Screening of ‘Bottom Dollars’ shows that disability workers are paid less

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The University of Indianapolis hosted a screening of “Bottom Dollars,” a Rooted in Rights original documentary about the issues of segregated workplaces and low wages for individuals with disabilities, on March 28 in Annis Auditorium.

Rooted in Rights is based in Seattle, Wash. and produces videos, social media campaigns and various multimedia projects intended to advance advocacy on behalf of people with disabilities worldwide. Some goals for the documentary include informing the public about disability rights and helping to promote equal opportunity for those with disabilities to receive fair wages and benefits in the workforce.

The documentary discussed issues with the Fair Labor Standards Act, which establishes minimum wage. However, FLSA does not protect all workers. According to a packet handed out at the event, Section 14(c) establishes a specialized minimum wage for individuals whose “earning or productive capacity is impaired by age, physical, mental deficiency or injury,” also known as sub-minimum wage.

Sub-minimum wage, allows companies to legally pay their employees with disabilities about half of the 2016 federal minimum wage of $7.25. According to the documentary, 241,265 people with disabilities are paid less than minimum wage.

The documentary focused on Pamela Steward, who was affected by sub-minimum wage and was only making $3 an hour. Steward expressed her desire to be paid as an equal person.

The documentary also discussed issues with sheltered workshops, which were originally created by parents of people with disabilities to provide a safe place for their children to go during the day. Over time, the workshops developed into non-profit organizations that are intended to provide job skill preparation for those with disabilities. Sheltered workshop jobs include manual labor tasks such as assembly, sorting, shredding paper or performing janitorial duties.

After the hour-long documentary, a panel discussion took place with Kathy Martin, professor and director of the DPT Program; Betty Williams, a self-advocate of sheltered workshops and Dawn Adams, executive director of Indiana Disability Rights.

Along with statistics, Adams also discussed Indiana’s sheltered workshops and how not every workshop is the same and many have different experiences regarding the workshops.

“[In] January 2016, there were 27 sheltered workshops in Indiana, the biggest ranging about 2,000 people,” Adams said. “Approximately 85 percent of workers were making less than minimum wage.”

According to Adams, companies are not legally responsible to pay their employees with disabilities because the law does not require it. Williams described her time in a sheltered workshop and how working there was not a good fit for her. She left after 25 years.

“I didn’t make much money,” she said. “My first and last paycheck was the same…. My first was $6, which made me cry because I didn’t understand they could do that…. My last paycheck was also $6, but it didn’t make me cry because I knew it was my last.”

Both Martin and Adams discussed Indiana Disability Rights and how a change needs to happen. They said that with Bill 390, it can happen. Bill 390 was submitted to Indiana legislatures in hopes of eliminating the sub-minimum wage in today’s workforce. The goal of the Bottom Dollar Project is to help people with disabilities in the workforce have an equal opportunity for inclusion, pay and benefits.

Information about the documentary can be found at

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