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Man in a wood shop
Photo courtesy William Bronston, M.D.

In 1966, Section 14 was amended to define "special minimum wage" as not less than 50% of the national minimum wage and commensurate with the wage paid to workers without disabilities in industry in the vicinity for essentially the same type, quality and quantity of work.

Agencies providing vocational rehabilitation services for evaluation or training programs for people with multiple disabilities and work activity centers, however, could get certificates which allowed them to pay below the 50% minimum.

In 1967, the PCMR reported that an estimated 2 million people with developmental disabilities were capable of learning to support themselves and needed job training and placement services. Even at minimum wage, these individuals were said to have a potential annual earning capacity of $6 billion.

"Even at minimum wage" was, however, a fairly risky assumption in the late 1960s. Back in 1938, the Fair Labor Standards Act created a federally-mandated minimum wage, but it also created an exemption for "handicapped workers." Section 14(c) allowed employers with special certificates to pay below the federal minimum wage.

Man working at a table
Photo courtesy William Bronston, M.D.
Workers at a food truck
Photo courtesy William Bronston, M.D.

These provisions allowed employers to negotiate lower wages for potential workers with disabilities. In some cases, this might mean a job placement for someone who could not produce competitively. In other cases, it might mean productive workers with disabilities were not hired unless they (or the agency) agreed to apply for a certificate.

The far more usual use of the certificates, however, was in sheltered environments. By 2001, only 9% of certificates were in community businesses.

People in institutions in the 1960s were also working, often in the institutions where they lived, and often for no wage whatever. In 1968, the NARC adopted a statement about pay for work in institutions. "Residents performing jobs related to maintaining and operating the residential facility should receive pay [and working conditions] commensurate with their ability for work performed. Working for the benefit of the institution should not be confused with training programs designed to benefit the resident."

The President's Committee estimated that by 1970 the value of unpaid resident labor in "facilities for mentally retarded persons and by mentally retarded residents of public mental institutions" was $1.25 million. The work included housekeeping, laundry, repair work and care of other residents.

workers in a field