A Discussion on Disabilities

This week’s Pizza & Politics focussed on disabilities and the workplace. Students were given the opportunity to voice their opinions about wages, opportunities, and access in society and on campus.

In many industries, people with disabilities are hired but are paid considerably less than the national minimum wage. Employers can get permission from the federal government to pay disabled workers sub-minimum wage, often $2/hr or less. This program was established to prevent the loss of employment opportunities for those with disabilities, however many consider sub-minimum wage to be a violation of those individuals’ rights.

The first question asked whether or not students thought businesses should be able to pay workers with disabilities less than the minimum wage. Many students felt that sub-minimum wage was essentially legalizing exploitation and business owners should not be able to legally pay some workers less. Several students noted that in many instances those with disabilities can perform jobs with equal proficiency as those individuals without disabilities and they should be treated as equals.

There are several ways that people with disabilities can gain access to the workforce. Sheltered workshops offer stable work environments often times employing large numbers of individuals with disabilities. These programs give people the opportunity to gain work experience and work in a stable, safe environment.

Integrated employment gives people the opportunity to work in industries such as food service, transportation and production. The goal of integrated employment is to give people with disabilities the opportunity to socialize and work alongside people without disabilities and give them valuable experience and autonomy in their job and life.  

Several students felt that integrated employment was a much better option for those with disabilities. Some even felt that sheltered workshops felt like segregation and they didn’t like how that highlighted differences between those with disabilities and those without.

Others felt that a combination of both methods would benefit a lot of people. They suggested using sheltered workshops as a short of precursor to helping them join the integrated workforce.

The discussion then shifted to ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliance and whether or not SUU is doing enough to make campus and campus resources accessible to those with disabilities.

Many students felt that SUU isn’t doing all they could to become completely ADA compliant–finding fault with the website being unfriendly for those with hearing and eyesight impairments.

Others felt that it is important to have patience when it comes to making infrastructure ADA compliant and accessible. The stressed that they think accessibility is very important but also stressed the financial and resource strain it can cause on an entity as large as a university.

SUU does currently have a plan in place to maintain and increase ADA accessibility and is dedicated to making all student feel welcome and valued.

To participate in the discussion, attend Pizza & Politics every Wednesday at 12 p.m. in the Michael O. Leavitt Center for Politics and Public Service located in the Sharwan Smith Student Center.

By Lily Shurtleff