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“Ted Knuck visited Washington, D.C., recently to testify about something that’s causing him great worry: his child’s right to choose where she works.

Knuck, a retired Pima County judge, shared daughter Genna’s story in mid-October on behalf of ACCSES, a public policy group that represents more than 1,200 disability service providers nationwide. That talk, before an advisory committee for the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, is part of a national debate: Should the norm for people with disabilities be to work in integrated employment rather than in sheltered settings?

Over the last several years, states such as Vermont, Maine, Washington and New York have started phasing out or closing their sheltered workshops. These work environments, such as Tucson’s Beacon Group, are where people with disabilities work together in a controlled environment.

The advisory committee’s task is to prepare recommendations, over a two-year period that started in January, for the U.S. Labor Department on ways to increase employment opportunities for those with developmental disabilities.

Knuck says it’s not a realistic goal, or a fair one for those who have already tried integrated work and found it challenging and upsetting.

“In a perfect world, that would be wonderful, but that’s an impossible dream,” he said. “Those of us who are not disabled tend to impose our way of thinking on people who are disabled.”

His daughter, Genna, who is developmentally disabled, gets to work in a safe, supportive environment at Beacon, he said. She enjoys the simple routine and friendships she’s made there, he said, and, if a problem arises, the staff helps her and she gets time to recover.

Before she started at Beacon 12 years ago, Knuck said, Genna tried other jobs but quickly became frustrated and overwhelmed. What’s tricky, he said, is that his daughter’s challenges are not immediately evident and so people expect her to be capable of more than she can deliver.

He does not want to see her pushed to try integrated work again.

People who work at Beacon’s huge warehouse, at 308 W. Glenn St., carry out multiple subcontracts that might involve making airplane rivets, shredding documents or helping with shipping orders — many for wages below or far below the state minimum of $8.05 per hour. Others earn significantly more than that, said Patrick McCarthy, Beacon’s director of development. It depends on their capabilities.


Many states are taking action in integrated employment even though regulations haven’t been finalized yet, said Leann Fox, director of government affairs for ACCSES.

The shift is tied to a 1999 Supreme Court decision that people with developmental disabilities have the right to live in the community, not in institutions. That Georgia case, Olmstead vs L.C., led to what’s now called Olmstead Enforcement.

The National Disability Rights Network helped the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division enforce Olmstead in Rhode Island, where an investigation found the state over-relied on segregated employment.

Rhode Island, the first state to reach an Olmstead settlement over employment, is now required to provide job opportunities to more than 3,200 residents with developmental disabilities over the next 10 years.

Jennifer Carusetta, chief legislative liaison for the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, that state’s Medicaid program, said there are no plans to cap enrollment for, or close, centers like Beacon.

“We want to ensure that individuals who are able and would like to transition into integrated employment have the tools and opportunity to do so,” she said.

The idea will require that individual be evaluated based on their ability to obtain integrated employment and then set individual goals accordingly.

“We recognize that integrated employment may not be attainable for all people,” she said. “We also recognize that there are people who, with the assistance and training provided in center-based employment, may be able to move in the direction of achieving this goal.”

Beacon Group, which started here more than 62 years ago, provides supported employment in the community and job placements with more than 20 local employers.

About 715 people work at Beacon, or receive services there through its day program. In addition, about 150 former clients left for regular jobs last year, McCarthy said. About 68 percent of the employees have development disabilities. Each employee had two individual-support planning meetings last year, he said.

Beacon grossed about $16.7 million last year and netted about $400,000, McCarthy said. About $130,000 is restricted grant money that has not been spent on programs yet, he said, and the rest goes into reserves or to pay off debt.

Two pending federal bills would phase out special wages altogether over the next few years, Fox said. New Hampshire has already eliminated its flexible minimum wage, she said, and it’s still unfolding what this will mean to people who are not capable of earning more.

“There’s some hesitation to have a real conversation about those folks who aren’t going to be able to achieve this lovely idea of competitive, integrated employment and what it’s going to mean for their quality of life and the quality of life of their family members,” she said.

Fox said that in some states, the change has resulted in people who were previously employed now staying home all day or doing little in day treatment programs.

“Some of the people are depressed,” she said. “They are having feelings that most people would have when they lose a job.”


Originally by the Arizona Daily Star.


“President Obama said Monday he was directing federal agencies to “ban the box” in their hiring decisions, prohibiting them from asking prospective government employees about their criminal histories on job applications.

Speaking at Rutgers University in Newark, N.J., where he highlighted programs meant to ease the reentry of former inmates into society, Obama said the federal government “should not use criminal history to screen out applicants before we even look at their qualifications.”

It’s unclear how many federal agencies would be affected by Obama’s action. Many agencies already delay asking about criminal history until later in the hiring process, but Obama is directing the Office of Personnel Management to issue guidance making that practice universal across the federal government.

“It is relevant to find out whether somebody has a criminal record. We’re not suggesting ignore it,” Obama said. “What we are suggesting is that when it comes to the application, give folks a chance to get through the door. Give them a chance to get in there so they can make their case.”

And while civil rights groups applauded the move, many had hoped for an even more sweeping executive order. The American Civil Liberties Union called the move “an important first step,” but called on him to follow up with an order that would apply not only to federal employees, but federal contractors. Obama has used 15 similar orders during his presidency to force companies doing business with the government to raise the minimum wage, adopt non-discrimination policies and grant workers paid time off.

“While the president is with us in spirit, his administration is not yet ready to make an executive order a reality,” said Wade Henderson of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.

White House spokesman Frank Benenati said the president prefers congressional action on contractors  “as the best path forward for making sure this effort will have the most significant impact and is written into law so it can last beyond this administration.”

Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., who is sponsoring that legislation with Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., said Monday that he’s “really happy to see the president continue to push the envelope” and bring attention to the issue.

But the ban-the-box effort, he said,  “should be done legislatively, so that the stroke of another president’s pen can’t undo it.”

Obama highlighted offender reentry programs Monday in New Jersey as part of a nationwide tour to build support for Congress to overhaul the criminal justice system.

His first stop in Newark was a tour of Integrity House, a halfway house and drug rehabilitation center that gets 85% of its referrals from the criminal justice system. Meeting with former prison inmates who are now residents of the house, Obama said the center does “outstanding work with folks with addiction issues,” and said he hoped his visit would “highlight what is working” across the country.

Obama highlighted the story of Dquan Rosario, who served time in prison for drugs but then, at age 37, went back to school and is now an emergency medical technician in Newark. Obama said Rosario’s story shows it’s never too late for a second chance.

“There are people who have gone through tough times. They’ve made mistakes. But with a little bit of help, they can get on the right path. That is what we have to invest in, that is what we need to believe in,” Obama said.”


Originally posted by USA Today. Full article at