Outdated laws that funnel South Carolina adults with intellectual disabilities into low-paying jobs can make it difficult to gain experience needed to lead independent lives, advocates say. But one North Charleston distillery and a Cayce brewery are among the companies that have set out to build inclusive workplaces as lawmakers push reform to try to shift the mindset around ability and employment.
“No. 1 is: We typically don’t have the same expectations for people with disabilities, and we assume that someone is going to have to take care of someone with a disability,” said Sandy Jordan, director of employment programs for AbleSC, a nonprofit helping adults with disabilities live independently. “We don’t necessarily give them a chance to learn the skills they need to be independent.”
Advocacy groups like AbleSC are fighting for change in the workplace for adults with intellectual disabilities through programs like Hire Me SC, a campaign promoting an inclusive workforce with equal-opportunity employment.
“Sheltered workshops,” supervised work centers where adults with intellectual disabilities are allowed to work for less than federal minimum wage, exacerbate the employment problem, according to Jordan.
“Sheltered workshops are usually provided by the disability and special needs board. These providers have contracts with local businesses and give these menial tasks for people with disabilities to do,” she said.
The 80-year-old federal Fair Labor Standards Act allows these businesses to pay less than the federal $7.25 per hour minimum wage.