The Workforce Investment Act (WIA) is a piece of legislation that has not been reauthorized since 1998. WIA establishes the U.S. Vocational Rehabilitation Program as well as coordinating funds for job training. Currently, the senate committee, Health Education Labor and Pension (HELP) has introduced legislation to reauthorize WIA. This is seen as an opportunity to improve employment opportunities for people with significant disabilities. This is viewed by most in the disability community as a great thing with the exception of section 511 of title V.
Section 511 would create a “checklist” that Vocational Rehabilitation would use when assessing if a youth with a significant disability can accomplish an employment goal or outcome. The remaining language of the section is ambiguous and has a high potential, according to opponents, of landing youth with significant disabilities in sheltered workshops that would earn them a wage that is below the minimum wage (as per the subminimum wage provision 14(c) in the Fair Labor Standards Act). It also excludes guidelines for providing a minimum amount of supported employment services for youth.
Not everyone in the disability community is against this, however. The National Council on Independent Living (NCIL) has endorsed the reauthorization of WIA, along with section 511. They believe that it is a step in the right direction because even with the potential of earning less than minimum wage, people with significant disabilities will be in the job market and in a place to negotiate a higher wage at a later time. It would, in NCIL’s view, also offer some protection for those in the sheltered workshop environment, whereas, currently there are none.
Section 511 was a hot topic at the most recent NCIL conference. NCIL endorses section 511 but many advocacy groups (the National Federation of the Blind, TASH and APSE among many others) have come out in opposition to this section. Advocacy groups fighting section 511 have sent out press releases, encouraging members and supporters to contact their legislators; they even staged protests across the country on the anniversary of the ADA. The organizations that are in support are often in support of WIA as a whole and see section 511 as something that isn’t perfect, but could be a step toward something better in the future.
I, personally, am against section 511. Ideally, section 511 would be removed and the legislation would be reauthorized. What are your opinions? Do you agree with NCIL? Is section 511 of Title V a “foot in the door?”