January 2022

Today’s commensurate wage work center programs for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) are provided in a safe, supportive, and positive educational and workplace setting, meeting strict licensing standards. Individuals receiving this service have cognitive or psychiatric/behavioral, as well as sometimes physical, disabilities that require extensive accommodations and supports, and often direct and continuous supervision by their professional workplace teams, for them to achieve their vocational and daily living goals in a safe and welcoming environment. Ultimately, commensurate wage work center programs are precisely what ensure that individuals with I/DD have a greater opportunity for employment with the accommodations and supports they need to thrive in the workplace.

These programs have been referred to historically as “sheltered workshops,” but this is an oversimplification. Originally the term “sheltered” was seen in a positive light and understood to mean “safe and protected.” It has now been weaponized and used to imply a restrictive or non-inclusive workplace. In fact, these workplaces are welcoming environments that help ensure that participants with the most significant disabilities are fully included in supportive work environments receiving all the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) accommodations they need to be successful. They also may be the only available opportunities for meaningful employment for over 100,000 individuals with I/DD who rely on commensurate wage work centers for their employment with extensive accommodations and supports, with significant hardship occurring if these opportunities are eliminated.

Consistent with the Supreme Court’s holding in the landmark Olmstead decision, choice is the paramount principle here. No individual need participate in a commensurate wage program work center who does not wish to participate. In contrast, as further indicated below, removing this choice may leave employees with I/DD no opportunity to continue to have a job, directly contrary to the Olmstead principle. For this reason, The Coalition for the Preservation of 14C, Inc. was created, in order to preserve this critical program that provides the opportunity to work to so many individuals with I/DD.

It is important to understand exactly what commensurate wage work centers do, in order to see that they are necessary and should be supported. In a vocational setting that is adapted to meet their individual challenges, each employee with I/DD is receiving ongoing training to help them reach their highest potential. They are receiving specifically trained staff support and work stations that help them to complete work, along with visual aids, and at times personal care assistance and behavioral intervention, among other supports and accommodations. The ultimate goal is for the training and supports to assist them in having meaningful employment and, to the extent feasible, transitioning to competitive community employment if the individuals with I/DD so choose.

However, each employee with I/DD’s personal level of progress toward the competitive employment goal is different. Importantly, these individuals are not simply working and earning a commensurate wage (sometimes referred to incorrectly as “sub-minimum wages”); they are learning and maintaining vocational skills at a level of production that they work hard to achieve. For the employees with I/DD served, they feel accomplishment and personal fulfillment, while learning and improving their skills, earning a paycheck, and accessing much needed socialization through co-workers and peers.

Some key overview points:
• The providers offering these services are referred to as Vocational/ Employment and Home and Community Based providers for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, meeting stringent federal and state requirements and monitoring.
• These providers offer a range of facility-based and community-based services to individuals with I/DD, including providing much of the Community Integrated Employment Services (CIE) in many states.
• Facility-based services often offer employment opportunities under the federal 14(c) wage program (Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)). These providers have in many cases obtained competitive employment opportunities for individuals with I/DD from community businesses to allow for this work.
• The federal 14(c) rule allows specific, qualified, provider/employers to pay individuals with significantly lower productivity due to their disability less than the prevailing minimum wage for work, based upon a set of highly regulated protocols, which is called a commensurate wage.
• This amount earned is not simply “sub-minimum” wage, which is an incomplete and sometimes inaccurate description; rather it represents a portion of wage specifically measured under a formula based on productivity and other standards. Individuals can actually earn more than minimum wage under the program.
• These providers offer a safe environment, with professional staffing, to allow individuals to thrive in an employment setting, work with their peers and others, and receive a paycheck.
• As mentioned, these programs have historically been referred to as “sheltered workshops” but that is an antiquated term that does not adequately describe the support provided for these individuals nor the environment they are in. These programs are essentially providing broad-based accommodations and supports to facilitate a work environment where employees with I/DD can gain skills and be successful.
• The programs also provide training to allow individuals to move on to competitive, community, employment where possible.

• According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are approximately 40,637,764 people with disabilities in the United States (this number will likely go up as the average age of the population increases).
• According to the U.S. Department of Labor, as of October 2021, the labor force participation rate for individuals with disabilities is 22.4% compared to 67.1% for individuals without disabilities.
• The labor force participation rate is widely acknowledged to be materially lower for those individuals with the most significant disabilities that are served by the 14(c) program.
• According to the National Disability Institute, approximately 111,471 people with the most significant disabilities worked for a 14(c) certificate holder in 2019.
• According to research conducted by UMASS Boston’s Institute for Community Inclusion, about 80 percent of employees working in 14(c) environments have intellectual or developmental disabilities.
• Data illustrates that individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities have the hardest time finding employment and need the most supports in maintaining employment.

There is a clear national movement to raise the minimum wage. Unfortunately, that goal has been (inappropriately) intermixed with the elimination of the 14(c) program that allows I/DD work center programs to operate. 14(c) simply does not prevent an individual from making the choice to work in a competitive integrated employment job.

The disability community is a large and diverse community, with varying levels of need for supports and accommodations in the workplace. The disability community should not be treated with a monolithic, one-size, fits-all approach.

While there is general agreement that competitive, integrated employment is the goal for most individuals with disabilities, it may not be a realistic and desirable goal for everyone. Indeed, individuals with the most significant intellectual and developmental disabilities should have a right to choose a workplace that provides the level of protection, support, and accommodation needed for them to thrive in a workplace environment.

