Blue River Services, Inc. leadership hosted Trey Hollingsworth, Rep. in Indiana’s 9th congressional district, at Blue River Industries sheltered workshop in Corydon October 9 to discuss employment choices for individuals with disabilities and the threat they face under proposed changes to legislation.
Hollingsworth, Blue River Services President and CEO Daniel J. Lowe, and longtime board member Bill Harrod, President and CEO of First Harrison Bank, toured the workshop with Kim Perry, Director of Industries, who showed the group just how meaningful sheltered workshops – and the opportunities they provide -- are for individuals with disabilities.
Just ask Michael Ashabraner, who recently celebrated 30 years with Blue River Industries. He greeted the group, shared his excitement to celebrate his birthday with friends and staff at the group home where he resides, and was interested in meeting everyone. He also didn’t hesitate to tell Hollingsworth he loved his job, and he has been doing it for 30 years. It’s certainly not a sentiment everyone can relate to, but it is a clear indication Blue River is fulfilling its mission to help people – no matter the challenges they may face – to live happy, healthy lives in positive environments.
“Most of the people we serve,” explained Lowe, “are people with developmental disabilities.” “Our goal is to place the person into a job in the community. We even have an Employment Services Department that goes out into the community to work with the person as a job coach, but it isn’t realistic in some cases.”
Based on the 1986 amendment to the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (Section 14(c)), a lower wage was mandated for individuals whose handicaps prevented them from being able to compete with non-disabled workers, allowing disabled workers a right to work and still earn an hourly wage, despite their challenges.
At the workshop, where people with disabilities work side-by-side with general laborers to fulfill light manufacturing contracts with local businesses, consumer wages are based on production and preference to work. Consumers also receive vocational training, habilitation services, employment services and other ongoing support.
But those who perhaps are not directly impacted and may not realize the benefits of sheltered workshops are lobbying to phase out Section 14(c), a push to shut them down and force people with disabilities to compete for community-based jobs.
Lowe knows the disservice this would be to the people they serve.
“If you have someone who is working at 10 percent of the norm, most employers are not going to be able to pay someone the same $12 an hour,” said Lowe.
Lowe’s example was one business-savvy Hollingsworth grasped immediately.
“Government should be in the business of empowering and enabling every Hoosier individual of their present circumstances or abilities, not restricting opportunities for those most in need of them,” said Hollingsworth.
“Thank you, Blue River Services, for showing me the great opportunities you provide and the passionate team members that help you do it every day.”