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Resolutions Adopted at the 2013 Convention

Resolution A13-01

WHEREAS, in July of 2013, U.S. Senator Tom Harkin, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP Committee) introduced the Workforce Investment Act (WIA), a reauthorization vehicle for the Rehabilitation Act; and

WHEREAS, a provision of WIA amends Title V of the Rehabilitation Act to include a newly-added Section 511, which outlines conditions which rehabilitation agencies must follow in order to place workers with disabilities in subminimum-wage employment; and

WHEREAS, the antiquated, discriminatory and abusive practice of paying disabled workers subminimum wages is authorized in Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and has never previously been authorized by, linked to, or statutorily noted anywhere in the Rehabilitation Act; and

WHEREAS, while Section 14(c) of the FLSA has been excluding people with disabilities from the same workforce protections as all other Americans for the last 75 years, rehabilitation agencies authorized under the Rehabilitation Act have not been allowed to count placement in sheltered employment or subminimum-wage jobs as a successful employment outcome since 1994; and

WHEREAS, the purpose of the Rehabilitation Act is to eliminate discrimination against people with disabilities in employment, strengthen and fund a system for states to increase the employment of people with disabilities, and prepare Americans with disabilities for competitive employment in the mainstream workforce; and

WHEREAS, no matter how limited or well intentioned, adding Section 511 to the Rehabilitation Act links the immoral practice of subminimum wage employment with the very law that is intended to reverse discrimination for people with disabilities, reinforcing the antiquated practice and providing legal flexibility and justification for rehabilitation agencies to place clients in subminimum-wage jobs; and

WHEREAS, in August of 2013 Samuel Bagenstos, Professor of Law at the University of Michigan Law School and former Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights at the United States Department of Justice, released a legal analysis on the proposed Section 511 of the Rehabilitation Act included in WIA and concluded that the provision “entrenches sheltered workshops and the subminimum wage—and for the first time recognizes them as acceptable under the rights and provisions of the Rehabilitation Act, our Nation's first disability rights law,” calling it a “stunning step backward;” and

WHEREAS, even though Senator Harkin has claimed his intention for including Section 511 in WIA is to provide limitations for placement in subminimum-wage jobs, reducing the number of young people placed in sheltered employment, the link created in Section 511 will, in reality, encourage rehabilitation agencies to see this option as a viable training and job-placement-service for people with disabilities as well as legally authorize subminimum wages in another statute; and

WHEREAS, the National Federation of the Blind strongly advocates the repeal of Section 14(c) and the elimination of any subminimum wage employment for people with disabilities, believing all disabled Americans have the capacity for mainstream, competitive work and are entitled to the same workforce protections as every other American citizen; and

WHEREAS, 17 additional organizations of and for people with disabilities oppose the provision of WIA that adds Section 511 to Title V of the Rehabilitation Act: Now, therefore,

BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota in Convention assembled this twenty-seventh day of October 2013, in the city of Bloomington, Minnesota, that this organization urge Senator Harkin to fix WIA by removing the provision that adds Section 511 to Title V of the Rehabilitation Act, and keep any mention of subminimum wages out of the very disability rights law meant to remove discrimination in employment for Americans with disabilities; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we call upon Senators Klobuchar and Franken to vote against WIA if it is brought to a vote with Section 511 still written into the bill. 

Resolution A13-02

WHEREAS, Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (FLSA) currently permits approximately 3,000 employers to obtain Special Wage Certificates allowing them to pay workers with disabilities wages below the federal minimum wage, herein referred to as “subminimum wages;” and

WHEREAS, among these 3,000 employers with certificates, over 400,000 workers with disabilities are paid subminimum wages, some as low as 3 cents per hour, perpetuating the myth that people with disabilities lack the capacity for competitive, integrated employment; and

WHEREAS, employers with the Special Wage Certificate argue that they cannot afford to pay their workers with disabilities the federal minimum wage, but these same employers have enough revenue to pay their executives six-figure salaries and hire professional lobbyists to advocate for the perpetuation of this discriminatory provision; and

