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Are sheltered workshops outdated or even harmful?

Some people in New York may have heard of sheltered workshops. Initially, sheltered workshops were started as a way to help disabled veterans build important skills that they could eventually apply in other jobs. Employees of sheltered workshops were protected from discrimination and other issues that face disabled workers. While the idea was well-intentioned, it is now seen by some as exploitative.

Today, many individuals who are employed by sheltered workshops are paid far less than minimum wage because the law allows it. Under the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, a company can pay a worker with a disability less than minimum wage if he or she is less productive than a worker who is not disabled Unsurprisingly, this has left many people facing poverty with no easy way out.

This problem has resulted in many people continuing to work in sheltered workshops, rather than moving on into their community's workforce. Unfortunately, sheltered workshops are not the only employers that pay workers with disabilities less than minimum wage. Because some schools, hospitals and private businesses are also allowed to pay disabled workers less than minimum wage, nearly 230,000 people in the United States are trying to live off of very little.

For someone who may need to pay for medical treatment, therapy or special equipment to help manage a disability, earning less than minimum wage is a true hardship. While it is fortunate that the president has raised the minimum wage for all federal contractors, including people who live with disabilities, to more than $10.00 an hour, it is clear that more needs to be done.

In the meantime, it is important to keep in mind that Social Security disability benefits provide financial assistance to many people who live with disabilities that prevent them from working enough to support themselves.

Source: NPR, "Subminimum Wages For The Disabled: Godsend Or Exploitation?" Cheryl Corley, April 23, 2014

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