In response to "Unequal pay for disabled will end" (front page, July 11), I am elated to hear that pay below minimum wage will be phased out for employees with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Work not only gives us meaning and purpose in life but also gives us that important thing called money. It's very disheartening to hear that some people are making as little as $1 an hour due to a loophole in federal law. It's amazing to think the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, enactment of which already was late enough, is still being blatantly violated 31 years later.
The article mentions that in the past, parents of adults with disabilities have feared making noise surrounding these low wages, but it's 2021 and this is absolutely something we all need to be advocating for. These low wages are dehumanizing and, I would imagine, give people a sense of hopelessness, knowing that this may be their long-term reality.
Despite the great news of the July 11 headline, do we know why the phaseout date for subminimum wage for people with disabilities isn't until 2025? Four years seems like a long time for this.
Alex Manos, St. Paul
The article on subminimum wages for people with disabilities presented a biased view of centers that provide support service for people with disabilities. It portrays these centers as being potentially exploitative of the disabled, creating dead-end, mind-numbing positions that hold back individuals from entering the mainstream workforce. My experience has been different.
Three years ago, my son Evan entered a program at Merrick Inc., a day training and habilitation center, that transformed his life. Evan has a severe form of autism that renders him nonverbal and with only rudimentary communication skills and limited intellectual abilities. He is a vulnerable adult who requires constant supervision so that he doesn't wander off or come to harm. At Merrick, Evan works on a small, supervised crew that collects plastic recycling from industries around the Twin Cities. His job has provided him a place to keep active, engage in the community and be surrounded with loving and caring people who value him. It has given him a sense of belonging, has reduced his level of stress and has made him a happier and healthier person. The amount of money Evan makes from his labor at Merrick is insignificant compared with the social and psychological benefit he gains.
Because of the severity of his disability, Evan would not be able to enter the main workforce like the people featured in the Star Tribune article. Because of the intensive supervision he requires, the cost of paying him the full minimum wage would make his employment economically unfeasible. For his part, Evan has no concept of the abstract idea of money or that having slightly more could somehow make his life better.
One of the challenges of caring for people with disabilities is that well-meaning folks see them as "the disabled" rather than as individuals. While phasing out the subminimum wage makes sense for the high-functioning individuals featured in the Star Tribune article, this same program will mean that Evan will be unable to continue his employment. We need a system that accommodates the individual needs of the disabled. Elimination of the subminimum wage undercuts the flexibility required to accommodate our most vulnerable citizens like Evan.
Harold Kistler, Roseville
This good news/bad news story reflects 56 years of my 74-year-old brother's life.
I'm Brother G's guardian. He has cognitive disabilities. He'll be retiring from his sheltered-environment job in August. Reluctantly. His standard answer to, "When do you think you'll want to stop working?" has always been "When I drop!" — said with a smile. That reflects the importance of his work life to him. But he recognizes that he doesn't have the energy for it anymore.
Until the early 2000s, Brother G's work compensation was on a minuscule upward trajectory. He was slated for an increase to $8 an hour for his 25-hour workweeks. In the sheltered-workshop world, $200 a week was big bucks. He showed up every day and worked hard to earn it.
Then, for reasons not altogether clear, Brother G and his peers were shifted to piecework pay for the same work. On a good week, he earned $75 — a major pay slash that has continued to the current time.
Unfortunately, the inclusion of people with disabilities into the world of work — rather than their being viewed as a lesser and separate entity — is a hard sell. Relative to subminimum wages, the "well, at least they have something" response must no longer stand.
This is a systemic, humanitarian issue. A social justice issue. A top priority issue for activists, service-providing marketers, politicians, and families of individuals with disabilities.
It shouldn't have to be this hard. But after all these years, it still is. Even so, Brother G will miss going to work.
Barbara J. Gilbertson, Eagan
Pros and cons of slogans — and the lesson of history
Long before modern hashtags, slogans and catchphrases have served to encapsulate and define the meanings or importance of societal movements and concerns: "Hell, no, we won't go!" … "Better dead than Red!" … "Give me liberty or give me death!" … "Never again!"
While useful as a way to apply shorthand to make a point, a slogan all too often can become stagnant or, worse, be misconstrued and hinder rather than promote the cause at hand.
Recent events have brought greater urgency to the concept of achieving some real progress in creating and maintaining a police presence that is devoid of corruption, discrimination and bad actions by individual officers and within the system of law enforcement itself. Sadly, any desire or hope that things can improve and be refined on that front are being held hostage by the phrase that was the first out of the gate, the one that stuck: "Defund the police."
Now we find ourselves subjected to the newly pervasive phrase "critical race theory," which seems to have a great many definitions, depending upon one's viewpoint. It certainly has become a hot-button topic in the public arena. Some of us are of the opinion that those who "promote critical race theory" only desire that a full account of history be taught rather than some version that glosses over, ignores or distorts the factual record. Call it "complete historical teaching" if you will; that could allow for an informed understanding of the topic and how it may or may not affect our world today.
There are others who seem to feel that any history that teaches a full-spectrum accounting of our national historical facts — warts, mistakes, transgressions, oppressions, struggles and all — would somehow diminish, demean and stain our collective psyche rather than make straighter the path to reflection, betterment, understanding and advancement of human interaction. The Steve Sack cartoon of July 11 ("Critical erase theory") illustrated this nicely.
Perhaps those who have decided to prefer an incomplete and slanted version of our past feel there is nothing to gain by looking back. Let a sleeping dog lie. That was then. Old news. To them I would like to point out a profound wisdom found in the same July 11 edition. Within the moving obituary of Auschwitz survivor Esther Bejarano, there was a quote from her that has application here. Addressing an audience of young Germans, she had this to say: "You are not guilty of what happened back then. But you become guilty if you refuse to listen to what happened."
Steve Bennett, Golden Valley
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