Disability Community Rejects Appointee Who Supports Subminimum Wage And Segregated Housing

Reid’s National Council on Disability Appointee Supports Subminimum Wage and Segregated Housing

The Center for Disability Rights is deeply concerned that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has appointed Bob Brown, a proponent of subminimum wage and segregated housing, to serve on the National Council on Disability (NCD), an independent federal agency charged with advising the President, Congress, and other federal agencies regarding policies, programs, practices, and procedures that affect people with disabilities.

While NCD appointees have previously been appointed by the President, a new provision in the Workforce Innovation Opportunity Act allows four Council Members whose terms are about to expire to be replaced by appointments made by the Senate Majority Leader, the Senate Minority Leader, the Speaker of the House, and the House Minority Leader. NCD’s membership will also be reduced from fifteen to nine as the next six Council members will not be replaced when their terms expire.

As the voice of people with disabilities in the federal government, it is imperative that NCD have a careful balance of Council members with different disabilities in order to accurately and appropriately represent all people with disabilities. With a Council that will be 40% smaller, it is critical that all nine members of the Council be members of the Disability Community who are committed to the integration, independence, and civil rights of people with disabilities. However, now that Senate and House Leaders have the authority to appoint members to the Council, there is a serious concern that the Council will no longer be comprised of members who are fully committed to the best interests of people with disabilities.

Brown, who is not a person with a disability, is a senior team member at Opportunity Village, an organization that holds a 14(c) certificate and pays its employees with disabilities subminimum wages. Opportunity Village is the largest “employer” of people with disabilities in Nevada and is also developing congregate, segregated housing for individuals with disabilities.

Many disability rights organizations and groups, including NCD, have taken formal stances against 14(c) and segregated communities. Subminimum wages blatantly discriminate against people with disabilities and reinforce the idea that disabled workers are less productive and less worthy of equal pay than nondisabled workers. Segregated communities reinforce the “not in my neighborhood” mentality that people with disabilities cannot and should not be independent and equal members of our society. Mr. Brown’s actions have directly contributed to this stigma. Furthermore, he has materially contributed to the efforts to keep the 14(c) exemption while the Disability Community has been actively fighting to repeal this ancient exemption.

In a 2013 article written by Brown advocating for subminimum wages, he stated, “Some utopian academics would like to eliminate Section 14(c). They believe people with severe disabilities are being unfairly exploited and that all workers should be paid at least the minimum wage. On the surface, this position seems reasonable. Upon rational examination, it is nonsense.”

When Reid announced that he was appointing Brown, who will replace the only member of the Council who has personal experience with a psychiatric disability, Brown stated that he was “honored to be an advocate for parents and families of people with disabilities and the service providers that care for them.” However, the role of NCD is to represent people with disabilities, not their families and service providers. Brown made no mention of representing people with disabilities.

NCD has played a vital role in advancing the independence, integration, and equal opportunity for people with disabilities, particularly in their efforts to promote community integration end sheltered workshops.  We are very troubled that Mr. Brown’s appointment sends a message to the Disability Community, and society in general, that NCD may no longer be able to effectively represent the interests and civil rights of people with disabilities.

Senator Reid may be unfamiliar with the role of NCD and issues affecting the Disability Community.  We urge the Disability Community, particularly in Nevada, to reach out to Senator Reid to educate him about the implications of appointing Bob Brown to NCD. Furthermore, we urge everyone to reach out to Senate Minority Leader McConnell, Speaker of the House Boehner, and House Minority Leader Pelosi to stress the importance of appointing Council Members who are part of the Disability Community and will actively work to expand and protect our civil rights.

For more information on what you can do to help, contact Stephanie Woodward at 585-546-7510 or swoodward@cdrnys.org