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Disabled workers: Proposed DEED rule limits our options

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Bruce Ario
The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) just released its proposed new rule for Extended Employment, i.e., the funding stream for providing assistance to “disabled workers.” The proposed rule is not consistent with the goal of expanding options for persons with disabilities. In fact, the primary purpose of the changes from the old rule is to severely limit options for disabled workers.

DEED’s Statement of Need and Reasonableness (SONAR), required for rule-changes, clearly states that “The purpose of the proposed rule is to limit funding for services supporting individuals in employment settings that are not competitive.” And DEED’s definition of “not competitive” focuses on whether any of one’s co-workers have a disability.

In recent years, DEED has argued that people with disabilities working next to other people with disabilities (where they like and support each other) is fundamentally wrong. They even claim that people with disabilities working together are paid less than those working in an integrated setting, i.e., one where they never come into contact with others with disabilities. I think they know, or should know, that it isn’t true.

I myself have a major disability and am classified by DEED as a “disabled worker.” But I work for the same reason everyone else does: to earn money. I don’t mind working along side other folks with disabilities — which DEED somehow thinks is a negative. My disabled co-workers are my friends. I enjoy their company — a lot more than I would enjoy working next to people who have no idea what it’s like to have a disability. I get a lot of support from my disabled co-workers, and I try to support them. I also earn more, working with other disabled people, than at the “integrated placements” DEED wants everyone to have. Way more!

DEED has been gradually pushing their anti-peer-support bias for years, and the result is that, despite the increased flow of tax dollars to this program, fewer and fewer disabled workers are served each year. And almost none of the folks in DEED’s preferred model achieve the financial independence (leaving Social Security Disability behind) that I and maybe a hundred of my co-workers (working together) have achieved.

We like working in a team! We earn more per hour, work more hours per week, receive better benefits – benefits actually tailored to our needs — and our job-satisfaction is higher than those defined by DEED’s “Competitive Employment.”

DEED thinks it knows what’s good for us, but it doesn’t. It ought to be working to expand employment opportunities for people with disabilities by leaving the choice of what type of employment best suits us to us!

The proposed rule can be found here. DEED is accepting public comment on the proposed rule through Oct 10.

Bruce Ario has been in recovery since 1979. He has never found anything that works as well as peer support, and enjoys his job at Tasks Unlimited working on a team.

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