Yesterday was my autistic teenage son Leo's annual IEP meeting, in which various people who help him achieve maximum awesomeness (teacher, speech language pathologist, occupational therapist, school district representative, home program director, etc.) meet at his school, to determine what Leo-appropriate educational goals will be for the following year. These meetings are generally collaborative, positive, and entirely Leo-centric. I usually leave feeling relieved, and that my son is surrounded by the right people (and, knowing that this is not the case for many other families, incredibly lucky).
This year, though, I panicked a bit. Not because of the approaching year's goals, but because this was the first year we talked about a transition plan. About what Leo would do after he turned 22, and would no longer be able to attend his school. And optional placeholders like, "Employment: Day program, supported workplace." Which made me shiver, because "supported workplace" essentially means putting people like Leo in a sheltered workshop, where they often do boring, repetitive tasks all day, are expected to be happy about it, and don't get paid fair wages for their labor.
Even though The US Department of Justice has pledged to enforce the Supreme Court's Olmstead decision "to eliminate unnecessary segregation of persons with disabilities and to ensure that persons with disabilities receive services in the most integrated setting appropriate to their needs," and states like Oregon are phasing out sheltered workshops, while other states like Maryland have voted to end the Subminimum wage for workers with disabilities -- our home state of California still supports the creation of sheltered workshops and paying its workers "Special Minimum Wage." That makes me extremely nervous about Leo's options.
My thinking on the matter is in line with Vanita Gupta, the head of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, in that "People with disabilities deserve opportunities to work alongside their friends, peers and neighbors without disabilities and to earn fair wages."
And that is why I was so relieved to see presidential candidate Hillary Clinton address the matter of fair wages for people with autism and disabilities as matter of national urgency just yesterday. Clinton said:
"When it comes to jobs, we've got to figure out how we get the minimum wage up and include people with disabilities in the minimum wage. There should not be a tiered wage, and right now there is a tiered wage when it comes to facilities that do provide opportunities but not at a self-sufficient wage that enables people to gain a degree of independence as far as they can go. So I want us to take a hard look at raising the minimum wage, and ending the tiered minimum wages, whether it's for people with disabilities or the tipped wage ... When people talk about raising the minimum wage, they don't always talk about the legal loopholes that we have in it and I want to get rid of those, and I want to get rid of that for people with disabilities, too."If you'd prefer to watch the video yourself, please do:
And if you want to thank Clinton yourself for standing up for our community members, you can do so directly, on Twitter. Here's what I wrote:
Thank you, @HillaryClinton, for standing up for fair wages for #autistic people & people with disabilities: https://t.co/w1X4pACJsB— ThinkingAutismGuide (@thinkingautism) March 29, 2016
[image: Tweet from @ThinkingAutism, reading: "Thank you, @HillaryClinton, for standing up for fair wages for #autistic people & people with disabilities: http://www.thinkingautismguide.com/2016/03/hillary-clinton-advocates-fair-pay-for.html"]Meanwhile, I'll be researching Leo's non-supported-workshop options. Thankfully, we still have a few years.