I am the mother of an almost 12 year old daughter with Down syndrome. I often engage in advocacy on her behalf, while making sure she is prepared to take over when she asks me to step aside. I think about her future a lot, and almost everything I'm fighting for now is because I want her to have a meaningful, self-directed adult life.
Though I've been successful in getting our school system to keep her in the general education setting (instead of a segregated special education classroom), when I asked them if students with disabilities were accessing their new career pathways program they were proud to tell me that they had one student who was participating in "Good Clean, the Goodwill Industries custodial program which specializes in working with students with special needs."
I know that custodial work is the right fit for some. I even did it myself before college, and my older brother is currently a part-time teacher and part-time custodian, I just object to the over-reliance on this kind of career pathway when professionals in a position to advise students should be focused on individualized plans that include heavy student input, and exploration of options that include college and careers.
As long as 14c waivers exist, my daughter's options will continue to be limited by the narrow expectations for success held by the gatekeepers of her access to competitive, integrated employment. She has many of her own dreams for her future, and I can assure you that none of them include participation in "Good Clean." The sky will never be the upper limit for my daughter as long as the lower limit continues to be below what is acceptable for her non-disabled peers.
Minimum wage is defined as the lowest wage a worker may legally be paid. Allowing sub-minimum wages to be paid feeds the dangerous idea that people with disabilities are "less than," "other," even "sub-human." And from an employer perspectives, if they aren't "workers" what are they? Prisoners? Serfs? Slaves?
My daughter is a budding self-advocate and a vibrant and valued member of her school and our community. My vision for the future is that she finds the same welcome, wages, and success as the non-disabled peers she works alongside in the workplace. Our state currently has the second highest employment gap in the nation between people with and without disabilities, so we have a long way to go for my daughter to access the opportunities she deserves as a fully human US citizen. Getting rid of this dehumanizing loophole would be an excellent mark of progress.