WHEREAS, other employers of people with disabilities operating in similarly situated industries, working with comparable populations of employees with disabilities, are able to maintain successful businesses without the use of the Special Wage Certificates, proving the assertions and threats of subminimum wage employers to be false; and

WHEREAS, Goodwill Industries admits that 101 (almost two-thirds) of its 165 affiliates pay their workers with disabilities the federal minimum wage or higher, while the remaining 64 affiliates take advantage of the Special Wage Certificates to pay their workers with disabilities subminimum wages, illustrating that the subminimum wage business model is not a necessary evil but a hypocritical business choice; and

WHEREAS, Congressman Gregg Harper has introduced the Fair Wages for Workers with Disabilities Act of 2013, HR831, in the United States Congress, which would stop the Department of Labor from issuing new Special Wage Certificates, responsibly phase out the use of current Certificates over a three-year period, and finally repeal Section 14(c) of the FLSA; and

WHEREAS, HR831 has 43 cosponsors and is endorsed by over 50 national and local organizations of and for people with disabilities who aggressively oppose the use of subminimum wages and any perpetuation of this discriminatory provision: Now, therefore,

BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota in Convention assembled this twenty-seventh day of October 2013, in the city of Bloomington, Minnesota, that we condemn and deplore the actions of all employers in the state of Minnesota that take advantage of the unfair, discriminatory, immoral provision found in Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA); and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we strongly urge Minnesota delegates to the United States Congress to cosponsor the Fair Wages for Workers with Disabilities Act; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we urge the United States Congress to act swiftly and boldly to pass this critical legislation.

Resolution A13-03

WHEREAS, MNSure is the state-operated Insurance Exchange portal used by Minnesotans to obtain health insurance coverage under the affordable health care act; and

WHEREAS, both state law and federal regulations require that websites such as MNSure be useable by blind persons with the proper equipment; and

WHEREAS, the website as implemented in October has characteristics that make it unnecessarily difficult or impossible for blind persons to use, such as an audio CAPTCHA that cannot be accessed in some cases; and

WHEREAS, at least some of the difficulties seem as though they should have been easily detected with adequate testing and do not appear that difficult to correct; and

WHEREAS, although alternatives exist to using the MNSure website and revisions to the web site are said to be pending, additional attention must be focused on MNSure accessibility in order to be sure that all Minnesotans who need to do so can obtain or update their health coverage by January 1, 2014: Now, therefore,

BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota in convention assembled this twenty-seventh day of October 2013 in the city of Bloomington, Minnesota that this organization call upon MN.IT, the agency responsible for information technology within state government, to expedite the promised corrections to this site so it can be efficiently used by blind persons; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that MN.IT refine their processes to insure that accessibility to websites such as MNSure be developed and tested as early as possible in the development cycle.

Resolution A13-04

WHEREAS, the integration of technology in the educational sphere has fundamentally altered the teaching and learning processes, allowing curricular content once available only in textbooks and during lectures to be disseminated through electronic books, web content, digital library databases, advanced software, and mobile applications; and

WHEREAS, this intersection of technology and education creates opportunity to expand the circle of participation by print-disabled students and allows universal access to mainstream educational products for all students; and

WHEREAS, in the 2008 reauthorization of the Higher Education Opportunity Act, Congress authorized a commission, the Advisory Committee on Accessible Instructional Materials for Students with Disabilities in Postsecondary Education (AIM Commission), to look at the status of accessible educational technology in postsecondary education; and

WHEREAS, in 2010 the civil rights offices of the United States Department of Justice and the United States Department of Education issued a Dear Colleague letter, reminding institutions of higher education of their legal obligation to procure and deploy accessible educational technology and that equal access in the classroom is a civil right guaranteed by Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (Rehab Act) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA); and

WHEREAS, in 2011 the AIM Commission published its report, finding that manufacturers have failed to embrace accessibility solutions for their products; institutions have failed to minimize the impact of inaccessible technology on their disabled students; and, because of this proliferation of inaccessible materials, blind and other print-disabled students experience a variety of challenges including blocked access to enrollment and educational opportunities; and