Indeed, a one-size, fits-all approach that eliminates 14(c) would likely result in many employees with I/DD, among the most vulnerable in the workforce, facing discrimination and losing their opportunity to work altogether. They would be denied the choice to work, contrary to the Olmstead principles of inclusion, autonomy, and self-determination. This must not be allowed to happen.

If 14(c) is eliminated, organizations offering facility-based services will need to scale these programs down or close entirely, to the detriment of the most vulnerable members of the workforce, who rely on the 14(c) program and have not asked that it be eliminated. This is already happening in states where 14(c) and commensurate wages have been eliminated. A fraction of participants are being supported in the community, while those most in need of supports are left unemployed or forced into day habilitation or other services not of their choosing. Without the facility-based programs and supports, these individuals are often left at home. They are not magically transformed to full-time competitive work opportunities. “Meaningful” community activities now become walks through the local malls, hanging out at libraries and parks, and so forth. The meaningful employment, support, and interaction with peers and others that commensurate wage work centers offer would be gone.

Additionally, the elimination of 14(c) would run counter to the spirit and purpose of the ADA. The ADA requires employers to provide “reasonable accommodations” to employees with intellectual and developmental disabilities, where there is not undue hardship placed on the company. However, the mechanism that assists in preventing undue hardship is the 14(c) program itself. The accommodations needed to support individuals with the most significant disabilities can be very extensive and expensive, particularly when combined with lower productivity of workers in 14(c) programs. The elimination of 14(c) would eliminate these jobs to the detriment of the employees that are in most need of the protections of the ADA and FLSA. It is important to take a different approach that preserves the benefits of the 14(c) program (increased employment for individuals with the most significant disabilities) while addressing concerns. For example, Northern European countries provide a training stipend or subsidy for individuals with reduced work capacity.

Ultimately, Congress should take action to ensure that the most vulnerable members of the workforce, including those with significant intellectual and developmental disabilities, are not abandoned by an ill-advised wholesale elimination of the 14(c) program. There is no doubt that the 14(c) program could be enhanced and improved, and The Coalition for the Preservation of 14C, Inc. is ready to engage in efforts to do so. At the same time, Congress should commit to supporting commensurate wage work centers and recognizing their important role in ensuring meaningful employment for individuals with disabilities.

Colleen Stuart
Board President
Coalition for the Preservation of 14C
CEO Venango Training & Development Center, Inc.
Seneca, PA

Lisa C. Liston
Board Treasurer
Coalition for Preservation of 14C
Coordinator of Care, Clelian Heights Inc.
Greensburg, PA

Amy Patz
Board Secretary
Coalition for the Preservation of 14C
Executive Assistant, Westmoreland County Blind Association
Greensburg, PA 15601

Christopher Brewer
Board Member
Coalition for the Preservation of 14C
Executive Director, Project CU, Inc.  MASWM
St. Louis, MO

Matthew Putts, PhD, CRC, CVE
Board Member
Coalition for the Preservation of 14C
ACCSES New Jersey, Inc.
Trenton, NJ

Dawn Kovacovich
Board Member
Coalition for the Preservation of 14C
Special Education teacher (retired)
Minnesota (A-Team & MNFAC)

Gail Thibodeau
Board Member
Coalition for the Preservation of 14C

Tom O’Brien
Board Member
Coalition for the Preservation of 14C
President/CEO, Industrial Opportunities, Inc.
Andrews, NC

Ralph Richardson, Ph.D., CEO, Home of Hope, Inc., Vinita, OK
Harris Capps, President VOR, A Voice of Reason (A National Organization)
Beacon Group, Arizona
Achieve Human Services, Arizona San Gabriel Valley Training Center (Roland Center), California
National Council on Severe Autism, California
Seabird Enterprises, Inc., Connecticut
Capital Chambers Strategies, LLC, District of Columbia
ACCSES, District of Columbia
Key Training Center, Florida
Opportunities Unlimited, Idaho
Rehabilitation of Development, Idaho
Challenge Unlimited, Illinois
STARC Connections, Louisiana
Key Opportunities, Michigan
Blue Valley Industries, Missouri
Industrial Aid, Missouri
Casco Area Workshop, Inc. – Missouri
Opportunity Village, Nevada
Occupational Training Center of Burlington County, New Jersey
Inroads to Opportunity, New Jersey
Maryhaven Center of Hope, New York
A Voice of Reason, New York
Marc, Inc., North Carolina
Watauga Opportunities, Inc., North Carolina
The Workshop of Davidson, Inc., North Carolina
Foothill Industries, North Carolina
Haywood Vocational Opportunities, Inc., North Carolina
Vaya Health, North Carolina
Transylvania Vocational Services, Inc., North Carolina
Diversified Opportunities, Inc., North Carolina
A Voice of Reason, Ohio
UCO Industries, Inc., Ohio
Portage Industries & State Association Board, Ohio
Home of Hope, Oklahoma
Westmoreland County Blind Association, Pennsylvania
Avenues, Pennsylvania
BARC Developmental Services, Pennsylvania
ICF Advocates for Choice, Pennsylvania
RCPA, Pennsylvania
Cambria County Assoc. for the Blind and Handicapped, Pennsylvania
Occupational Services, Inc., Pennsylvania
Vision Resource Center, Pennsylvania
Beaver County Rehabilitation Center, Inc., Pennsylvania
Vision Resource Center of Berks County, Pennsylvania
535 Group, Virginia
Health Policy Source, Virginia
Hancock County Sheltered Workshop, West Virginia

Coalition for the Preservation of 14C
Phone: (724) 837-1250

Download PDF