strongly believes that the language of low expectations in Section 511, which endorses the use of a sheltered subminimum-wage workshop as a vehicle for employment training, should be removed from WIA.  
Senator Harkin also spends a significant portion of the report highlighting the problems people with disabilities face in obtaining competitive integrated employment, including: (1) the need to complement proper education with quality rehabilitation services, and (2) the need to provide appropriate school-to-work transition services.  The majority of the report prescribes solutions that require earlier and more effective integration of education and rehabilitation services.  The NFB is convinced that the report therefore contradicts and disproves the reasoning behind the proposal in WIA to transfer RSA to the U.S. Department of Labor, which would increase the divide between education and rehabilitation.  The NFB agrees with Senator Harkin’s assessment of the problems and the prescribed remedies in the report, which supports our assertion that the Rehabilitation Services Administration should not be transferred to the U.S. Department of Labor.