The 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was this July. With it came celebration but, sadly, in the case of the Michigan ADA celebration, held at the Lansing capitol building, it also brought controversy. The reason is that a Lansing area sheltered workshop known as PECKHAM donated money to the event. Much of the disability community saw this donation as insulting and just wrong. Aggravating the situation, the organizers of the event accepted the donation and even after a public outcry they did not return the money. This angered many disability advocates and allies leading to a protest at the event.
If you are unfamiliar with sheltered workshops you can read about them in my last blog “Why be Competitive.” A quick summary is that they are unfair work places that pay disabled employees grossly under minimum wage. In celebration of the 25th anniversary of the singing of the ADA the ADA Legacy Tour bus visited 33 states and made more than 115 stops to raise awareness and build excitement leading up to the 25th anniversary on July 26th. The bus took an alternative role at the Lansing ADA celebration and parked across from the capitol and passed out buttons that protested sub-minimum wage and the event. This highlights the movement against sub-minimum wage and its importance to the disabled community.
The disability justice movement is currently tackling many issues and sub-minimum wage and sheltered workshops is but one of these important topics. Even though the ADA was signed in 1990 many buildings still remain inaccessible and decent transportation is hard to find for people with disabilities who do not drive. Protest has always been an important tool of the disability justice movement.
On April 5th, 1977 people with disabilities took over the San Francisco offices of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare to protest the administration’s refusal, to sign Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. Section 504 is a Federal law that protects qualified individuals from discrimination based on their disability. The nondiscrimination requirements of the law apply to employers and organizations that receive financial assistance from any Federal department or agency, including the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. These organizations and employers include many hospitals, nursing homes, mental health centers and human service programs. The protest was the longest takeover of a government building in American history and was supported not only by people with disabilities but allies to the disability community. The protest was successful and section 504 was signed. (A parent's guide to Section 504 in public schools)
To me disability history it is broken into two sections; oppression and resistance. Disability history is an ongoing part of disability justice. What is happening today becomes part of history tomorrow. The oppression of sheltered workshops are now finding resistance. My question to you is could public education disassemble the oppression of the sheltered workshops and open the door to competitive work for all people with disabilities? To me what is happening with sheltered workshops is just like the fight for section 504. I think it is the beginning of the end for sheltered workshop.
Get out there and advocate,
Community Inclusion Specialist
A parent's guide to Section 504 in public schools | GreatKids. (n.d.). Retrieved October 9, 2015.