|Mary Durheim, Chair
Andrew D. Crim, Vice Chair
Beth Stalvey, MPH, PhD, Executive Director
|6201 E. Oltorf, Suite 600
Austin, TX 78741-7509
|Phone: (512) 437-5432
Toll Free: (800) 262-0334
Fax: (512) 437-5434
Senate Natural Resources & Economic Development Committee Written Testimony on Senate Bill 753
March 27, 2019
Hello, my name is Ashley Ford and I am a Public Policy and Communications Specialist with the Texas Council for Developmental Disabilities (TCDD). TCDD is established by state and federal law and is governed by 27 Governor-appointed board members, 60 percent of whom are individuals with developmental disabilities or family members of individuals with disabilities. The Council’s purpose in law is to encourage policy change so that people with disabilities have opportunities to be fully included in their communities and exercise control over their own lives.
In 2013, Government Code §531.02447 established an Employment First policy for the State of Texas. As the name suggests, Employment First is a principle which says that integrated competitive employment should be the expected outcome for people with developmental and other disabilities who want to work. Competitive integrated employment means full or part-time work in the community for which the person is paid at least minimum wage.
Establishing competitive employment as a goal – meaning that workers with disabilities earn at least minimum wage – is a starting point. We know that achieving those outcomes for individuals will not happen overnight, but it is important to set the goal so that our service delivery systems adopt strategies that successfully lead in this direction. With these expectations in mind, at its November 2018 Council Meeting, TCDD adopted Employment First as one of its 2019 public policy priorities.
TCDD finds SB 753 to be consistent with the goals of an Employment First policy.
“Can’t Never Could Do Nothing”
When I was growing up, my grandpa – who is a fifth generation Texan – used to always tell me “can’t never could do nothing.” I am reminded of his mantra anytime I hear discussions that solely focus on what people with disabilities can’t do, instead of what they can; or why people can’t earn competitive wages, instead of why they can. Like Albert Einstein said, “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” If it does not make good business sense to pay a worker with a disability a competitive wage, then perhaps the fit of the job is to blame – not the worker.
Studies suggest workers with disabilities who are afforded the opportunity and support to find competitive employment that best fits their interests, abilities, and needs – which is what we ask of workers without disabilities – achieve significant employment gains. For example, a comprehensive program in Vermont that focused on “person-centered planning, meaningful job matches, full inclusion in the workforce, and creative strategies that broaden employment opportunities” resulted in the attainment of competitive employment for 48 percent of Vermonters receiving developmental disabilities supports, 2.5 times the national average. 1 In 2017, this program helped people earn and pay taxes on over $4.4 million a year in wages and saved the federal government an estimated $1.8 million in Social Security disability payments. 2
Encouraging “Appropriately Ambitious” Progress
SB 753 brings to mind the phrase “appropriately ambitious,” which was used in the 2017 United States Supreme Court’s unanimous ruling on Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District. Simply put, the ruling provided that taxpayer funded school districts must give students with disabilities the chance to make meaningful, “appropriately ambitious” progress, instead of the bare minimum. It also stated that “the [educational] goals may differ, but every child should have the chance to meet challenging objectives.” 3
SB 753 would encourage the taxpayer-funded Texas Workforce Commission and State Use Program to set the example for the Texas business community by providing employees with disabilities the opportunity to make meaningful, “appropriately ambitious” progress towards competitive employment. It would also affirm that every employee with disabilities has the chance to meet the challenging objectives associated with their individualized employment goals. Ultimately, SB 753 would further Texas’ recognition that an “appropriate” job for workers with disabilities is one that reflects the expectations we have for all workers.
In closing, I would like to urge the Texas Legislature to make “appropriately ambitious” progress on implementing the state’s Employment First policy. Expectations matter, and as far as the Texas Council for Developmental Disabilities is concerned, all Texans with disabilities who want to work, can work in competitive integrated employment settings when offered the opportunity and individualized supports to do so. Each new step to further realize the Employment First policy of the state makes an important contribution to raising expectations, improving outcomes, and increasing the self-sufficiency of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Please feel free to contact TCDD for additional information or if we can be of additional service.
Public Policy and Communications Specialist,
Texas Council for Developmental Disabilities
1. Vermont Department on Disabilities, Aging, and Independent Living. (2017). Governor’s SFY 18 Budget Testimony. Retrieved from: https://info.healthconnect.vermont.gov/sites/hcexchange/files/Advisory_Board/dail-budget-testimony-fy2018.pdf
3. 137 S.Ct. at 1000.