Friday, August 23, 2013

I'm (not) gonna pop some tags....

OK,  I have a confession to make,  I (like most every other young person on the planet right now) am a little more than obsessed with this:


 I used to despise this song, in fact, I kind of still do, but now, thanks to a running joke, I can't resist following along, every time it comes on

Even though I  may be jammin', in reality, I want to make a couple of things very clear. First, I am aware of the race and class politics that overwhelmingly  result from a statement like this. Secondly, I will make it known that you will not, in fact, find me in the Uptons, or in any other section, for that matter.

 Why, you ask?

$0.22/hour. That's why.

This is the wage paid to some disabled workers at Goodwill stores across the country, for various duties such as sorting, hanging, and stocking clothes and donations. Although wages vary by state and region, the list of wages that are pennies on the hour is staggering.

But, isn't that illegal?

No, thanks to a loophole  in the Fair Labor Standards Act, from all the way back in 1938. This provision, originally meant to provide jobs for disabled veterans returning from World War II, basically allows employers to pay these employees on a production-based scale using a percentage of minimum wage. The idea was  that it  could be an incentive for employers to get cheap labor, while thinking that these employees might not be as efficient, and therefore should receive lower pay. The intentions sound good, right?

 But what I  don't understand is that now that the laws have  changed to guarantee  minimum wage, which is today often over $8 an hour, to  every other American, why is there still this exception being made?  I can understand if a whole company were based on this production model, but this only applies to a certain group of employees. And what's more, Goodwill, like most multimillion dollar corporations can probably afford to pay ALL of their workers a fair wage, even by production model standards.  Now, I'm no economics major, so maybe somebody can help me out here,  according to a 2011  annual report linked here, almost $3 billion  was given out in wages to 189,000 employees nationwide.  With the  math  I just did, this falls well below the minimum wage requirement for anyone. It did say that employee about 64,000 people  that had “trouble finding jobs”, which may or may not be people with disabilities. No exact figure was given here, I'm still looking. Based on the percentages, I'm trying to figure out exactly what percentage is used for wages, using this tutorial. Being a  nonprofit organization, it does not appear to be much,   according to this which is understandable, and  yet, the CEO continues to make close to $500,000 a year in most regions. Here is another article about this.

 The idea to run these types of programs comes  from what is known as a sheltered workshop, basically a place where disabled people are employed separately from others, in order to gain vocational skills and sometimes social experience. People  who end up in these programs often stay there for a very long time, contrary to the belief of being just a first  “stepping stone ” to more gainful employment.  It is often believed that  there is no alternative for many people who work here, because there is a “who would hire them?” kind of mentality. Therefore, a lot of these organizations  basically have a bunch of volunteers, but call it a job. Because many businesses do not find the value in employing people  with disabilities, a lot of the skills we do have are overlooked, regardless of what our disability is.

Some  parents and families argued that these places change their children's lives, and that they are happy working there, adding a sense of personal fulfillment in their lives. While that  is great, I wonder how fulfilled they are when they realize they can't even buy a pack of gum  for their efforts.    I've  heard that some people justify this because people just “don't understand” that they are earning a living, so they don't care. Meanwhile, that person can't even afford to use the public transit to get to work.

Below is a video that aired on NBC's Rock Center documenting  this issue

I  believe that individuals deserve more credit than they  are often given. People who defend  these practices by saying that providing gainful employment is depriving somebody of their  choice to earn  a living clearly do not understand  today's standard of living.  I think  this issue, not just with Goodwill, but other businesses as well, merits awareness because many people and businesses don't realize what could actually be added to the workforce if the talents and skills of disabled workers were utilized, and they were treated like every other citizen in this country. We have goals, too!

The Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN) started a petition on to stop the payment of subminimum wages to disabled workers. I hope you'll sign it. I did.

Additional Resources:
Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Weird dreams

 Warning: Some images created may be disturbing

I don't usually remember my dreams, so it's  weird that these 2 in particular stuck out so vividly in my mind. I  try not to take too much stock of it, but these ones seemed inexplicably linked (subconsciously or otherwise) to  my recent experiences, so I  thought I'd share.

Do you ever have that feeling when  you wish you could say things to people, but you can't  because it's not professional? Yeah, cue my first dream....

As anybody who manages assistants and caregivers knows, It can be extremely stressful at times having different people with different standards how to do things come into your house and help you. It can be even more stressful if “knowing how to clean up after themselves” or “common sense” has no place in the hiring criteria, through no fault of your own.

 So, in my first dream,  similarly  to what I started doing in real life, I was writing a training manual for my new aides. In the case of the dream, though, I was hiring  a bunch of my friends and people that I knew. Therefore, I was writing a bunch of sarcastic stuff, and stuff that I could never get away with saying to a new employee in this book.

 For example: “I don't care  what the company says, you are not responsible for me, I am responsible for me.  You assist me.  I can go  wherever I want and do whatever I want with whomever I want. If you don't like it, you can....." Well, you get the idea. Or  “If you don't know how to use a Ziploc bag, maybe you should go back to 1st grade.  Okay,  maybe that's a little harsh, but I don't think it is as much harsh  as frustrating when you're the one that needs help, but you can do a better job at some things.

 And many other funny ones that I will not share  here, lest I cause a hullaballoo.

 Fortunately, this one had a happy ending, when the person I ended up hiring understood and appreciated my snark and we had a great time!

 Now if only  I didn't have to write an instruction sheet on how and where and when  to take out the garbage in real life........

The second, and final,  dream that I would like to share with you is a bit more graphic. Those that might be triggered  by mention of aversives might want to stop reading now.....

This dream was perhaps the  subconscious  result of  something I had done a couple days earlier.  I was trolling my favorite blogs, as I often do, and came across Autistic Hoya's  resource section on the Judge Rotenberg Center, linked here. I had only heard about the atrocities that happen here in passing, and I wanted to learn more and make sure I knew the facts. I don't normally let  the written word affect me physically, but this one gave me the shivers. I will spare you  for  a future blog post  about this place, but I think that is the precursor to this second dream.

 Although,  very thankfully, there was no electric behavioral shock therapy of any kind in this instance, the dream   started with me finding out  that I was getting a new aide, and she used to work at the JRC. From the time we met, she did not take me seriously at all. Although this is not incredibly uncommon, she also denied me the right to make choices about anything. I was wearing this jumpsuit/straitjacket thing  and was made to use incontinence supplies when I did not ask for them. I was also forced to wear a helmet everywhere and (for some reason  I was walking without a walker?) one of those leashes for kids, except it was adult size. Although I remember in the dream, this woman did not physically threaten me, she did talk down to me, and say that if I “acted out” I would be reported to the company as being “belligerent.”  For some reason in this dream, the company believed her, and  they were trying to place me elsewhere.  Thankfully, this dream also has a happy ending. I somehow devised a plan  to have my friends come over and kick her ass while I called 911. Don't ask me how I did it. Apparently, I wasn't  allowed to use the phone either.

Back to reality here. This dream  told me 2 things:

1.  Don't read about  scary places right before you go to bed.
2.  I need to make sure I'm in control of the situation, NOW  and always!

 Due to a series of recent events,  schedule changes, and random crap going on in general, I have slowly  felt myself losing control of the situation at hand over the last couple of months. This dream was a large reality check and has caused me to be more clear about what I want, and sometimes even annoying pointing out the little things.  In the past couple of weeks, I have met with others to discuss the situation and rework some things as I'm going through a lot of changes as  school starts up again, not the least of which is living with others for the 1st time (other than family or caregivers). Now I'm finally starting to feel back on track. I think every once in a while we all need a reminder, because if we're not in control, where else would we be?