Kansas disability rights groups are asking a Johnson County Republican to apologize for his “hurtful” comments about developmentally disabled Kansans.
During a committee hearing Tuesday, Rep. Sean Tarwater, a Stilwell Republican, spoke in opposition to an effort to block tax credits for sheltered workshops that hire developmentally disabled Kansans and pay below minimum wage.
"They are people who really can’t do anything,” Tarwater said in reference to developmentally disabled Kansans housed in such workshops. “If you do away with programs like that they will rot at home.”
Two days later, Disability Rights Center of Kansas and the Kansas Council on Developmental Disabilities issued a pair of statements condemning Tarwater’s comments as derogatory toward disabled Kansans and untrue.
Rocky Nichols, executive director of the Disability Rights Center of Kansas, said Tarwater’s statements demonstrated an old way of thinking and that disabled Kansans contribute to the state outside sheltered workshops that pay below minimum wage.
“They are not ‘rotting.’ The opposite is true – they are succeeding and living the American Dream,” Nichols said. “Many people with disabilities tell us that they feel like they are wasting their talents when they are working in a sheltered workshop, often for pennies an hour,” he added.
On Thursday, Tarwater countered that the disability rights groups owed him an apology for “dragging those businesses through the mud.” He said he believed the sheltered workshops were important to serve severely disabled individuals who are not capable of taking on work at minimum wage or higher. “Where would they go,” he said. “These people are severely disabled and can’t really work but they have a place to go every day.”