WHEREAS, in the five years since the AIM Commission’s authorization, technology has evolved rapidly, creating more and more innovative solutions for accessibility and full participation; and

WHEREAS, the commission’s findings show that manufacturers and institutions of higher education have completely failed to take advantage of this opportunity and are perpetuating the separate-but-equal approach to education; and

WHEREAS, technology exists to make digital instructional materials and their delivery systems fully accessible, but most postsecondary institutions are claiming the technology is too expensive, while manufacturers are saying there is no demand for it; and

WHEREAS, the AIM Commission report recommends correcting this problem with the development of accessibility guidelines for instructional materials, which would provide clarity to manufacturers and postsecondary institutions about what accessibility looks like and which materials are acceptable when it comes to equal access for print-disabled students and the institutions’ legal obligations under the ADA and Rehab Act; and

WHEREAS, in response to this recommendation, the National Federation of the Blind has drafted model legislation called the Technology, Education and Accessibility in College and Higher Education Act (TEACH), which calls on the U.S. Access Board to develop accessibility guidelines for instructional materials used in postsecondary education, deems compliance with said guidelines as compliance with the ADA and Rehab Act, and establishes a minimum usability standard for alternatives or modifications; and

WHEREAS, the model language of TEACH has been endorsed by the American Association of People with Disabilities, the National Association of the Deaf, the National Council on Independent Living, the Association of American Publishers, and seven other organizations; and

WHEREAS, Congressman Tom Petri has committed to introducing the bill in the coming weeks; and

WHEREAS, several institutions of higher education have taken action without the TEACH guidelines, proving to be role models by committing to accessibility and taking steps from the top levels of administration to ensure that campus-wide digital educational technology and information will be accessible to their blind students and faculty; and

WHEREAS, these institutions include the California State University, Pennsylvania State University, and George Mason University: Now, therefore,

BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota in Convention assembled this twenty-seventh day of October 2013, in the city of Bloomington, Minnesota, that this organization commend Congressman Petri for his leadership on this critical issue; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we strongly urge the United States House of Representatives and the United States Senate to introduce and pass the Technology, Education and Accessibility in College and Higher Education Act to protect the civil rights of blind and print-disabled students fully and to put a stop to the separate approach to education that is unnecessarily perpetuated by inaccessible educational technology; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we urge institutions of higher education in the state of Minnesota to be proactive about meeting their legal obligations and prove to be leaders in the field of education by adopting accessibility policies that only call for the development, procurement and deployment of fully accessible technology. 

Resolution A13-05

WHEREAS, Minnesota State Services for the Blind's (SSB) Senior Services Unit provides services to blind seniors in the state of Minnesota, especially crucial adjustment to blindness training in the home or through group classes, as well as access to information and resources; and

WHEREAS, in recognition of the pending increase in the number of senior citizens who will require services, SSB, along with the public and nonprofit leadership center at the Humphrey Institute at the University of Minnesota, has embarked on an exploration of redesigning its senior services, with a goal to double the number of customers served with the same or fewer resources over the next few years; and

WHEREAS, experience has long shown that senior citizens who are losing vision can best maintain independence and quality of life if they receive specialized adjustment to blindness services and if those providing the services have specific knowledge of blindness; and

WHEREAS, adjustment to blindness issues are not medical issues but pertain to learning new skills for independence, building self-confidence, and developing positive attitudes about blindness; and

WHEREAS, some of the possible solutions explored by the current redesign effort would, if implemented, decrease the quality of services to seniors, relegating them to lives of dependence or even costly assisted care; now, therefore

BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota in convention assembled this -seventh day of October 2013, in the city of Bloomington, Minnesota, that this organization call upon SSB to use the following considerations in any redesign plan for services to senior citizens:

  • service providers have a strong background in blindness;
  • all seniors have timely access to quality training in alternative techniques so that they can gain the skills and resources to function independently in the home and in the community;
  • seniors have the opportunity to be in contact with well-adjusted blind “role models”;
  • resources are maximized by equipping the senior to function even if further vision loss occurs;
  • the quality of services is improved from what is currently available; and

seniors are not required to deal with multiple state agencies to obtain needed services related to vision loss.

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