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Monday, October 19, 2020

NCD Urges Replacement of AbilityOne

In The Politics of Autism, I discuss the employment of adults with autism and other developmental disabilities. Many posts have discussed programs to provide them with training and experience.

From the National Council on Disability:
NCD conducted a comprehensive analysis of the AbilityOne Program to determine whether it promotes Congress’ goal of improving employment opportunities for people who are blind or have significant disabilities. Today, the program is made of a government-appointed Commission and staff, three central nonprofit agencies (CNAs) that facilitate the program, and over 500 participating nonprofit agencies that hire people who are blind or have significant disabilities to sell goods and services to federal agencies.

NCD’s report raises the following concerns about the AbilityOne Program:
  • Despite increased program revenue earned through sales to the Federal Government, employment for people who are blind or have significant disabilities has steadily declined since 2011 – While overall program sales have increased, the number of employees and total direct labor hours from the employment of people who are blind or have significant disabilities have declined since FY 2011. The percentage of overall program revenue paying wages to people are blind or have with significant disabilities has also declined each year since FY 2011.
  • The program undermines current national disability policy goals to create competitive integrated employment opportunities for people with disabilities – The program is a federally sanctioned segregated jobs system from 1938 that reinforces distinct employment paths for people who are blind or have significant disabilities that may result in subminimum wages. The program relies on an outdated societal landscape that existed prior to a public right to education and other core civil rights for people with disabilities. For this reason, only approximately four percent of employees hired under the program exit the program to enter competitive, integrated employment each year.
  • Repeated concerns about transparency and conflicts of interest remain unaddressed and undermine confidence in the program – While the CNAs continue to seek opportunities to increase program revenue, past scrutiny and criticism from Congress, the Government Accountability Office, its own Inspector General, and the Advisory Committee on Increasing Competitive Integrated Employment for Individuals with Disabilities remain unresolved. The CNA program fee remains exempt from federal restrictions on its use allowing it to fund executive salaries and lobbying expenses. In addition, NPAs have the discretion to decide which employees have significant disabilities, however NCD’s interviews and site visits with NPAs raised concern that they lack the capacity, skill, and knowledge to objectively evaluate the skills of their workers with disabilities.
NCD concludes the report by advising Congress to transition the outdated AbilityOne Program into a new requirement under Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act that will incentivize federal contractors to hire a percentage of people who are blind or have significant disabilities at competitive wages and provides recommendations to successfully transition the current 45,000 AbilityOne employees into competitive, integrated employment.
From the report:
The increased  prevalence and availability of the customized employment approach allow  people who were previously considered “unemployable”to successfully maintain employment in a competitive, integrated environment. The key to this approach is the use of flexible strategies. Rather than relying on open job postings, a job developer will work to determine the specific skills, assets, and interests of a person with a significant disability and how these skills can address an unmet need of an employer. For example, Sean, who is autistic, enjoyed organizing books and dusting. He was hired by Barnes & Noble bookstore to clean and organize the shelves prior to the opening of the store each morning. He loved his job, and the store was equally pleased because their other employees did not have the time to focus on such meticulous tasks. he advent  of customized employment negates the need for people with significant disabilities to rely on AbilityOne for employment.