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OFF-KILTER with Rebecca Vallas

Jul 29, 2022

This week marked the thirty-second anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act—or ADA, as it’s better known—the landmark civil rights law that promised equal opportunity and economic security for Americans with disabilities. As we’ve talked about a lot on this show over the years, as important as it is to celebrate how far we’ve come in the decades since the ADA became part of the fabric of American life, every time we hit the month of July, it’s even more important to acknowledge how far will still have to go to achieve the as-yet unfulfilled promises of the ADA

And that’s why this July, Off-Kilter has been once again spending all month long having conversations with leaders from across the disability community. 

To close out that series of conversations, this week we take a deep dive into one of the most egregious and discriminatory disability policies still on the books here in America—known as section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act. In a nutshell, 14(c) is an archaic loophole in federal wage and hour law that allows employers to pay disabled workers far less than the federal or state minimum wage just because of their disability. 

So, as Off-Kilter closes out this series of July conversations for #ADA2022, Rebecca sat down with two dear friends and visionary leaders within the disability community working not just to tinker around the edges of a status quo, wherein disabled people are twice as likely to live in poverty as their nondisabled peers, but to imagine and build a society that recognizes and affirms the human rights and dignity of all disabled people. Together they took a look at the history of subminimum wages for people with disabilities in the United States and their role in devaluing disabled people’s labor and humanity; recent efforts to put 14(c) in the rearview mirror where it belongs; and the future of disability policy more broadly.

This week’s guests: Rebecca Cokley is the program officer for disability rights at the Ford Foundation, where she leads a portfolio she’s been visioning and creating from scratch as the first program officer to oversee a disability rights portfolio at any major U.S. foundation. Before that she was Rebecca Vallas’s partner in crime in co-founding the Disability Justice Initiative at the Center for American Progress—the first dedicated disability project at a U.S. think tank—as well as president of the National Council on Disability. 

And Chai Feldblum currently serves as cice cChair of the Ability One Commission, the independent federal agency that oversees the AbilityOne Program, whose mission is to tap America's underutilized workforce of individuals who are blind or have significant disabilities to deliver high quality, mission-essential products and services to federal agencies in quality employment opportunities. Chai is a former law professor at Georgetown University and formerly served as a commissioner at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for several years, nominated by President Obama. 

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